LOCATION, LOCATION, Location? #12 – Revealed ~ Iron Man

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Did ‘ya Guess It?

Our twelfth LOCATION, LOCATION, Location?  probably holds an ironclad record as one of the most filmed locations used in all of film and television history.

The location in question is the geographic site used for the Jericho Missile test as seen in the first Iron Man film from 2008.  It is located in the Alabama Hills near the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains just west of the town of Lone Pine, California. The Alabama Hills have been extensively used as the backdrop to countless film and television productions (mostly Westerns) dating back to the silent film era.

 

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Here is a clip of the Jericho Missle test as seen in Iron Man to refresh your memory.

 

Let’s take a look at the NOW and THEN picture and a bit of information about the location …

(A click on each picture will expand them into a new window for a better look)

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Released in 2008, Iron Man shattered box office records and went on to become one of the highest-grossing films during what was a very competitive summer for blockbusters – ranking only third behind Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and The Dark Knight.  The film was an instant hit with movie-goers and critics alike and reinvigorated the careers of Robert Downey Jr. and director Jon Favreau, and also redefined just how entertaining comic book film adaptations could be when done right.

The effort to bring Iron Man to the big screen was very involved and prolonged with development starting as early as 1990 (on the heels of the success of Tim Burton’s Batman).  It languished with its film rights going through several studios, production companies, and an ever-changing list of big name writers and directors attached. In 2005, Marvel Studios decided to take the development back to basics and start over.  Shortly thereafter in 2006, Jon Favreau was brought on board as director and the film finally started to take on a cohesive shape with help from a much-refined script brought about by a team of writers.

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The ‘Iron Man’ crew on location.

Production began in the spring of 2007 and one of the first sequences filmed provided the crucial impetus for Tony Stark’s transformation into Iron Man. While in Afghanistan for a military weapons demonstration, the army falls under attack and Tony Stark is taken hostage; forced to build a weapon for a group of radical terrorists. Rather than give in to their demands, Stark cleverly creates a mechanized suit made of iron and weaponry and escapes his captors.

Following a desire to make the film in much the same way as an independent production, Favreau and the filmmakers managed to shoot entirely in locations throughout California, the only exception being a final scene shot at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. In order to create the look of Afghanistan, the filmmakers didn’t fly out to a hostile war-torn country.  Rather, they chose a tried and true location that had subbed for many third-world environments in countless movie, television and commercial productions – The Alabama Hills located about three hours north of Los Angeles in Lone Pine, California on the edge of the eastern Sierra Mountains.

The entire Afghanistan ambush and escape sequence was filmed in and around the Alabama Hills and also in two other locations several miles away surrounding the Owens Dry Lake bed (the cave entrance and the crash in the sand dune).  The overlook used for the Jericho Missile test is set up on a ridge that, well, overlooks almost the entire expanse of the Alabama Hills valley. A simple match up of a film still showing where Robert Downey Jr. stood can easily be used to locate the exact spot finding the right rock formations in the foreground.

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An overview of the Jericho Missile launch site.

Since 1920, the Alabama Hills have served as the main backdrop for well over 400 motion pictures – used as locations ranging from the Old West to the Himalayas of India and even to the far outer reaches of space. Western stars Tom Mix, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy filmed a great majority of their television shows and movies on location in the Hills.  They now have several geographical spots named after them. Another classic hero origin scene was filmed here as well – the famous shootout that left only one man standing when all was said and done – the Lone Ranger.  To this day, you can walk through or even camp out in ‘Lone Ranger Canyon’.  

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Alabama Hills location in California

Aside from the classic Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers and Lone Ranger television shows, “Rawhide”, then starring a little known ensemble cast member by the name of Clint Eastwood, also filmed here. A short list of some of the major movies that have filmed in the Alabama Hills are Have Gun Will Travel, Gunga Din, Bad Day at Black Rock, High Sierra, The Great Race, Tremors, Maverick, Star Trek Generations, Gladiator, Dinosaur, Iron Man, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.  

There are several websites that provide detailed lists of all the known productions that have shot in the Alabama Hills. Resources such as maps of the area, books, and travel videos can also be found and are a great help to point you in the right direction.  IMDB provides a listing of productions that have shot in the Alabama Hills that is quite comprehensive as well.  You can access it by following this link: 

http://www.imdb.com/search/title?endings=on&&locations=Alabama+Hills,+Lone+Pine,+California,+USA 

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‘Django Unchained’ in the Alabama Hills.

Most recently, Quentin Tarantino chose to film several scenes for Django Unchained, utilizing several locations throughout the Alabama Hills. A fan of westerns (and just about every other film ever made) Tarantino specifically had the Alabama Hills in mind for filming as an homage to all the great productions that had blazed a trail there before. The entire opening of the film was shot in the Hills along with the campfire and other scenes that evoked images of traveling through the Old West and into the Deep South.  The early encounter where Dr. King Schultz rescues Django (Jamie Foxx) from the chain gang was filmed on a stretch of property just a few miles drive north in Independence, CA.

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The Lone Pine Film History Museum

To the east of the Alabama Hills sits the small town of Lone Pine.  Located on US Route 395, the Lone Pine Film History Museum is a highly recommended stop before venturing into the Hills. Filled with exhibits made up of photos, costumes, props, scripts and movie posters, the museum offers a great glimpse into the expansive film history of the Alabama Hills and outlying areas. Quentin Tarantino rented out the museum’s theater several nights for the Django Unchained production crew to show them western movies that were not only for entertainment value, but to also give the cast and crew a feel for the type of movie they were making. Tarantino was so grateful to the museum that he donated the Dentist Wagon owned by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) for permanent display – with wobbly tooth still intact. It occupies space with many western relics and props from more current films like Tremors and Iron Man.  You can learn more about the museum and the Alabama Hills at the following link: 

http://lonepinefilmhistorymuseum.org/

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‘Django Unchained’ wagon on display.

The greatest aspect of visiting the Alabama Hills for any location hunter is that other than some shifting sands and sagebrush, the locations remain timeless and unchanged from their appearance in the earliest of cinematic productions. Armed with stills from a favorite movie or television scene, there is cinematic history to be found literally around every rock, corner and crevice in the Alabama Hills.

 

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There are three things that matter in filmmaking and television:

Location, Location, Location.

Exclusive to Beyond the Marquee, LOCATION, LOCATION, Location? is a popular recurring feature that chooses random filming locations from some famous (and not so famous) film and television productions throughout the years.  The locations are posted for BTM viewers to take a guess as to what movie or TV show the location was used.

The location as it looks NOW is posted on a Monday.  On Wednesday, the answer and THEN picture identifying the location as it was seen on the large or small screen is identified, usually with a brief history lesson to go with it. Some entries may be very easy to guess, others may be difficult and sometimes a clue will be given to help point people toward the right answer.

The goal is not to point out exact address information for these locations, but to encourage viewers to put on their own marquee’ologist hats and experience the thrill of the hunt to discover and visit these real world settings themselves.

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Previous LOCATION, LOCATION, Location?  Entries can be found here:

http://beyondthemarquee.com/category/about-us/original-featured-sections/location-location-location/

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Kevin Stern is a co-producer and contributing writer for Beyond the Marquee.  His articles can be found on BTM via this link:  http://beyondthemarquee.com/category/about-us/articles-by-author/kevin-stern/ 

Kevin can be reached via e-mail at:  kevin@beyondthemarquee.com

 

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