Inside the Test Village

I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull last night – a film I'll resist reviewing here, despite the temptation – but there is at least one scene that I want to point out. I won't give away any real plot details, but you might not want to read this post if you plan on seeing the movie.
So, quite early in the film, Indiana Jones escapes from a U.S. military warehouse at night on a remote base in Nevada, where he's been taken by alien-obsessed Russian captors. After the sun comes up the next morning, he finds himself climbing over a fence into a cul-de-sac of detached houses.
It's a suburb in the middle of nowhere, impeccably maintained.
He knocks on one of the doors, hears nothing, and so goes inside, calling for help. A TV is blaring in the other room – but when Indiana Jones walks through to the front of the house, he finds that the house is full of mannequins.
There are mannequins watching TV – fake, plastic people with their eyes fixed to the screen.
So he goes out onto the street – and the street, too, is lined with mannequins, little brown-haired kids on bikes and men outside in driveways as if to wash their family cars.
And then a distant, amplified voice booms out over the roar of an air raid siren: the weapons test will begin in ten... nine... eight...
Because he's just walked into an atomic bomb testing village – and now he has to find someplace to hide.

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Blogger MHV said...

Classic plot twist. I've often seen something similar in comics from the early Cold War era.

There's a Buck Danny (French adventure comics about a USAF pilot) story set in the North Pole where our heroes are stranded in the middle of the cruel Arctic. After finding habitations, they discover the cruel twist that fate has played on them: 'tis a nuclear testing zone. They rapidly dress up with the radiation suits they find in the shacks, and madly rush away from the blastosphere in the serendipitously well located caterpillar truck...

May 23, 2008 4:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Go ahead and review it! I would trust your opinion more than the vast majority of film critics.

Cmon, do it!

May 23, 2008 4:35 PM  
Blogger Robin Sloan said...

Agree we/ exurban escape! Or how about at least a BLDGBLOG review of the architecture of adventure -- long parallel roads, transforming ruins, etc.?

May 23, 2008 5:19 PM  
Blogger Andrew H. said...

There is something strangely engrossing watching the layers of that house peal themselves away - beyond the exploded axonometric, the "nuclear perspective" slowly burns off successive layers revealing a television playing Walter Cronkite - what deep introspective commentary on culture can we gleen from this?

May 23, 2008 6:25 PM  
Blogger Andrew H. said...

I keep think about this house, designed to be like any other house, but it isn't any other house. It is a house built purely to entertain its own destruction. Looking around on the internet I found a small thumbnail to a broken link of a similar house, constructed but not destroyed - a house with unfulfilled destiny. Which leads to even more questions - if this house has not met it's destructive fate is it complete? is it historical? are the radioactive embers of its bretheren being kept somewhere, in nead of a landmark historic building marker emblazoned "These are the piece of the first house destroyed by a nuclear explosion in the US"

May 23, 2008 6:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The cover of the book Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America by Tom Vanderbilt has that house on it. If you are curious about atomic archaeology and Cold War ruins it is a must read.

If I'm not mistaken the Americans built a German town in the desert someplace during WWII. They wanted to study the best ways to bomb & burn & otherwise ruin from the air. Also, in the UK there was a German village on a british Army base in the 80s. They used it to train reservists, it was cheaper to have a German village in the UK than send troops to the continent.

May 24, 2008 12:08 PM  
Blogger Anne said...

Fake is fascinating. It challenges trust (eg Truman Show). It is repulsive (Portmeirion). A common Cold War trope (spying, deceit, betrayal), it means different things now, though I don't know how to deconstruct it. It honours - if only ironically - what it replicates. There is always something about power, though. (Yr Dubai/Lyon post v interesting...)

May 24, 2008 8:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The British fake German village is probably Copehill Down, in the Salisbury Plain training area. It was built from scratch to train soldiers for urban fighting during the Cold War, along the lines of a Bavarian village.

There are also a number of villages in areas which were requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence for training use, and are now deserted. Imber, also on Salisbury Plain, Tyneham, in Dorset, and Buckenham Tofts, Langford, Stanford, Sturston, Tottington and West Tofts, in Norfolk. There are doubtless more.

May 25, 2008 12:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They were actually called Doom Towns.

May 25, 2008 4:27 PM  
Blogger Ned Beauman said...

About half of the underrated remake of The Hills Have Eyes is set in one of these plastic test villages - extremely effective.

June 27, 2008 1:11 PM  

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