The Mountains of Illinois
"You guys, this is so NOT Illinois."—Mystery Science Theater 3000, The Beginning of the End
But Illinois doesn't have mountains... Oh.
Movies and TV shows, wherever they're supposed to be set, tend to be filmed in Southern California or British Columbia. This leads to a common error where mountains show up in the background of settings which have no visible peaks in Real Life, such as the US state of Illinois, which, if you haven't already realized it, is almost as flat as this joke (three buildings in Chicago are taller than the state's highest natural point).
This becomes Critical Research Failure and/or They Just Didn't Care. Say a writer from California wants to base a story in Flyover Country. Even if they themselves visited Illinois and know what it looks like (and this is hardly guaranteed), they might still hope the viewers won't know the difference. Obviously, it can be a sore point for people who actually live there.
A subtrope of Television Geography. See also Misplaced Vegetation. While examples of this trope need not actually take place in Illinois or the midwestern United States, they must indeed involve mountains or hills appearing where they should not be. Inversions—when mountains don't appear where they should—are okay, but all non-mountain-related tropes belong on Television Geography.
- Promotional material for Rascal the Raccoon often featured mountains in the background. Wisconsin isn't as flat as Illinois, but it does not have that kind of mountains.
- Miami Guns parodies Japanese cop show cliches, and is set in ostensibly-Miami. Various episodes have villains illegally drift racing through the mountains of Florida (max. elevation 346 feet).
- Volume 1 of Vinland Saga shows us the majestic mountains on the coast of the Jutland Peninsula. In reality, the Danish coast is as flat as the Netherlands.
- The Fanatic's Guide to Digimon: The Movie has this tidbit:
The Japanese DigiDestined accompany Willis back to Manhattan. He is then seen phoning his mother, and informs her that he's "back on the island." And yet, in the background, are... mountains (see screenshot [on the linked page]). Yep, good ol' mountainous Manhattan.
- During the Magneto War crossover, Magneto met up with the Acolytes in an alpine-looking location, which the caption box says is "the Netherlands". Given that the word "Netherlands" means "lowlands", this is a particularly Egregious example.
- An early issue of Alpha Flight showed mountains in the distance in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which is located in the Red River Valley, one of the flattest areas on Earth. The nearest mountains are nearly 900 miles (1400 km) west, in Alberta.
- The original headquarters of the Justice League of America, the "Secret Sanctuary," is inside a mountain near Happy Harbor, Rhode Island. In Real Life, the highest point in Rhode Island is a mere 812 feet above sea level.
- Geography is a tricky subject at best in The DCU, but various depictions of Central City and Smallville in particular include nearby mountains which would be at odds with the presumably Midwestern locations of those cities.
- In Austin Powers 2, the Hollywood hills are clearly visible in the background to the "London" scenes. According to the commentary, the hills can't be seen from the set but were deliberately added in in post-production to make the scene look even more fake.
- Named for the opening scene of Beginning of the End, as Lampshaded in Mystery Science Theater 3000.
- And the episode for the movie The Rebel Set features a car chase through the mountains we all know are right outside of Chicago.
- Exceptionally unacceptable since it's animation, Beowulf opens with a wide shot of the majestic mountains of Denmark -- a country so flat its highest point is a TV tower (and said TV tower is twice as tall as the highest natural point).
- Some of the early scenes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind depict what seem to be mountains and cliffs in what is supposed to be Muncie, Indiana.
- In Cold Mountain (set in the Appalachian Mountains region of North Carolina), the Romanian location is mostly accurate....until giant craggy peaks appear towards the end.
- In the film Due Date, the main characters are driving west across the country. A shot shows the car passing a sign that says "Dallas - 36 miles". Cut to Peter and Ethan talking in the car with mountains passing in the background. For those unfamiliar with the Dallas area: there aren't any mountains for hundreds of miles around.
- Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Fotheringay Castle, in which Mary, Queen of Scots is confined prior to her execution, is played by Eilean Donan castle in Scotland, complete with romantic mountains and loch. The real Fotheringay Castle is in Northamptonshire, which has a distinct dearth of either.
- The movie version of The Fugitive has plenty of this when Kimble steals the ambulance and gets chased to the dam. (Most of the film's location shooting was done in the Great Smoky Mountains, although the action is nominally confined to Illinois...which is ironic, seeing as how the original show sent Kimble running all over America!)
- The docu-drama Gacy, about real-life serial killer John Wayne Gacy, is set in Illinois—indeed, in the city of Des Plaines. The movie clearly shows mountains and wild palm trees, none of which exist in Illinois. On the DVD commentary, the producer and director actually counts them.
- In John Carpenter's Halloween, the town of Haddonfield is supposed to be in Illinois, but a sharp-eyed viewer can not only see mountains in the background of some scenes, but palm trees as well. Of course, a sharp-eyed viewer probably already had their suspension of disbelief broken by the weather in the film, which, in the Midwest, is considerably less green and summery by that point in the year.
- The Syfy original movie Mega Piranha's climax occurs off the coast of beautiful South Florida. With mountains in the background.
- In Independence Day, the first sighting of the alien ship takes place in Novosibirsk, Russia. A news reporter says the ship is "clearing the mountains." There are no mountains in Novosibirsk—it is located on the West Siberian Plain, surrounded by swamps and pine forests in all directions.
- Inverted in the same film: the landscape supposedly surrounding El Toro shows a desert. El Toro Marine Base is located in a hilly section of Orange County.
- Inverted in Kingdom of Heaven, where Jerusalem is located in a flat desert. To clarify, this is what the outside of Jerusalem looks like.
- Inverted in many Christmas specials and stories of Jesus: this is Bethlehem in Real Life.
- National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation takes place in suburban Chicago, but in the opening scene where the Griswolds are driving down the highway to look for the perfect Christmas tree, mountains can be seen very clearly in the background. Chicago does not have mountains anywhere near it.
- The first Vacation movie shows palm trees, and maybe some mountains as well, in the background of the car dealership scenes.
- The first film also shows mountains visible from Cousin Eddie's farm outside Coolidge, Kansas. Coolidge is a real place and it's just six miles east of the Colorado state line. But even once you drive into Colorado, you'll still have to drive a few hours before you begin to see the mountains. The terrain of eastern Colorado makes Kansas look mountainous in comparison.
- The first Vacation movie shows palm trees, and maybe some mountains as well, in the background of the car dealership scenes.
- Much snark has been made about Disney's Pocahontas filling the flat area around Jamestown, Virginia with mountains and cliffs. While there are some tall mountains in Virginia, there are none anywhere near Jamestown. Which is one of the reasons why the location was chosen for a settlement.
- Or Norfolk, despite the fact that in Down Periscope peaks are visible from the naval base.
- The Jackie Chan film Rumble in The Bronx is supposed to take place in the Bronx, New York City. Of course it was filmed nowhere near the Bronx, but rather in Vancouver, British Columbia. The only remotely mountain-like higher land within view of New York City are The Palisades in New Jersey, which look nothing like the towering mist-shrouded Coast Mountains you can very clearly see in the background of several scenes in Rumble.
- The Rundown has some hills in The Amazon... considering the highest places in the forest are nowhere near the Amazon river...
- The 1950s Hollywood Mountie movie Saskatchewan had the Mounties riding through the majestic snowcapped mountains of said province. A province which, in reality, is so stereotypically flat that Canadians make jokes about roof repair guys being treated in Saskatchewan like astronauts. (The pre-1905 District of Saskatchewan had considerably different boundaries, but still encompassed no mountain ranges.)
- Starman begins with the titular character crashing to earth in Wisconsin... with mountains clearly visible in the background. While the country is certainly hilly, there are no mountains in Wisconsin.
