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December 30, 2011

South Pacific in Film and Popular Culture

2003 film, The Stonecutter, was filmed on Moorea and
Tetiaroa in French Polynesia by Daniel Zirilli
by David Stanley, www.southpacific.org

Over the past eight decades the paradise isles of the legendary South Seas have provided a backdrop for many Hollywood productions. French Polynesia has been the most popular location by far, followed by Fiji and Samoa. Both Hollywood films set in Solomon Islands, Guadalcanal Diary (1943) starring Anthony Quinn and The Thin Red Line (1999), were about the Pacific War. Easter Island features in Kevin Costner’s Rapa Nui (1994) while The Other Side of Heaven (2002) deals with Mormon missionaries in Tonga.

The earliest Hollywood films about the South Pacific were based on Somerset Maugham's famous short story Rain about a hooker and the repressed missionary. Sadie Thompson (1928) with Gloria Swanson was a silent movie, while Rain (1932) is a talkie starring Joan Crawford. Return to Paradise (1953) with Gary Cooper movie was filmed entirely on the Samoan island of Upolu. Samoan Wedding (2007) about four Samoan guys rushing to find fiances before Sione’s wedding a month away is actually set in Auckland, New Zealand.

Pacific Harbor, Fiji, has been used as a movie location many times. His Majesty O'Keefe (1954) with Burt Lancaster, Nate and Hayes (1983) with Tommy Lee Jones, and Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004) were all filmed there. Fiji is also the setting for a romantic tale of young castaways which has been filmed twice: The Blue Lagoon (1980) in the Yasawa Islands with Brooke Shields and Return to the Blue Lagoon (1991) on Taveuni with Milla Jovoich. Perhaps the most famous Fiji-related film is Cast Away (2000) which places Tom Hanks on uninhabited Monuriki Island in the Mamanuca Islands.

French Polynesia boasts a classic silent movie of its own, Tabu (1931), set on Bora Bora's barrier reef. Tahiti is famous for three films which pit Fletcher Christian against the tyrannical Captain Bligh: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) with Clark Gable and Charles Laughton, Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) with Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard, and The Bounty (1984) with Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins. More recently, The Stonecutter (2003) was filmed on Moorea and Tetiaroa by Daniel Zirilli. And the St. Regis Resort on Bora Bora was the setting for Couples Retreat (2009) with Vince Vaughn.

More information about all of the movies mentioned above, including DVD covers and online ordering links, is on South Pacific Films http://www.southpacific.org/films.html
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