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Published December 19th 2014
Stunning fantasy movie locations in real life
If you're familiar with the planet of Pandora – the homeworld of the Na'vi race from the 2009 motion picture Avatar – you're not alone. James Cameron's sci-fi extravaganza currently sits in third place on the global list of highest grossing movies of all time, having shifted 75 million tickets in the U.S. alone.
This success has proved lucrative in some surprising locations, not least a national park in China's rugged southeast. The real-life location that served as inspiration for the gravity defying peaks and rolling jungles of Pandora is the Zhangjiajie National Park in the province of Hunan, which now enjoys a staggering 1.82 million overseas visitors every year.
This influx prompted the park's officials to change the name of the 1080-metre Southern Sky Column to Avatar Hallelujah Mountain in honour of the movie's success.
But Avatar is not the only fantasy movie that can trace its roots firmly back to the real world. Here are three more famous fantasy spots that you can visit.
Princess Mononoke – Yakushima Island, Japan
While the setting of Princess Mononoke may be drawn chiefly from the fertile imagination of Studio Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki, we can chart its development back to a place that is most definitely real.
A river on Japan's Yakushima Island. Image courtesy of Kabacchi, Flickr
In 1995, while preparing storyboards for the movie, Miyazaki took a trip to Japan's Yakushima Island. Once there he was confronted with one of the country's most eerily beautiful locations – the Shiratani Unsui ravine – and decided to incorporate it into his upcoming project.
The film hinges on a battle for ecological survival between the mystical forest gods and an increasingly destructive and industrialized mankind. Those captivated by the moss-covered gullys and verdant forests of Yakushima can breathe easy; much of the island has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and so is unlikely to be threatened any time soon.
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King – Putangirua Pinnacles, North Island, New Zealand
It's no secret that Peter Jackson's record breaking Lord of the Rings trilogy was largely shot in the director's home country of New Zealand; nor is it a secret that a fair amount of CGI trickery went into the production of the film.
However, one sequence that needed no artificial augmentation was the famous Paths of the Dead scene in the trilogy's third installment. For this section, Jackson and his team set the cameras rolling at the Putangirua Pinnacles in the Aorangi mountain range on New Zealand's North Island, and the rest is history.
Pan's Labryinth – Belchite, Spain
If you are a fan of Guillermo Del Toro's 2006 cult fantasy classic, the Spanish town of Belchite, near Zaragoza is a prime choice for a pilgrimage. Its ruined church – devastated by the civil war which ripped through the area in the 1930s – was the inspiration for the baroque-era ruin which appears at the start of the film.
The church of San Martin de Tours in Belchite, Spain
Great article. Certainly I've seen paintings from China that seem mystical and fantastic although they're probably from real life places. In New Zealand some of the leaves in the forest are luminescent at night and I have wondered if that might have been the inspiration for the neon forest in Avatar...