- The Thief of Bagdad (1940) depicts the city of Bagdad as surrounded by craggy peaks. The real city stands in a perfectly flat plain.
- Deep Impact shows a packed highway fleeing Virginia Beach from the impending titular impact. While the movie did film that scene in Virginia, they did so several hours northwest, and thus, has mountains visible that should be well over the horizon.
- In Stick It, neither Plano nor Houston has elevation changes large enough to help your bike downhill, much less to perform stunts. The film was so obviously made in Arizona and California that it isn't funny.
- Since The Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed in New Zealand, there are mountains in most of the scenes. Which is fine, when they are traveling through the Middle Earth countries that are supposed to be mountainous. Except Rohan is supposed to be a huge grassland for as long as the eye can see. In the DVD Commentary Peter Jackson admits that New Zealand simply didn't have any suitable location for that description, so instead they went to show off the most interesting rock formations they could find to produce a cool, if not a very faithful, look.
- Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle: In the climatic scene, the heroes hang glide off a massive cliff to reach the White Castle in Cherry Hill, NJ. Sadly, there are no such cliffs. Though artistic license should be granted for such a serious, moving piece.
- Especially considering there isn't a White Castle in Cherry Hill. The nearest one is an hour and a half away, in Toms River.
- In the movie Swordfish, the main character is shown at one point to be practicing his golf swing off the top of trailer house in Odessa, Texas with mountains picturesquely in the background sunset. Anyone who has been to Odessa falls over laughing at this.
- North by Northwest features a treacherous drunken car chase along the Cliffs of Glen Cove, played in this picture by the cliffs of the California coastline. The north shore of Long Island is rocky, but not THAT rocky.
- Footloose: The film takes place in the Midwest but many times you can see tall snow-capped mountains revealing the movie was shot in Utah.
- The Disney Channel Original Movie Princess Protection Program takes place on the Louisiana bayou. Since the movie was filmed in Puerto Rico, it's a good deal more mountainous than Louisiana, where any hills in proximity to a bayou rise no higher than about 10 feet (3 meters).
- Braveheart opens with a sweeping vista of crags and mountains. William Wallace was born near the Ayrshire/Renfrewshire border, a region more noted for its lush fields and coastal plains than craggy mountains. (Ironically, the movie was shot in Ireland, which doesn't exactly lack in green fields and coastline.)
- Dean Martin's Matt Helm movie The Wrecking Crew may have been the direct inspiration for the Austin Powers gag that leads off this section. The movie takes place in Denmark. Some portions of the film, though perhaps only second-unit stuff, appear to have been shot in Denmark. The finale, however, with its exciting car chase along twisty mountain roads that ends with a confrontation on a cable car connecting two of the Danish Alps... wasn't. In reality, the highest point in Denmark, Møllehøj, is 170.86m high. The caption for Wikipedia's picture of Møllehøj, notes that the actual high point is "obscured by the farm buildings" in the picture's foreground. California locations doubled for the "Danish Alps".
- G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra has mountains on the Arctic ice cap... which is in the middle of the frozen ocean, with no land in sight for miles.
- Parodied in a deleted scene from Airplane!:
Elaine: Ted, the altitude! We're falling, Ted! We're falling! The mountains, Ted! The mountains!
Ted: What mountains? We're over IOWA!
Elaine: The... THE CORNFIELDS, TED! THE CORNFIELDS!
- In Kenneth Branagh's version of Hamlet, the eponymous protagonist delivers his famous "my thoughts be bloody, or nothing worth" speech on top of the great, snowy peaks that don't actually exist in Denmark.
- The Silence of the Lambs has a scene where police raid a house in Calumet City, Illinois that serial killer Buffalo Bill is thought to be hiding in. Although the real Calumet City is in flat-as-a-pancake Cook County, the movie scene (which was shot near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) shows large hills in the background.
