Utah landscape creates backdrop for Hollywood magic

Published: Thursday, July 11 2013 6:50 p.m. MDT

In this film image released by Disney, Taylor Kitsch is shown in a scene from "John Carter." (AP Photo/Disney)


From the desert red rock of Arches National Park to the snow-capped mountains of the Wasatch Range, Utah's landscape attracts millions of visitors each year.

The landscape has also caught the eye of Hollywood directors and producers.

Walt Disney’s “The Lone Ranger” may have had a forgettable opening, but the film will be remembered as featuring the red buttes, canyons and open spaces of southern Utah.

The film recounts how John Reid, a newly deputized Texas Ranger, transforms into the lone ranger — an outlaw for justice.

"It feels like the frontier. There are parts of it that feel really remote and are pristinely left alone,” said Armie Hammer, who plays Reid, in a recent behind-the-scenes video.

The film used three areas surrounding Moab — Dead-Horse Point, Castle Valley and Kane Springs — and Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park to recreate the Wild West.

"It was great to get out on these beautiful locations and not have to say, 'Oh we'll paint out those telephone lines, and you know, that road, we can do away with in post,'" Hammer said. "It's like we're really out here. And we can shoot in any direction and it works."

“The Lone Ranger” is the latest of the more than 900 movies and TV shows that have been filmed in Utah, according to the Utah Film Commission.

Forrest Gump ran through Utah's famous arches. A young Indiana Jones lived with his father in Moab in “Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade.” Utah's red rock served as the background for the opening of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Even sci-fi’s famous doctor came to Utah in an episode of the BBC’s “Doctor Who.”

Famous director John Ford was largely responsible for immortalizing Utah’s landscape, especially as the classic Western backdrop, according to an article on Smithsonian.com.

Ford was one of the first directors to film in Utah when he chose Monument Valley as the backdrop for the 1938 film “Stagecoach.” The film was the first of seven Ford Westerns to be filmed in Monument Valley and launched John Wayne’s acting career.

The most famous of the seven, “The Searchers,” is credited by many as Ford’s best film and one of Wayne’s most compelling performances.

Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film 4 out of 4 stars, writing, “(Ford) had an unrivaled eye for landscape, and famously used Monument Valley as the site for his Westerns, camping out with cast and crew, the company eating from a chuck wagon and sleeping in tents. Wayne told me that making a Ford Western was like living in a Western.”

Monument Valley became such a popular backdrop for Westerns that locals began to refer to the nearby town of Kanab as "Utah's Little Hollywood," according to Utah.com. More than 100 movies — including "Maverick" and both the 1968 and 2001 "Planet of the Apes" — have been shot in this small town on Utah's southern border. “John Carter,” one of the more recent films to spotlight the area, used Utah’s famous red-rock deserts to recreate the red planet of Mars.

Walking along the streets of Kanab, visitors can see movie memorabilia posted in shop windows or visit the Little Hollywood Museum. The town even has its own Walk of Fame that hosts the names of notable actors and directors who filmed in Kanab including Wayne, Ronald Regan and Glenn Ford.

Actor and director Robert Redford also contributed to Utah’s film fame.

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