Reel Toronto: Weird One-Offs
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Reel Toronto: Weird One-Offs

From Star Trek to Serendipity to Superstar—sometimes our city's film appearances are short, sweet, and a bit random.

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Now and again, you’re watching something with neither a clue nor a care about where it was shot (especially if you’re not us), and then do a double-take when something Torontonian shows up—sometimes just for one shot. Probably our favourite example of this is a second-season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “Contagion.” It’s your usual Star Trekky, sci-fi fare and features a portal that can take you to bunch of sci-fi worlds. They keep flicking by, like the airbrushed pages of a 12-year-old’s unicorn-themed wall calendar, and then…wait. Was that Toronto City Hall? Yes it was? What the heck?!

Even weirder? The same building made an even more random appearance in a Star Trek comic book.

Also, FYI, that episode is now 25 years old, so if you remember seeing it back in the day…we can all feel old together.

Obviously, if you’re us, you think, “Wow, that’s an easy column to write!” One screencap, 50 words of text, file it, and wait for the cash and kudos to roll in! But no, journalistic responsibility prevails, so you put it in your back pocket, wait until you’ve found a few more and put them all together in a column. Why, a column just like this one!

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In a similar vein, there is 2007’s The Golden Compass. Based on a series of books by Philip Pullman, it’s mostly an epic children’s fantasy, albeit with controversial religious undertones. Its real-world components are very much set in England, even if it’s an alternate-universe version.

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But then we get this random bit where this dude walks into this room…

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…right after passing through this very familiar atrium. It’s not your imagination if you think it’s actually a modified version of the atrium at Brookfield Place, used as a background plate.

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For more sci-fi, we can look to The Sixth Day, one of the last big actiony movies Arnold Schwarzenegger made before moving on to his second career as governor of California. (Or, well, third if you count bodybuilding. What an accomplished fellow!) It’s not even in Top Five Arnie Movies in Which There Is a Dystopic Future Involving Futuristic Taxis.

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Anyway, as you can see here, the vast majority of the movie was shot in Vancouver.

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And yet, all of a sudden, Arnold pulls up in front of this Vancouver shopping centre

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…and walks into the Eaton Centre?

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Hey, at least you get a sense of how Michael Snow’s geese can be improved with holograms. Imaginary fish are the future! (As far as we know, Michael Snow did not sue Schwarzenegger for this, although it might have been worth a try.)

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Then he goes into this weird store and buys this weird girl doll. Don’t ask.

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Rather more contemporary (at least in terms of its setting) is the 1994 Kevin Bacon vehicle, The Air Up There. It mostly takes place in Africa, where his ambitious basketball coach has travelled to recruit a young, tribal dude who could be a superstar. But it’s bookended by his day job back here in North America.

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The basketball arena you see at the beginning and end looks familiar, with Copps Coliseum’s distinctive mosaic of yellow chairs. (It does appear, however, that the usually-red chairs were swapped for blue to match the fictitious school’s colours.)

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There aren’t many exterior shots of the school itself, but when Kevin Bacon emerges from a meeting, lo and behold, he finds himself at the University of Toronto’s front campus, with views of Convocation Hall…

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…also looming behind Bacon here…

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…and University College.

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U of T also pops up a couple of times in the rather terrible SNL vehicle for Molly Shannon’s Mary Katherine Gallagher character, Superstar. Yeah, it was directed by Bruce McCulloch, but even in a genre dominated by the metaphysical question, “Can they really make a movie out of that skit?” Superstar really bottoms out. Anyway, here she is in the quad of Knox College. It’s the same photogenic thoroughfare seen in everything from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle to The Incredible Hulk.

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Here is the lovely chapel, from the same building.

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And here’s Tom Green hanging out in it!

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Across campus, here’s local comic Harland Williams on Philosopher’s Walk. You’ve now seen more of Superstar than the vast majority of people on Earth, and we can’t tell you you shouldn’t be feeling shameful about that.


Also random is the 2001 rom-com, Serendipity, starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale. It’s just as twee as can be, and it mostly takes place in the sort of shimmery, Christmasy New York City you only see in movies like this.

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And then, hey, wait…is that Molly Shannon again? That’s weird. And that street looks familiar too…

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….oh, how about that! They’re on Markham Street, outside the Green Iguana. Why, its appearance here alone should be enough to save it from the wrecker’s ball!

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And a scene with Eugene Levy is something of a hint we may be north of the border, though (luckily) we can’t blame him for the film’s weak showing this time.

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Did you see A Home at the End of the World? It’s got people like Robin Wright and Colin Farrell (in a horrific wig) in it! No, we didn’t either. But they did shoot much of this coming-of-age tale (set primarily in New York City) up here, not that you’d notice. Here’s that wig with Canuck Matt Frewer!

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This little bit is on Main Street, in Schomberg, for example.

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Even more obscurely, it’s Port Credit Secondary School!

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And, finally, somewhat recognizably, a scene outside Bloor Street’s Paradise Theatre.

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A rather more successful effort at quality cinema was 1984’s The Killing Fields, which took home three Oscars.

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It’s about two journalists uncovering the massacres of the Cambodian population by the Pol Pot government, and set almost entirely in that country. But then, we get this scene where Sydney Schanberg (played by the terrifically eyebrowed Sam Waterston) collects his Pulitzer Prize.

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It was shot in the ballroom at the Royal York, of all places. Why, you may ask? Why not, we say. Indeed, the same could be said for any of these productions in which Toronto is neither here nor there. Or as Commander Worf up there might answer: “Qalth be’?” (That’s “Why not?” in Klingon. Did everyone get that?)