- The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is a particularly bad offender. While some of the islands of the Caribbean do share traits with Hawaii, there is no excuse for portraying South Florida and the Everglades as a mountainous region with waterfalls and cenotes among a lush tropical jungle. The Everglades is an open grass swamp with occasional hammocks (islands) of palm, cypress and live oak. You can see for miles in the open areas and there is not even a hill in sight. A hammock of 2–5 feet above the water level is considered a significant rise.
- While it doesn't appear in the actual movie itself, the poster for the movie All Dogs Go to Heaven features the main characters in front of a backdrop of what appears to be New Orleans, with mountains behind it.
- A particularly grievous example is shown in the alleged documentary The Fourth Kind, which supposedly takes place in Nome, Alaska. Anyone who has been within several hundred miles of Nome can tell you that there are no mountains or lush evergreen forests anywhere near the city- it's surrounded on all sides by tundra or the ocean.
- In The Birdcage, mountains are visible outside Katherine's office window. Her office is in Florida.
- Pathfinder has Native Americans fighting Viking warriors in a version of New England that closely resembles a mashup of Switzerland's Alps and the Olympic Peninsula's temperate rain forest.
- Detroit 1-8-7 is likely to have this, what with being filmed in Atlanta.
- One episode of Sister, Sister had the twins trapped in a mountain cabin by an avalanche while on a skiing trip to Mt. Brighton, Michigan. While Mt. Brighton certainly does exist, and it is a ski resort, it is merely a prominent hill with one side altered for skiing. There are no cabins, no avalanches, no forest rangers (also seen in the episode), and absolutely no way to get lost while on Mt. Brighton- you can see the whole thing from the parking lot. The only mountains in Michigan are in the Upper Peninsula, hundreds of miles away.
- The fourth season of 24 had terrorists hiding a nuclear missile in the mountains of Iowa, a state that, like Illinois, has no point higher than 1700 feet.
- This is doubly heinous when you factor in that all of this hiding in hills takes place offscreen. They could've easily just had the theft take place somewhere where there are mountains (or at least steep foothills) to hide in. Either someone actually thought there are mountains in Iowa or...
- While parts of the seventh season were filmed on-location in Washington DC, California Doubling was used in a large portion of the episode. Thus, you get palm trees and brown hills ... in DC.
- In Power Rangers Operation Overdrive, the Florida Everglades has mountains. As does the rest of the world, thanks to filming in New Zealand.
- A third-season episode of Smallville features a scene on the shores of one of Kansas' picturesque mountain lakes. For those of you in other countries, the terrain of Kansas is just like a billiards table, except for just enough ripples to mess up your shot. (According to research published in the Annals of Improbable Research, the state is literally flatter than a pancake.) To add insult to injury, Kansas has no natural lakes.
- The same Kansas Problems for Clark and the gang also apply to Jericho.
- An episode of The X-Files featured the same fjord surrounded by mountains and pine trees that played a lake in Kansas in the Smallville example above as a lake in Iowa. They even spelled Okoboji wrong.
- The X-Files ran into this a few times. The first five seasons were shot in Vancouver, which helped mask some of the variances between places. However, it was noticeable a few times. The season 2 episode "Die Hand Die Verletzt" was set in New Hampshire forest, though the woods of Vancouver and the woods of New Hampshire contain noticeably different vegetation. For a straighter version of this trope, the season 6 episode "The Rain King" (filmed in California) featured the agents flying into a particularly mountainous region of Kansas farmland....
- The Commish was supposedly set on Long Island, but one Chase Scene showed the Rocky Mountains prominently in the background.
- The Minnesota farmland in Little House On the Prairie was peppered with suspiciously Californian mountains and hills. (Not to mention that it rarely ever snowed there, except during Christmas episodes.) Though the state of Minnesota does incorporate both prairies and mountains (not particularly tall ones), they are nowhere near each other.`
- In Heroes, Claire goes to an oil rig in her hometown of Odessa, Texas several times, and the background is quite mountainous. On the commentary for the episode "Godsend," Sendhil Ramamurthy (Mohinder) said, "I'm from San Antonio, and I've been to Odessa, and there are no mountains in Odessa."
