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John Scalzi – In Honor of AussieCon4, Here’s Looking at the Finest Sci-fi Films to Be Filmed Down Under

Hello from Australia! I’ve been down here for the last week, enjoying the lovely city of Melbourne and taking part in AussieCon4, the World Science Fiction Convention for this year, which wrapped up just a few hours ago. I’ve enjoyed myself a great deal and have experienced hardly any spider or koala attacks, which people apparently unfamiliar with the continent warned that I might. That’s all lies, people. Really.

As it happens, Australia is no stranger to science-fiction film; a number of classics of the genre either take place and/or have been produced here. Presented for your edification is the following list of notable antipodean science-fiction films.

On the Beach
This 1959 film starring Gregory Peck was one of the first films to seriously tackle the specter of nuclear annihilation and features Australia as the last place on earth to survive a nuclear exchange. But the winds are bringing deadly fallout and the last remaining humans are awaiting the end. This film was shot, in part, near Melbourne, the city I’m currently in.

Mad Max Series
Inarguably the best-known examples of Australian science fiction, this violent, action-packed trilogy (1979’s Mad Max, 1981’s Road Warrior, and 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome) set the tone for a generation of postapocalyptic films and helped make an international star out of Mel Gibson, as well as launching the career of director George Miller (who, as irony would have it, would win an Oscar for the rather more family-friendly Happy Feet). A new Mad Max film, with Inception co-star Tom Hardy taking over the role, is currently scheduled for a 2012 release.

The Navigator
Anyone who knows this strange, compelling 1988 time-travel film will
try to ding me for including it on this list, because it was written and
directed by a New Zealander (Vincent Ward) and takes place in that
neighboring country. But in fact the film was co-produced by the Australian
Film Commission after the film lost much of its original funding just
weeks before the start of production. The film would go on to win five
Australian Film Institute awards, including Best Picture, and director
Ward would later gain science-fiction notoriety for writing an early
draft of the third Alien film, in which Ripley (and the alien)
crash-landed near a monastery.

The Blood of Heroes
Rutger Hauer and Joan Chen starred in this 1989 cult flick, filmed in
Australia, about a bloody and brutal sport played in a postapocalypse
world. It was directed by David Webb Peoples, perhaps better known to science-fiction-film fans as the co-writer of Blade Runner.

Dark City
This mind-twisting noirish murder mystery from 1998 took place in an unnamed and unrecognizable city but was in fact filmed in Australia and directed
and co-written by Australian director Alex Proyas, better known at the
time as the director of 1994’s ill-fated Crow. Proyas would go on to
two additional science-fiction hits, I, Robot and Knowing.

The Matrix
Oh, you know about this one, right? The Wachowski brothers’ 1999
blockbuster was not only filmed at the same Australian studio as Dark
(that would be Sydney’s Fox Studios), but it also used some of the
same sets.

Pitch Black
This 2000 film, in which the native wildlife of a desert planet start
snacking on crash-landed spacecraft passengers and crew, launched Vin
Diesel’s career and also featured a number of notable Australian actors
in the supporting cast, including Claudia Black (then already famous
from the science-fiction show Farscape) and Radha Mitchell. A
number of scenes in the film were shot in the same desolate locations
that were used for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
Star Wars Down Under? Believe it: while the 2002 installment of the Star
-prequel trilogy did location shooting in Italy, Tunisia, and Spain,
the principal photography took place at 20th Century Fox’s studios in
Australia. The third film in the trilogy, 2005’s Revenge of the Sith,
was shot entirely there, with background shots of locations around the
world added in later.

Superman Returns
Superman may be America’s greatest superhero, but, when it came time for
Bryan Singer to start production on this 2005 continuation of the comic-book franchise, Metropolis was transported to Sydney, where the film was
shot at Fox Studios’ facility.

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