Is It Just Me... Or Is Movie Geography All Over The Place?

At the beginning of Trainspotting , Ewan McGregor and Ewen Bremner are both seen barrelling down Princes Street in Edinburgh, a pair of security goons hot on their heels. Seconds later, McGregor’s Renton takes some steps down to Calton Road, a good half a mile away from where he was previously.

How on earth did he manage that? Perhaps he has the same teleportation powers Pierce Brosnan employs in The World Is Not Enough to race his speedboat from the Houses Of Parliament in London to Tower Bridge in the space of an edit.

Or maybe he can do what Henry Cavill managed in The Cold Light Of Day recently: namely, take in three separate landmarks in Madrid, in different parts of the Spanish capital, within one single breakneck chase sequence.

There may be another answer, of course. It could be that, when it comes to car chases, fight scenes and other staples of action cinema, all vestiges of recognisable geography go right out the window.

Then again, it’s not as if action movies are the only culprits. In romcom Sliding Doors , Gwyneth Paltrow gets on the Underground at Waterloo and gets off at Fulham Broadway – a completely impossible journey, as anyone who’s tried to get across London in rush hour will tell you.

Now I know what you’re thinking. What kind of nerd watches a film picking apart its internal fabric, looking for flaws the vast majority of moviegoers would neither notice nor care about?

To which I’d respond: this kind of nerd! Seriously, though, what this sort of thing really highlights is an expedient sloppiness on the part of filmmakers that borders on the disdainful.

After all, what does it say about us? That we are all too lazy or ignorant to spot when they are literally cutting corners?

OK, so this is hardly a recent phenomenon.

In 1965’s The Sound Of Music , the von Trapps climb a mountain to get from Salzburg to Switzerland, a walk that, in reality, would take them into Germany.

And everybody remembers Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves , in which Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman trek from Dover to Nottingham via Hadrian’s Wall.

The problem is that, in this age of GPS and Google Maps, there’s no corner of the world that isn’t a few mouse clicks away. Which means that if films are going to play fast and loose with topography, they run the risk of being found out quicker than it takes Harrison Ford to get from Whitehall to Greenwich at the start of Patriot Games .

So here’s what I’d say to filmmakers. You’re not only making pictures for audiences in Wyoming or Tacoma. Some of your patrons will come from the places where you filmed and will notice when you’re cheating.

Don’t assume that every street, square and Tube station looks the same, or that people won’t care if you locate Notre Dame next to the Eiffel Tower.

Sometimes it’s the little things that matter the most. Or is it just me?

Freelance Writer

Neil Smith is a freelance film critic who has written for several publications, including Total Film. His bylines can be found at the BBC, Film 4 Independent, Uncut Magazine, SFX Magazine, Heat Magazine, Popcorn, and more.