- The illegal road race in Drive begins in Key West and runs through South/Central Florida for several episodes, featuring the mountains of the Florida Keys and Everglades in many of the highway scenes.
- Supernatural is guilty of this all the time. A scene set outside Lincoln, Nebraska had pine-covered mountains in the distance, for example.
- Averted in Carnivale through the magic of CGI, as it was supposed to be taking place in the dustbowls of Depression USA, hence no mountains at all.
- The Made for TV Movie Spring Break Shark Attack was supposed to be set in Florida but was shot in South Africa... with lots of nice shots of the mountains near "Miami Beach".
- Inversion: The first episode of Star Trek: Enterprise has a Klingon ship crash-land in Broken Bow, Oklahoma. Since Oklahoma is right in the middle of Flyover Country, the writers apparently assumed that it was nothing but a big, flat, cornfield. Except that Broken Bow is actually in a fairly mountainous and forested part of the state.
- Another inversion in Star Trek: The Next Generation: Worf and Alexander get stuck in Alexander's Ancient West holodeck program set in Deadwood. The real Deadwood is at the bottom of a deep gulch yet there is not a mountain in sight. Deadwood is always depicted on a prairie somewhere!
- Notably, Deadwood is surrounded by the Black Hills. The town did have most of the trappings of a Wild West Town, but the fights were over the area's gold and silver mining.
- The syndicated cop show Silk Stalkings was filmed in San Diego, but supposedly took place in Palm Beach, Florida. Of course, Mount Soledad, the Laguna mountains and many lesser hills were prominent in the backgrounds of many exterior shots. Several Floridian fans of the show joked that it was obviously Mount Dora we were seeing in the background.
- For the record, Mount Dora, Florida is a small town that sits at an elevation of 144 feet. In Florida, 144 feet puts Mount Dora at one of the highest elevations in the state. While not famous for hills the way, say, San Francisco is, San Diego does have a few streets that climb that far in a few blocks.
- The highest point in all of Palm Beach county (which is twice the size of Rhode Island) is a 20-foot high ridge east of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.
- Point Pleasant, which was set on the Jersey Shore, featured establishing shots of Plymouth, New Hampshire, a town hundreds of miles to the northeast in the mountains that looks nothing like anywhere in New Jersey.
- Averted and lampshaded in Corner Gas, filmed on location in Saskatchewan. When a traveler comments about the flatness, Deadpan Snarker Brent points out the lack of mountains in the distance, not blocking your scenic view.
Brent: There's lots to see. Nothin' to block your view. Like the mountains back there. They're uh... Well, what the hell? I could've sworn there was a big mountain range back there. Juttin' up into the sky all purple and majestic. I must be thinkin' of a postcard I saw or somethin'. Hey, it is kinda flat, thanks for pointin' that out.
- Inverted in the US version of Queer as Folk. It takes place in Pittsburgh, which is located entirely within the Appalachian Mountains. You wouldn't know this from watching the show, however, since it was filmed in the rather flat Toronto.
- To elaborate, a standard joke told to out-of-towners is that if a marble were placed on top of Mt. Washington in the city, it would not stop rolling until it reached Ohio.
- There's at least one shot from Bewitched showing mountains in the background. While the show took place in suburban Connecticut (for the most part), it was mostly shot in southern California.
- The miniseries of The Stand had a case of The Mountains of Indiana, during the scene where Trash Can Man blows up the refinery that's supposedly in north central Indiana, yet there are tall mountains clearly visible in the background.
