Ever since the explorers of old used oral storytelling, flyers, and published journals to spread word of streets lined with gold, fountains of youth, or rich silks and spices, people have been using mass media to motivate others to go on adventures. A hundred years ago, even Ernest Shackleton promised “honor and recognition” in an ad in the London press to any adventurer who would sign up to go with him on an attempt to cross Antarctica via the South Pole:
“Men Wanted for Hazardous Journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.”
In those days, however, most of the people who took the bait expected a testing of their mettle and knew that they would be taking on an adventure that would push them to the limit. Today, however, with the ubiquitous of films, “average people” are being inspired to go on dangerous journeys — thinking they’ll be safe. Often, this isn’t the case.
Places sometimes figure as prominently as any lead character in a film. Think of the 1965 film The Sound of Music, and you picture Julie Andrews spinning around in front of the Austrian Alps. I wonder how many travelers since the sixties have attempted a climb for that exact spot — and done their own 360.
Twenty years later, 1985’s Out of Africa spawned countless African safaris by moviegoers. And following 2001’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, New Zealand was inundated with hordes of visitors looking for an adventure traveler’s playground: raging, white-water rapids; glacial lakes; dramatic cliff faces; and dense forests.
I have to confess that my own recent adventure to the Galápagos was partly inspired by a movie I’d seen a few years ago. In fact, my naturalist guide even pointed out a spot where a scene from the 2003 nautical adventure movie Master and Commander was shot.
It’s clear that locations depicted on screen often see a boost in tourism. Perhaps the top prize for the movie that inspired the most real-life adventures has to go to Into the Wild. Since that film premiered in 2007, year after year, a steady stream of unprepared people have risked their lives and trekked through Denali National Park in Alaska in hopes of reaching the bus where Christopher McCandless starved to death. And each summer since then, rescuers have recovered at least half a dozen lost hikers on McCandless pilgrimages.
As recently as September of last year, a sixty-four-year-old man hiked into Utah’s Lower Blue John Canyon. He slipped and fell ten feet, breaking his left leg and dislocating his right shoulder. Three days later, a National Park Service patrol found his car. The next morning, a helicopter crew spotted him crawling across the desert, about four miles from the site of his accident. Why had he gone to the Lower Blue John Canyon? He reported he had been inspired by the 2010 release of 127 Hours, the movie starring actor James Franco that was based on the experience of Aron Ralston, the man who got trapped in that canyon by a falling rock and was forced to amputate his arm. Until two years ago when the movie was released, the fissure was only known to serious canyoneers and people who’d read Ralston’s 2003 memoir, Between a Rock and Hard Place.
What’s even more intriguing about all of this — much as with the explorers of old who embellished their calls for adventure with promises of untold riches to be gained and wonders to be seen — is that the not-so-much-truth-in-advertising is still going on. That lagoon that Franco jumps into within Lower Blue John Canyon where Ralston got caught? It doesn’t exist.
I wonder what thrilling adventures the new 2012 movie John Carter will inspire. Edgar Rice Burroughs originally wrote the “script” more than one hundred years ago.
Do you think modern movies are inspiring “average” people to go on adventures that are far beyond their physical abilities? Or is this just what adventure tales have always been meant to do: test our limits?
Here’s to your (safe) adventures, in whatever corner of the world you find them,