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    Planet Hollywood: Earth's otherworldly film settings
    From the Middle East to New Zealand - these remote places have stood in for the exotic planets of your favourite Hollywood space adventures
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    Directors have been making movies about otherworldly places since Georges Méliès’ 1902 silent film A Trip to the Moon. And where else to film a movie about a distant galaxy? A corner of Planet Earth that looks nothing like Planet Earth. That means a landscape nothing like the high-rise you live in and the streets you walk every day. These remote, beautiful, baffling Earthly places have become the exotic planets of your favourite Hollywood space adventure.

    Mark Jones follows the sci-fi moviemakers from the Middle East to Australasia in search of another galaxy.

    Wadi Rum, Jordan

    1. Wadi Rum, Jordan

    On film: Mars in Red Planet, Mission to Mars, The Martian

    They’re still trying to find water on Mars, and you’ll struggle to find much in its most frequently used Earth-based understudy, the Wadi Rum valley in the Kingdom of Jordan. Still, there’s plenty of mint tea and cold beer to be found in the Bedouin tents set up to cater for the tourists attracted to this sepulchral land of granite and sandstone.

    They’ve been coming here since a movie put Wadi Rum on the tourism map: not a sci-fi yarn, but David Lean’s 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia. But now The Valley of the Moon is very much The Fields of Mars. It’s also stood in for other planets in other galaxies: the planet of Jedha in Rogue One and the alien planet in Prometheus.

    Fiordland, New Zealand

    2. Fiordland, New Zealand

    On film: Unnamed in Alien: Covenant

    Well, it makes a change from hobbits.

    The production of Alien: Covenant has been shrouded in secrecy, but it’s known that the Fiordland region of New Zealand’s South Island was used as an uncharted planet where the crew of a colony ship discovers more face huggers and terrifying aliens.

    In real Earthly life, the inhabitants of Fiordland also spend a lot of time worrying about alien creatures – the rats, stoats, rabbits and the like brought over on colonial ships and now presenting an existential threat to indigenous species like the emblematic kiwi bird. You can have a fun time hiking up the mountains with trappers and guides looking for the remains of the invasive creatures caught in traps set to curb their numbers.

    Coober Pedy, South Australia. Credit: Heimo Aga

    Credit: Heimo Aga

    3. Coober Pedy, South Australia

    On film: Unnamed in Pitch Black

    Fly over South Australia’s Painted Desert to Coober Pedy and you see thousands of tiny hills like piles of icing sugar. It doesn’t feel like Earth. Check into your underground rock hotel and you wouldn’t be surprised if the receptionist had three heads and a green tail.

    Unsurprising, then, that this outback opal mining town was used as an otherworldly location in 2000’s Pitch Black, the cult sci-fi hit that’s already spawned two sequels (with another reportedly on the way). Otherwise it’s a movie veteran – The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome; and Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World.

    Underground creatures lurk in the dark – we’re talking about Pitch Black here. In reality, you can tour the individual holes in the ground and see if you can chisel a precious stone or two. The crashed transport ship in the film was brought by a local shop and is still on display – though many tourists seem to mistake it for a prop from Star Wars.

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