Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Travel Movie: The Beach

The Beach (2000), with Leonardo Dicaprio and an array of impressive supporting actors (Robert Carlyle, Tilda Swinton), directed by the famous Danny Boyle, suffered serious criticism on a number of counts but its status as a classic travel movie has never been disputed. The Thailand locations had armchair travellers the world over slavering in ecstasy, and the desire for freedom and escape encapsulated in the movie appealed to generations of backpackers keen to travel off the beaten track.

The film was shot largely on Ko Phi Phi Leh, an island near Phuket, Thailand, and the famous beach is actually called Hat Maya. The beautiful waterfall featured in the movie is not on the island; it is Haeo Suwat Falls and can be found in Thailand’s  Khao Yai National Park.
Haeo Suwat Falls

The great controversy of the filmmaking process, and a serious gripe for eco-warriors, was the apparent necessity to make the Hat Maya Beach more ‘perfect’ by bulldozing parts of it to make it flatter, and planting imported palm trees. This modification actually led to a number of court cases. Extra mountains were also added digitally in post-production to make the scenery more dramatic.

Hat Maya Beach
Any superficial damage the film may have done to this Thai paradise was swamped by the devastation of the 2004 Tsunami. The island has thankfully recovered fully since then and is once again a popular tourist excursion. Although at the time it came out Thailand’s authorities threatened to ban the film – because they thought it portrayed their country unfairly as a drug haven – it has since been noted that The Beach substantially increased tourism to the region.

The actual beach is not remote and inaccessible and you can reach it without swimming long distances in open ocean, sneaking through marijuana plantations, and leaping off waterfalls. There is a daily ferry from Phuket Pier and Krabi which will get you there in about 90 minutes.

The bay of Ko Phi Phi Leh
The film has survived in pop culture mainly because its locations so captured the collective imagination. It was a great disappointment to fans of Alex Garland’s eponymous book which had a far more complex plot. It was a book, however, which begged for a movie version and although it met with serious complaints from reviewers you will struggle to find a film more visually enticing.

Verdict: rent it

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