Crimes Against a County: Humboldt in the Movies

What’s the one thing, above all else, that people think when they hear the word “Humboldt?” Why, that a handful of subpar movies have been filmed here, of course.

It’s a life-altering event when Hollywood graces our humble locale, mainly because visiting cast and crew arrive in gold-plated hovercraft, only doffing their pince-nez and stovepipe hats long enough to sink their out-of-area dollars into our economy in the form of purchases like herbal teas and artfully- painted burl. Not that we Humboldtians need outside validation, but it’s nice to be needed every now and then by a group of people who don’t collectively own a single article of corduroy.

But are we being represented with a jaundiced eye? Do outsiders see us only as a cabal of dirt-worshipping hippies with drug dependencies, and not our true identities as regular people with drug dependencies? Let’s examine a handful of the many movies filmed on or near our home turf to get some real answers.

1. Return of the Jedi (Smith River, Crescent City):

The best smash-hit epic space opera sci-fi blockbuster of 1983 featured a plotline where Han Solo and the Rebel forces take pains to deactivate a shield generator on the moon of Endor, a place rife with towering Redwoods; while those scenes were actually shot in Del Norte County’s Smith River area, it’s close enough to Humboldt that visitors will swear that any tree they see that remotely resembles a Redwood, even if it’s in a Taco Bell parking lot, “was in the movie.”

The film doesn’t represent people, of course; Endor’s denizens are little wolfman-midget things who live in Swiss Family Robinson-style treehouses and throw rocks to ward off invading forces. But whatever plant life they toss on Darth Vader’s funeral pyre at the end of the movie is powerful enough to make everyone see happy, elderly ghosts–so they have that going for them.

CRIMES AGAINST HUMBOLDT: Making people think we’re nothing but huge trees and loincloth-wearing miniature Sasquatches. Plus, weed.

2. Humboldt County (Arcata, Blue Lake, Eureka, Garberville, Trinidad):

The worst offender of all, because there is only one type of Humboldtian portrayed–the eccentric, laid-back-but-paranoid, life-lesson dealing pothead, the kind who lurks deep in the foggy woods, where he lives in an eco- sustainable shanty made of hemp. Not that there aren’t many of those folks recumbent biking around Arcata, but there is no alternative offered. What of the family-values oriented conservatives? Where are the beer-swilling lumberyard workers, or the emos, or the Lutherans, or the Huguenots?

Throw in a bunch of screaming outbursts by many of the unstable “Humboldt” types the movie showcases and you’ve got one colossal misrepresentation of our diverse corner of the Earth: not only are we all either sellers or buyers of illegal substances, but we’re all sage hermits
with scads of repressed emotional trauma waiting to spill out at the drop of a hat.

CRIMES AGAINST HUMBOLDT: It makes us look like most outsiders already think we are, except crazier. Also, weed.

3. Almost Heroes (Trinidad)

The comedy dream-teaming of Matthew Perry from “Friends” and funnyman Chris Farley, playing odd-couple explorers trying to beat Lewis and Clark to the Pacific, scored in 1998 to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars in grosses–a king’s ransom in 1805 money, but alas, a stupendous flop in modern currency.

Though Farley’s untimely death soon after filming completed in 1997 may have had something to do with audiences’ refusal to fill theaters nationwide, I like to think that they caught wind that the beloved comedian had spent some of his last days tooling around the North Coast, and were merely boycotting the evil region that had pushed him into the deep end of the drug pool. Of course, Humboldt is no more a cocaine haven than Vatican City is, but Farley enthusiasts in Flint, Michigan or Forth Worth, Texas don’t know that.

CRIMES AGAINST HUMBOLDT: Making people in Flint, Michigan and Fort Worth, Texas think that we killed Chris Farley with something other than weed.

4. The Majestic (Ferndale, Trinidad)

Aside from Steven Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park, The Majestic may have been the most feverishly anticipated movie ever shot in our lustrous confines. It starred Jim Carrey, at the time a $20-million-a-film superstar, and promised to put Ferndale on the map as “that place where that movie was made by the director of The Shawshank Redemption, in case anyone cares.”

Problematically, The Majestic sucked, stifling Carrey’s zany, slapstick energy within a maudlin, 1951-set tale

of McCarthyism and post-war depression; even worse, it dared to lift its audiences’ spirits with that old crowd-

pleaser of a plot where an old guy and the amnesiac who may be the old guy’s son restore a dilapidated movie theater and help their town’s gloomy citizens feel better about things. You know the one. Humboldt theatergoers themselves might have been excitedly elbowing each other in the ribs and pointing out the antique Ferndale streets if they weren’t either ruefully mourning their forever-lost eight dollars or sleeping soundly in their seats.

CRIMES AGAINST HUMBOLDT: Making people think that nearly everything shot here is terrible and/or boring. This one might be true.

About Zack Newkirk

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