Last year I wrote a post about reviewing Hollywood’s onscreen accuracy for films and TV shows set in Boston. Well, they’re back and I give two results mixed reviews. The Boston Onscreen Accuracy Scores for a movie and a TV show respectively vary widely.
Boston seems an unlikely setting for a movie about a mythical African country but it makes sense when you consider that one character is a science genius. Where else would she go for higher education than MIT? And when the bad guys come to abduct her, the action takes place right between Cambridge and Boston.
The film shot scenes on the MIT campus and actress Dominique Thorne as Riri Williams has a dorm room in MIT’s Simmons Hall. The action moves quickly over to the Harvard Bridge on Massachusetts Avenue. There, several female Wakandan warriors have a pitched night battle with the baddies and we see both Boston and Cambridge as background. Martin Freeman as CIA Agent Everett Ross, arrives the next day to study the aftermath.
The scenes were shot in Boston and Cambridge, there were no photographic shifts from one place to another unconnected, location, and no character did anything geographically unlikely. Boston Onscreen Accuracy Score: A
On the other hand, “The Last of Us,” which is actually filmed in the city of Calgary in Alberta, Canada plays fast and loose with Boston’s geography. (For those not watching, the show concerns the aftermath of a fungal pandemic that wipes out much of humanity.) The story begins in Boston and flashbacks take us back there.
The Statehouse: We see several different shots of what purports to be the Massachusetts State House but is nothing Charles Bulfinch would recognize. Viewers also see it looking up a street that doesn’t exist in Boston because the Common is there.
Zakim Bridge: We see this at night from a distant rooftop, difficult to make out by easy to create by CGI.
Quincy Market: Three characters look down on this from the roof of an imaginary building called the Boston History Museum. This structure supposedly exists in the space that Faneuil Hall has occupied since 1740. The market buildings look accurate, however, except for the presence of hundreds of the “infected.” These people have been taken over by the cordyceps fungus and their bodies lie around on the cobblestones, connected by a mycelial network It resembles the scene a hot July day with lots of tourists in town.
Onscreen Accuracy for Copley Place
Copley Place Mall: Two teenage girls get to a shopping mall by jumping easily from the roof of one building to another. As Copley Place is the only downtown shopping mall, a viewer must assume this is what they mean. (Yes, I know the Pru has a big shopping area but it’s not a linear mall.)
Now, it would be difficult to access Copley Place from the rooftops because you would have to jump over either Dartmouth Street, Huntington Avenue, Harcourt Street or the South End park. Any teenager who could leap those probably has The Hulk for a father. Taking the skyway from the Pru would have been much easier.
The girls enter through a hole in the roof and then, voilà, they are in a building that looks nothing like the Copley Place we know. The real Copley Place is, as the girls describe, pretty much blocked off from the outside so no one would see lights from the street. But it is also a high-end shopping venue, filled with tasteful boutiques and glittering shops selling luxury goods and a waterfall.
The mall in “The Last of Us” depicts garish suburbia at its worse. Copley Place would never stoop so low as to have a carousel, an arcade, and a shop that sells Halloween-style monster masks. These tell us right away that we are not in the Back Bay.
The 10-Mile Rockies
10 Miles West of Boston
The kicker, of course, comes from the infamous screen that tells us the characters are “10 miles west of Boston” and shows the Rocky Mountains. Have showrunners Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin never left Calgary? Did the location scouts actually visit the, um, location? Do they not know that this landscape does not exist in Massachusetts?
Just to be accurate, 10 miles west of Boston takes you approximately to Newton, which does not have a mountain in sight. I live 25 miles west of Boston and I can tell you those mountains would make a heck of a commute.
The characters in the segment supposedly live in Lincoln, so the showrunners got the mileage sort of right — it’s 21.6 miles. And the houses there do look like Colonial New England. I give them points for that, even if Lincoln has a lot more McMansions and Deck Houses tucked away at the end of long, long driveways than white clapboard homes.
The internet had a field day with this mistake, as wags posted clever comments; even Stephen King chimed in. Another posted a screenshot with a Dunkin drive-through in them thar mountains. Boston Onscreen Accuracy Score: C
Sloppy Onscreen Accuracy
HBO has developed something of a reputation for sloppiness and lack of attention to detail. “Game of Thrones” famously shot one scene in King’s Landing that included a Starbucks cup and another with plastic water bottles on the ground.
I don’t worry about mistakes like that but I do like scenes supposedly set in Boston to look like, you know, Boston. I’m picky that way.
That goes for other TV shows and movies as well. If you’re trying to pass off someplace else as Boston we here in the Hub of the Universe will know. And we will laugh at you.