May 10, 2012

Maine's the one

By Ray Routhier
Staff Writer

Like lots of film stars, Maine often gets typecast.

But maybe that's a good thing.

When Hollywood looks for a setting full of rocky, wind-swept ocean grandeur, they often look to Maine. When a story needs a locale that's creepy and remote, Maine often gets the call. And when the screenwriters are looking for picturesque small-town charm, they are very likely to locate their quaint small town in Maine.

Such is Maine's luck with the new film version of "Dark Shadows" opening Friday, starring Johnny Depp. It's based on the cult hit TV soap opera (1966-71) about a 200-something-year-old vampire living in a prominent New England family. And like the TV show, the film is set in the fictional town of Collinsport, Maine.

Now, let's be clear about this -- the film was not shot here. It was shot mostly in England and Scotland.

In fact, many of the films set in Maine are not shot here. So when we talk about films set in Maine, we're really talking about how Hollywood sees Maine -- how Hollywood portrays Maine.

And Hollywood mostly sees Maine the way the rest of the country sees it, probably thanks in no small part to master storyteller and uber-selling horror novelist Stephen King setting most of his stories in the Pine Tree State. That's why Hollywood sets horror stories in remote places ("Lake Placid" or any King film) and ghost stories ("Casper" or any King story) in Maine. That's also why they set farces about quirky small-town life ("Welcome to Mooseport"), or stories about summer camps or retreats here.

The last category includes an upcoming Meryl Streep comedy, "Hope Springs." The film is set for an August release, and features Streep and Tommy Lee Jones undergoing couples counseling during a Maine getaway.

So is Maine being typecast?

"I think the obvious answer is yes, and that's what (filmmakers) are aiming for," said Michael C. Connolly, a history professor at Saint Joseph's College in Standish and co-editor of "John Ford in Focus," about the legendary Maine-born Hollywood film director.

Connelly thinks Maine gets typecast because its well-known qualities (coastline, woods, small towns) make it instantly recognizable to audiences. Those are qualities audiences want to see in an depiction of Maine, he said.

The new "Dark Shadows" is directed by the unpredictable Tim Burton and seems to be being played for laughs, so it's a little unclear how Maine is portrayed.

We do know, from the Warner Bros. production notes, that the family of cursed vampire Barnabas Collins (Depp) came to Maine more than 200 years old when the coastline was pristine. They then built up a cannery empire in the small fishing town of Collinsport, which is seen in the film having at least two opposing canneries lining the bay. The town also has the Collins' stately old manor house and some typical New England seaport businesses, such as the Blue Whale Tavern.

Of course, there are lots of films where Hollywood just stuck to the setting in the original book or story, such as "Charlotte's Web" (2006), which was set on a Maine farm, or Richard Russo's "Empire Falls" (2005), set in a gritty Maine mill town. (This one was actually filmed in Maine, mostly around Waterville and Skowhegan, because Russo pushed hard for a Maine shoot.) "Dark Shadows" seems to fall into that category, because the original TV show was also set, but not filmed, in Maine.

Here are some other memorable movies to see with stories set in Maine:

"Casper" (1995): A live-action/animated film take on Casper the friendly ghost, starring Bill Pullman. It takes place in haunted Whipstaff Manor in the small town of Friendship, which is a real Maine town near Thomaston.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

The Kobal Collection
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Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman in “The Shawshank Redemption”

Courtesy photo

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Dakota Fanning in “Charlotte’s Web”

Courtesy photo

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Ray Romano in “Welcome to Mooseport”

Courtesy photo

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“It Happened to Jane,” starring Doris Day and Jack Lemmon, was set – but not filmed – in Maine.

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“Empire Falls,” based on Maine novelist Richard Russo’s book, was both set and filmed in Maine.


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