July 11, 2011
Regular vtravelled contributor David Whitley goes behind the movie scenes on an alternative tour of Las Vegas… Given that big-spending blow-outs, lavish opulence, excitement and spectacle are what Las Vegas does best, it’s hardly surprising that Hollywood blockbusters often come to town. Sin City is a film location favourite, with many major movies shot along The Strip and in the casinos. But where should you go if you want to follow in the footsteps of Sean Connery, Demi Moore, Tom Cruise and George Clooney? Well, here’s where to get your own cameras rolling:
The Fremont Street Experience in Downtown Las Vegas clings on to what Sin City used to be before the megaresorts moved in and went for style over flashing lights. Fremont Street has maintained the wild west-themed casinos, country music and neon blizzard, while adding a giant overhead screen to turn the city’s second strip into a tourist attraction in itself. Fremont Street is now pedestrianised, but it wasn’t in 1971. And that’s when Sean Connery as James Bond got to recklessly drive a Ford Mustang down it, pursued by police cars. The look of the individual casinos driven past – such as the Golden Gate, Golden Nugget and Binion’s – is different, but 40 years later the overall feel remains.
The Hilton doubles as the lair of reclusive multi-millionaire Willard Whyte in Diamonds Are Forever (even though Whyte is actually being held captive by Blofeld). It’s also where the initial action happens in Indecent Proposal – the scene where Demi Moore kisses the dice before rolling on a big stake was filmed at one of the craps tables.
In terms of the casino floor itself, Caesar’s Palace makes its most famous Hollywood appearance in Rain Man. After a visually stunning drive through the desert, Tom Cruise’s character takes his autistic brother – played by Dustin Hoffman – to count the cards while the blackjack winnings stack up.
The pair stay in the Forum Tower Emperor’s Suite, which sprawls over two levels. The same suite was supposedly where the unfortunate bachelors in The Hangover stayed as well. It wasn’t actually filmed there – it was a specially created set designed to mimic the suite – but Caesar’s gets a huge number of enquiries from people asking to stay there. No tigers, and no babies in cupboards are allowed. Oh, and most of the other parts of Caesar’s seen in the film are the real deal.
They might not have remembered too much about it, but the characters in The Hangover nipped next door from Caesar’s to go gambling in the Bellagio – and found the chips to prove it. The Bellagio has a fairly lengthy history as a movie extra, having starred in romantic comedies Lucky You and What Happens In Vegas as well, but its biggest role was in Ocean’s Eleven.
This is the casino that George Clooney, Brad Pitt and the gang were hitting up. Even though the vault wasn’t the real one, most of the other scenes purporting to be at the Bellagio were legit. The staircase that Julia Roberts walks down is no longer there – it was ditched during a refurbishment – but you can still dine at the table where George and Julia shared a meal. It was shot in the Bellagio’s Picasso restaurant – book table 24 if you really want to replicate.
Parts of the original, Rat Pack-era Ocean’s Eleven were shot inside the Riviera. This is something of a Strip stalwart, having stood since 1955 and remained in business while famous resorts around it have been demolished. It also has the right amount of kitsch to be a suitable filming location for the first Austin Powers movie – most of the indoor scenes were shot here, although the Strip as a whole got plenty of screen time.
The Riviera’s history made it the perfect filming spot for Casino, the Robert De Niro flick about Vegas’s mob era. It doubled as the fictional Tangiers casino throughout the movie.
Treasure Island goes for a saucy pirate-themed vibe, and the escape from a sinking ship scenes in Miss Congeniality 2 were filmed in the lagoon where the Sirens of TI show usually takes place. TI (as the resort likes to be known) is also the spot where Seth Rogen’s character in Knocked Up starts to regret his mushroom intake. The circus scenes where he freaks out feature the performers and odd costumes of Cirque du Soleil’s Mystre show. It’s Cirque’s original Vegas spectacle and the best of the bunch available at Treasure Island.
The Hoover Dam, just out of Las Vegas, is something of a movie regular. Elvis flew over it in Viva Las Vegas, while it got blown up in the first Superman flick. Its most recent blockbuster appearance was in the first of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, where it turned out that the purpose of the dam wasn’t to provide electricity for Las Vegas after all. The Dam, of course, is a prison for a mysterious energy cube that turns ordinary machines evil and the spot where chief nasty robot Megatron has been kept away from the world.
You can actually go inside the dam – the tours take you right into the concrete, up to the border between Nevada and Arizona which passes through the middle.
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