Monday, July 4, 2016

Kauai, Hawaii, Films on the Small Screen

Last week I feigned bafflement about why films which were set in Alaska were often filmed elsewhere. But really, I get it. The logistical challenges of filming so far from Hollywood, in often inclement weather, where the sun rarely shines, pose problems that are difficult to overcome.

Hawaii, on the other hand, is a place that’s been popular for location shooting for a long time. Sure, it’s pretty far from Hollywood, and at times it must be a challenge to transport equipment to shooting sites. But I’m sure it’s easier to talk talent and technicians into spending months of their lives near beaches rather than tundras, so there are many Hawaii-made films to choose from.

I decided to narrow things down to the island we went to, Kauai (thus ruling out all the World War II films set at Pearl Harbor. Sorry, Michael Bay.). Even by selecting films made on this one island, I had to eliminate many films. It’s a popular place.

Nonetheless, I’m going to start with a movie that wasn’t filmed on Kauai. In a sense, it wasn’t filmed anywhere.  Lilo and Stitch (2002) was part of the new wave of Disney animation that continues to this day. The film, about lonely little girl who befriends a mutant creation from outer space, is set on the island of Kauai and uses many local landmarks, such as the Kilauea Lighthouse. Stitch, the mutant alien, manages to make chaos cute. Lilo is his equal, reminding audiences both how horrible and wonderful little girls can be. There is no church in the film, but the theme of community (which we’ve returned to again and again in our posts about churches and bars) is represented here in the idea of ‘ohana, family, where “no one is left behind. Or forgotten.”

If you’re a fan of a certain Jimmy Cagney gangster film, you might be surprised to see White Heat mentioned here. But I’m writing about the 1934 melodrama about love between whites and natives on a Hawaiian sugar plantation. I haven’t seen the film, but it looks like it would not have been made after the Hayes Code of censorship were enacted.

"Bali Hai" - Kauai North Coast
I have seen South Pacific,  the 1958 film adaptation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s hit Broadway musical about star-crossed U.S. Navy personnel and South Sea Islanders during World War II. Though not set on Kauai, the island was used for location filming and signaled to Hollywood the possibilities for location shooting on what was about to become the 50th state.

Elvis Presley actually filmed two musicals on Kauai, 1961’s Blue Hawaii and 1966’s Paradise, Hawaiian Style, but the first film is much more remembered and beloved. The Coco Palms Resort Hotel in Kapa’a used for Blue Hawaii was the height of elegance at the time, but is now closed awaiting destruction. And yes, that is Murder She Wrote’s Angela Lansbury co-starring in the film.

The worst of the three major films made about the famous giant ape, 1976’s King Kong, used Kauai for the location of Skull Island. (The 2005 version used New Zealand for Skull Island and the best version from 1933 used a miniature model in Culver City.) While the first version of the film used stop-action models to bring the Beast to life, and the more recent version used CGI, in 1976, Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange were terrified by a man in a gorilla suit.

There are a number of films that compete in my head for greatest film of all time, but one that’s perhaps the most fun is 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. And the awesome opening sequence that introduced the world to Indiana Jones in a booby trapped temple in “Peru” was actually filmed on Kauai.

Jurassic Park, unlike Peru, is not a real place. But in 1993, Raiders director Steven Spielberg returned to Kauai to create a world where prehistoric dinosaurs came back to life. One can look out on the lush greenery of the island and imagine it all coming true, even though you are little more likely to see chickens than dinos.

In Ben Stiller’s 2008 comedy, Tropic Thunder, Kauai is (again) not allowed to play itself but instead is playing the role of “the Golden Triangle” playing the role of Vietnam. Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., and Jack Black play spoiled Hollywood actors who must find a way to survive when they are abandoned in the jungle without their massages and cappuccinos. The actual film (as opposed to the film within the film) is said to have been the largest production in the island’s history.

Kauai is allowed to play itself in 2011’s Soul Surfer, which was featured previously here at Movie Churches.

George Clooney drank here in The Descendants 
Kauai is also allowed to play itself in 2011’s The Descendants, a dramatic comedy or comedic drama from writer/director Alexander Payne. George Clooney plays a realtor attempting to connect with his daughters after his wife is seriously injured in a boating accident. Many Kauai locations and locals are featured prominently in the film.

Our visit to Kauai made us understand very clearly why Hollywood continues to film on this beautiful island.

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