The Isle of Skye has won a starring role in Keanu Reeves’ new film, playing the role of a winter landscape in 18th-century Japan.
A trailer for the samurai epic 47 Ronin shows a group of sword-wielding warriors riding across the island on horseback and galloping through a forest. The crew spent a week on the west coast of Skye last October shooting the dramatic scenes.
The headland on Skye stands in for what is meant to be a Japanese landscape in the depths of winter. CGI effects have been used to add a massive statue of a warrior figure on to the mountainside.
Also filmed in Japan, London and Budapest, the plot revolves around a group of samurai, led by an outcast played by Reeves, who set out to avenge the murder of their master.
The Universal Pictures movie is said to have had a budget of more than £140 million.
Marcus McAdam, a Skye-based photographer, who worked on the shoot, said six different locations had been used – Neist Point, the Hill of the Red Fox, the Quiraing, Harlosh Point, the Old Man of Storr and Glenbrittle beach.
“From what I was told, they got to the editing stage and realised they didn’t really have anything suitable to show this really epic journey that the main characters take,” he said.
“A lot of the filming earlier in the shoot had been carried out in Japan, but as the production was based in London they realised it would be a lot easier for Skye to stand in for it. I was told the re-shoots actually delayed the release of the film.”
The movie, which is said to combine the fantasy elements of Lord of the Rings with the battle scenes of Gladiator, was first announced more than five years ago.
Due to be released in the UK on Boxing Day, it is the latest big-screen starring role for Skye. There have been suggestions the island could stand in for a mountainous planet in the next Star Wars movie, which is to be filmed in the UK and is due for release in 2015.
Shaz Morton, a location scout based on the island, said: “The great thing about Skye is that it is so adaptable. It is like Scotland in microcosm, with the range of different landscapes and dramatic areas like Trotternish, the Cuillin mountain range and the Quiraing.
“The fact the Skye Bridge is there has made a big difference – it is much easier to get to. It’s not just about films, it is regularly used for things like car commercials and fashion shoots.”
Jon Melville, editor of the Reel Scotland website, said: “The Lord of the Rings effect, whereby locations such as New Zealand see a huge tourism boost off the back of a big budget movie, is on the mind of all tourist boards. Even a few seconds of a stunning Scottish landscape in a trailer can interest film fans around the globe.
“The bigger effect will be when the film arrives in cinemas and location scouts see the possibilities offered by our countryside.
“Who would have thought Skye would double as 18th-century Japan? That must put ideas in the heads of film producers everywhere.”
Ali James, location manager on the film, said: “The weather was kind to us and everybody had a great time.”
Over the sea to a landscape that film makers just can’t resist
The spectacular landscape on Skye has had brief but notable starring roles in a string of films.
The famous opening credits of The Wicker Man show Edward Woodward flying over the Old Man of Storr and the Trotternish coastline, before he lands at nearby Plockton.
The Old Man of Storr can also be seen, along with the Quiraing, in the final scenes of the 1975 fantasy adventure The Land That Time Forgot, starring Doug McClure and Susan Penhaligon.
Some of the opening scenes of 1980 sci-fi epic Flash Gordon were filmed at Ashaig landing strip, near Broadford, with Robbie Coltrane in one of his earliest screen roles as a baggage handler.
Although 1987 fantasy Highlander was filmed largely at Eilean Donan Castle, on Loch Shiel, two locations on Skye were used for dramatic sword-fighting sequences – the Cioch, a rock outcrop from the face of Sron Na Ciche in the Black Cuillin mountain range, and the Table plateau in the Quiraing.
Lars Von Trier’s 1996 drama Breaking the Waves, with Emily Watson, was filmed at Neist Point and on the Quiraing road, as well as at Mallaig and Lochailort on the mainland.
The first ever Gaelic-language feature film, Seachd – The Innaccessible Pinnacle (2007), was produced on Skye by islander Chris Young – who went on to work on The Inbetweeners – and was at the centre of controversy after Bafta refused to put it forward for an Academy Award.
The following year, the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s book Stardust, with Claire Danes, Michelle Pfieffer, Sienna Miller and Robert De Niro, was shot in various locations on Skye, including the Fairy Glen.
Director Ridley Scott last year filmed – and set – part of sci-fi thriller Prometheus, his long-awaited Alien prequel, on Skye, using the Old Man of Storr.
And the Quiraing was featured again in Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron.
A few weeks ago, film crews were on the island again as production started on Gaelic soap opera Bannan, which translates as “The Ties That Bind”. The BBC Alba series tells the story of Mairi Macdonald, who returns to Skye for a funeral after leaving eight years earlier.