Around every corner, almost every day, we come face to face with a jaw-dropping landscape. At some level we know it is real but in other ways, it seems like the kind of Hawaiian tropical perfection only Hollywood can create. Inevitably, my husband or I will exclaim, “This looks like a movie set!” In reply, our oldest son eventually said, “Maybe it is!” That was all we needed to start our research.
It turns out there are places on Oahu that are such popular filming locations that they are known as a “Hollywood Backlot.” At Kuala Ranch you can take a tour of filming locations from Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates, Hawaii Five-0, and numerous Elvis films, just to name a few.
We wanted to focus our “backlot” tour on places we could walk to from our temporary home on the North Shore. Although movies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall were filmed at Turtle Bay Resort, we were on the hunt for more family-friendly clips and even “secret” filming locations.
Believe it or not, Magnum PI regularly aired on local channels when we lived in Italy. Even though the show was in Italian, its rather predictable and action-packed plot left little need to understand the dialogue. A visit to the Magnum PI Helipad was a natural place to start our tour.
As we ambled along just the beginning of the 840 acres of natural coastline that makes up a portion of the Turtle Bay Resort, we discovered two scenes from Soul Surfer were filmed on the bay we frequent daily. The bay was used to magically recreate the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami in Thailand. Thai extras were recruited from all over Hawaii, and the producers even brought in native species like water buffalo to bring Phuket to life here on Oahu.
As we rounded the corner and Kawela Bay came into view, our 12-year-old was a bit star-struck by the idea that Katniss Everdeen was once here. The Hunger Games trilogy is, in his words, “my favorite dystopian trilogy EVER.” He has never seen the movies but after watching the clips filmed here, the stories took on a new life for him.
The final stop on our “walkabout” was The Banyan Tree. This magnificent tree needs only to be referred to as The Banyan Tree and everyone knows exactly which tree is being referenced. Once we arrived, the kids ran in every direction. They each picked a grove and became different things, from tigers to Tarzan, their imaginations ran wild.
The tree and jungle around the tree were used repeatedly for filming during Lost Season One. The polar bear scene and Sawyer’s torture scene are the two most popular talked about by locals. Our kids, however, were most mesmerized by the fact that Pirates of the Caribbean IV used The Banyan Tree as the setting for the “Mermaid’s Lair.” It is said that the enormous lagoon set the studio built around the base of the tree took several months, but filming lasted just two days.
To complete our picture perfect day, we ambled through vines out to the fruit stand on the main road, bought a huge ice-cold coconut, and dined on its juices under the palms along the shore. We talked about setting and scene, protagonists and antagonists, character development, and plot. We talked about happy endings versus cliff hangers and how much there is to imagine around every corner.
We all agreed that on one hand it makes movies less magical when you see broken sets, blue screens, and chopped up filming locations. On the other hand, behind the scenes, knowledge is a testament to the limitless possibilities of the creative mind. It is that very contrast that drew us into the dramatic and brilliant juxtaposition of make-believe and genius.