- Sufjan Stevens' The Avalanche: Outtakes and Extras from the "Illinois" Album. His press releases for the album joked about the Prairie State's lack of real avalanches, and said that the name was meant to suggest "musical debris". The title track from the album is apparently about a Chevy Avalanche.
- No less than Giacomo Puccini erred when he had his lovers dying in "the deserts of Louisiana" in his opera Manon Lescaut. Admittedly he had meant it to be set near New Orleans, and justifiably was thinking of nearby Texas, but the name still doesn't quite work.
- In the first Call of Duty game there's a mission where you have to blow up the Eder Dam. The background is hilarious to any German; the Alpine peaks definitely don't look much like Hesse.
- In the expansion United Offensive, a mission takes place "somewhere in Holland" (presumably near Rotterdam, since that was what the plane you were in was bombing before it was shot down), yet features hills and even some rocky cliffs (there are no cliffs in the Netherlands, and the only hills are in the southeast, about 150 kilometers from Rotterdam).
- Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath has the Rivers of Johannesburg, which are an obstacle during the first half of the mission there; during the second half, there are cliffs in your way. Johannesburg is the largest city in the world to have no significant surface water. Also, there aren't any cliffs.
- According to Mountain Zone.com: "Illinois features many high mountain peaks and summits, topped by the highpoints of Charles Mound, Benton Mound, and Mound Sumner." The entry for every state begins with "(State) features many high mountain peaks and summits..."
- Several episodes of Family Guy (set in Rhode Island but, of course, written in L.A.) feature a rugged, mountainous landscape forested with pine trees. Rhode Island does have some hills, but not very large or jagged ones. Its highest point is 812 feet. Also, New England has many pine trees, but the native tree, the Eastern White Pine, looks rather distinct from the bushier Ponderosa of the West.
- In Asterix Conquers America, the Gauls climb a sheer cliff face on the east coast of North America. Good luck finding one in real life. Of course, the series has never made any pretense at being historically accurate, so why should it take geography any more seriously?
- Dubbing of series can cause this if in said dub the setting of the series is changed to the country in which the dub airs. For example; in the Dutch dubs of Rugrats and All Grown Up!, both series are suddenly supposed to be set in The Netherlands rather than the US, despite landscapes like mountains and deserts being present in them.
- Surrounding the Mississippi River in Northeast Iowa, Southeastern Minnesota, Southwestern Wisconsin, and a tiny part of northwestern Illinois, is a region known as the Driftless Area, which is unusually rugged compared to the surrounding areas. This has the reputation of being very hilly and mountainous, but the primary geographic characteristics of the Driftless Area are Valleys and carved river beds. most roads that go through the Driftless Area slant way downhill upon entering it.
- Estonia's highest natural point, a large hill, is jokingly called "Big Egg Mountain" by its residents. The rest of the country is otherwise fairly flat.
- Most of the Great Plains states in the US have spots of high relief. Even Kansas, though calling, say, the Flint Hills mountains would still be silly.
- For some reason many people seem to think that Wyoming and Idaho are just big flat tracts of grass and desert. They would be wrong.
- And the opposite can be said for Texas, as it is mostly grasslands and forests with the far southwestern part (including the cities of El Paso and Odessa) being mostly desert and mountains.
- Inverted with Colorado, which is always depicted as mountainous despite half the state being in the high plains.
- Similarly inverted with Montana, which has two-thirds of its land area in the high plains.
- Southern Illinois has the Garden of the Gods as one of the closest things to a mountain in the state. Mind you, they don't look like most mountains, so it's still a Critical Research Failure.
- One of Billy Connolly's stand-up routines in the 1980s was about folk songs that made no sense when analysed or were factually inaccurate, including one called "The Misty Blue Hills of Tiree" - "But if you have ever been in Tiree, it's like a bloody billard table!"
- specifically on what is now the VA-234 bypass west of Manassas, which was nearing completion at the time filming was done; the mountains in this case are the Bull Run Mountains, an outpost of the Blue Ridge not far from there