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Roger Weller, geology instructor

by Amber Stilwell
Physical Geology
Fall 2013


Geology in Filmmaking??

             I am writing this paper in order to share a very recent discovery with you all!  Geology is a science widely used in filmmaking!  No, I am not kidding you.  It really is.  It can be used for creating action, it can be used for providing awesome filming locations, and most importantly, it can be used to inspire creation of new worlds!

            Creating action is important in the film industry, and I have personally seen geology being used in many instances to do just that. Take the movie 2012 for example.  It used the geology of the earthís plate tectonics to create a world wide cataclysmic event that included super-volcanoes exploding, the earthís crust breaking into pieces, and most importantly, the flooding of the entire earth.


This picture shows the action created by the geological process of the earthís crust breaking apart and creating quite a bit of action in the home city of one of the main characters in the movie.

            The movie Sahara is also a good example of a film that used geology to create action. Towards the end of the film, the characters learn that toxic waste is getting into the desertís underground waterbed. They also learn that those toxic materials are creating a contaminant plume.


In the movie this contaminant plume could threaten human existence by creating a reaction in the groundwater located in the underground water table that would poison the entire earthís water supply. This of course, creates action in the movies when the good guys have to prevent the waste from becoming uncontrollable.

            Although many of these events, including those stated above, used in movies are over-exaggerated, the facts provide a great base to start from. Film crews can use the geologic facts to build off of to create action, excitement, and suspense in the movie.

            Another way, as previously stated, that uses geology in filmmaking is using the earthís geology to provide awesome filming locations. Letís face it, if the geology of our planet was any different, we would be much less interested in all the scenic shots we see in movies.

            The greatest examples of geological importance in filming locations would have to include The Lord of the Rings movies and also The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

            In the picture below, the fellowship is traveling across the country of middle earth. (AKA: New Zealand)

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            In this picture, you can see how the director of the movies used the scenery of New Zealand to create a dramatic filming location for one of the cities in Middle Earth.

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            In the picture below you can see how, once again, the director used the landscape of New Zealand to create a dramatic spot for one of the cities in the movie.

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            Just imagine what Peter Jackson, the director, would have had to work with to provide the feel of Middle Earth, if he didnít have the fantastic islands of New Zealand to work with. Those islands were, in fact, formed by the geological movement of plate tectonics that made volcanoes, and then, later on, islands. I mean, honestly, how tragic would it be if we didnít have these awesome locations to shoot awesome pictures at? The movies would be boring, and Peter Jackson would not have been able to achieve the affect of realism in these movies either.

            Although action and filming locations are very important, the area I find most fascinating is the inspiration acquired from our own planetís geology to create whole new planets for the screen.

            Great examples of movies that did this would have to be the Star Wars franchise and Avatar. George Lucas, the director of the Star Wars franchise, creatively used the geology of our planet to create countless new and original planets. The greatest of these planets that were featured in the movies would have to include the planets, Tatooine, Hoth, and Mustafar.

            Tatooine is the most featured planet of them all. Appearing in every movie of the series except Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Itís geology is clearly inspired by the geology of the deserts and dunes we see here on earth. Below is an example of one of the famous deserts here on earth: the Sahara.

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            Below here we see one of the main characters standing looking off into the distance over the dunes that are very similar to what we see above.

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            As is clear, there is nothing but sand for miles and miles. The image from space below shows that George Lucas used the deserts we have, and then exaggerated the circumstances to create an entirely new planet.

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            Hoth is also a fascinating planet. It is completely covered in ice and snow and was definitely inspired by the fascinating structural geology of the icy and cold areas on earth today. One of the most famous areas here would be Greenland. Below you can see an example of what it looks like.

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            Then, an example of what Hoth looks like in the movies.


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            As in the case of Tatooine, you can see that George Lucas applied the same technique to make Hoth. He used existing geology, exaggerated it, and gave it a cool name.

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            The planet Mustafar is the most dangerously fascinating out of the three, being covered almost entirely by lava. This very interesting planet would not have come into being had we not had the same geological processes transpiring here on earth. Below is a picture of typical volcanism.

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            Then, an few examples of how Lucas applied his technique to make a new world consisting mostly of volcanic rock and lava.

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            One of the coolest planets Iíve seen in filming would have to be Pandora, the planet featured in the movie Avatar. This beautiful planet is covered in lush forest but does not fail to include other areas such as deserts and oceans, as you can see from the view of the planet below.

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            Below this view are examples of the beautiful lush forest I spoke about. As you can see, the views are breathtaking.

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            I consider the design and creation of each of these planets to be completely original. However, ideas we come up with are all inspired by knowledge already attained. So we can conclude that without the geology of our planet, there would be no inspiration to create new ones to use in film.

            All in all, geology is indeed a very important part of all of our lives. Without it, our lives would be quite boring. But more importantly that that, the movies we watch and enjoy would be terribly boring as well! Unthinkable! Therefore, I am extremely thankful for the science of geology!

Works Cited:

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The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

Star Wars: The Attack of the Clones

Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith

Star Wars: A New Hope

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi