Messing with Melbourne – by Julian Callinan
Nothing breaks you out of a film faster than noticing something wrong, and when watching a film set in Australia, we Australians are likely to spot the inaccuracies more than others.
In older films, it wasn’t uncommon for a jungle ostensibly in the wilds of Africa to be pierced with the laugh of a kookaburra, for example, and the number of terrible Australian accents on film far outstrips those done successfully – just look at the episode where The Simpsons came “Down Under”.
Altering geography, however, is something film-makers do intentionally, and when the film is set in Melbourne, the number of people who might notice shrinks to those of us who live here. I’m not talking about films made in Melbourne but set elsewhere, otherwise it would be easy to just talk about Nicolas Cage as Ghost Rider obviously jumping into the Yarra even though it’s apparently somewhere in Texas. No, I mean films set in Melbourne, where characters suddenly break the laws of time and space in a way only someone who knows Melbourne would recognise.
Love and Other Catastrophes, narrows that even further by altering the geography of Melbourne University. Exiting a building on the South Lawn does not mean that’s where you’ll end up, according to this film, but you might have to cross it to get between offices located nowhere near it. Both lead characters spend some time crossing the campus, and with great regularity the establishing shots and the interior shots are mismatched, something which is fine if you’ve never been to Melbourne University but stands out like a sore thumb if you’ve spent much time there. Love and Other Catastrophes is a low-budget trifle of a movie, and doesn’t really need the extra barriers to proper suspension of disbelief, but when the characters keep teleporting it’s as unbelievable as Matt Day’s character’s alleged love of Doris Day.
The geographical misstep in Lucky Break (also called Paperback Romance) is smaller, but noticeable to more Melburnians – the Como Tower and attendant shops have been moved to the heart of the CBD. It’s only shown a couple of times in the film, but each time the subtle expectation to see South Yarra when a character leaves Como is hit by a shot of the city proper. It’s easy to see it all having been done for aesthetic purposes, to pretend all the action is within a smaller space when in fact some interiors are suburbs away; as the film involves Gia Carides spending most of her time on crutches, it was probably better for all the locations to seem to be closer to each other than they actually are. Still, Melburnians know the difference. And I imagine if anyone saw the film while actually at Cinema Como, it would have been odder still.
As they are both Australian productions, the alterations are relatively restrained. Jackie Chan’s Mr. Nice Guy, however, goes wild. Not only in geography – there’s a scene where the villain says he can legally shoot any intruders on his land, and a cop agrees with him – and this is from 1997! The whole film is slapdash, from the terrible acting to the plyboard sets to the obvious stunt doubles. But of particular interest is a chase scene that starts with Jackie Chan giving a cooking demonstration in Melbourne Central. Next to Daimaru, for instant dating purposes. Running away from bad guys, he goes down several flights of escalators, enough that he should land at the lower platforms of Melbourne Central Station. Instead, he ends back on the first floor of shops, meets up with his girlfriend, and then sprints outside, where immediately waiting for him is one of our horse-driven carriages. Parked outside the Town Hall. The subsequent ride goes up Swanston St (past a Timezone!), through the Off Ya Tree sign, then left down Little Lonsdale before turning left again back into Swanston St and what looks like a farmer’s market.
There are only two reasons to watch Mr. Nice Guy, and that’s Jackie Chan’s acrobatic fighting and the complete mangling of Melbourne geography with a very 90’s feel to it. So if you’ve a nostalgia for oversized suits and old corporate logos it’s all on YouTube. Funnily enough, and unlike the first two examples I mentioned, changing the layout of Melbourne, while very noticeable, doesn’t affect enjoyment of Mr. Nice Guy much, simply because everything is so badly done that it just becomes part of the film’s ridiculousness. Because if suspension of disbelief is already shattered, what does it matter that all of Melbourne Central has been moved a few blocks?
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You are so awesome! I don’t suppose I’ve read anything like that before. So nice to discover somebody with a few original thoughts on this topic. Really.. thanks for starting this up.