The movies can take you places you’ve never been before, but they also take you places you will never go — and we’re not just talking about outer space here. Rather, these are points on the map of the real world that are inaccessible by all but the most hardy man and/or beast.
These are the points on the globe never considered for a Sandals resort, but which you can get to in your bathrobe — the one you wouldn’t wear for company. These movies take the notion of armchair traveler to the extreme, and send you to lands one would love to visit, if one didn’t have to actually travel to get there.
What gives them their armchair appeal? Nature’s wonder, which can be magnificent — or deadly.
So stay home and travel the world!
The Edge of the World (1937)
Where We Are: Scotland’s Shetland Islands
What We’re Doing Here: Examining the conflict between traditional village life and the rising magnetic pull of modern, urban living on the young. A whole community and way of life face possible extinction.
Armchair Appeal: Director Michael Powell captures the raw, natural beauty of these remote islands.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Where We Are: The Arabian Peninsula
What We’re Doing Here: British army officer T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) aids Arab tribes in combating the Turks during WWI.
Armchair Appeal: Director David Lean’s stunning desert panoramas of Jordan and Morocco. Awfully hot when the sun comes up.
People of the Wind (1976)
Where We Are: The Zagros Mountains, Iran
What We’re Doing Here: The Bakhtiari people, a Persian tribe, migrate every year from their winter home to their “summer pastures,” and then back again.
Armchair Appeal: Two hundred miles of impassible mountains, raging rivers, no towns or help, and no chance of turning back. Whoopee!
Never Cry Wolf (1983)
Where We Are: The Canadian Arctic tundra
What We’re Doing Here: Canadian biologist Farley Mowat is sent into the wilderness to study the impact of wolves on the environment.
Armchair Appeal: Wolves, for one. Permafrost, for another. And then there are the mice, and the loneliness. But it sure is stunning way up there in the higher latitudes.
Mountains of the Moon (1990)
Where We Are: East Africa
What We’re Doing Here: British explorers Richard Francis Burton (Patrick Bergin) and John Hanning Speke (Iain Glen) search for the source of the Nile.
Armchair Appeal: Looking for the source of the Nile! One of man’s greatest and most dangerous quests.
Where We Are: Twenty-fives countries on six continents.
What We’re Doing Here: In the words of director Ron Fricke, “Baraka” is a “guided meditation on humanity.” Sounds grandiose, but he delivers!
Armchair Appeal: Egypt, Poland, India, West Berlin, plus dozens more places, shown through long, loving shots of temples, parks, mountains, cities, seas. In short, the world.
Where We Are: The most remote part of Nepal. In other words, Nepal.
What We’re Doing Here: Following a group of mountain natives as they enact the timeless annual ritual of bringing precious rock salt down the mountain, and just as precious grain back up the mountain.
Armchair Appeal: Filmed on perilously difficult terrain reachable only by foot. Very few Westerners will ever visit the region in person. And for good reason.
Master and Commander (2003)
Where We Are: Cape Horn and the Galapagos Islands
What We’re Doing Here: British commander “Lucky Jack” Aubrey (Russell Crowe) pursues a new class of French battleship during the Napoleonic Wars, while ship’s doctor Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) gathers specimens of native flora and fauna. All this while they complain quite a lot about each other.
Armchair Appeal: Thirty-foot swells. Who could ask for more?
Where We Are: South Africa
What We’re Doing Here: Witnessing the wonder of a cheetah cub raised by caring humans.
Armchair Appeal: Wild boars, swarms of tsetse flies, and the formidable Kalahari Desert.
Stream it tonight!
Journey From the Fall (2006)
Where We Are: Vietnam, just after the Fall of Saigon
What We’re Doing Here: At the end of the Vietnam War, a family survives life in a “re-education” camp to make it to a new life in America.
Armchair Appeal: Fosters a deep appreciation for the experiences of a people caught in a terrible moment in history. Americans have not seen nearly enough about a country whose history is inextricable from our own. So there.
Ten Canoes (2006)
Where We Are: Australia’s Northern Territory
What We’re Doing Here: A story within a story follows aboriginal hunter-gatherers as they seek sustenance for the tribe and caution against infidelity.
Armchair Appeal: Besides the hunting and gathering (goose eggs!), the Arafura Swamp, where the action takes place, is also home to crocodiles. In large quantities. Personally, I would want a boat bigger than a canoe.
Into the Wild (2007)
Where We Are: The Alaskan Wilderness
What We’re Doing Here: Rejecting society, seeker-traveller Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch), crisscrosses America. McCandless chooses the hard road not taken over and over again, ending up in the beautiful but punishing Alaskan bush.
Armchair Appeal: A stream that was frozen in winter, by spring becomes a river so raging that it cuts McCandless off from the road back to civilization. Nature is impersonal, but this movie is anything but- it will move you deeply.
Stream it tonight!
Last Train Home (2009)
Where We Are: China
What We’re Doing Here: This eye-opening doc follows the Zhang family, who have a rugged time of it. The two parents make an annual pilgrimage home to celebrate the New Year with their children, who had to be left behind when Mom and Dad could only find decent work far, far away.
Armchair Appeal: The annual journeys of 130 million Chinese migrant workers are shockingly arduous, yet “Last Train Home” also captures the epic sweep of China’s land mass, as well as the strength of family bonds.