A few weeks ago, I spent an evening working as an extra in a major motion picture that will be coming to a cineplex near you next year. I didn’t do it for the fortune—good thing, since I was an unpaid extra—and certainly not the fame, as I’ll just be another indistinguishable human mass in the background of a crowd shot. No, I did it because the movie was filming not all that far from my house. And that got me thinking—you have a lot of time to think when you’re an unpaid extra—if there had been any other movies filmed in the vicinity of my house.
TheMovieMap, a $1 app from TheMovieMap.com, exists to answer these nagging questions. The app includes an integrated map with familiar red pushpins showing you movie locations from your favorite feature films. There’s a clever concept behind the idea that should intrigue movie buffs who could swear they’ve seen that railroad trestle where Dirty Harry is pursuing the Scorpio Killer somewhere before. Unfortunately, some flawed implementation makes this app too difficult to use to be any fun.
When you launch TheMovieMap, you’ll see a map of the world literally teeming with pushpins. You can use the iPhone’s pinch gestures to zoom in, but it would probably be easier just type in a location in the app’s search bar. You can also tap a location button, and The MovieMap will exploit the iPhone’s geolocation features to zero in on your whereabouts—an easy way to see if anyone ever made any movie magic in your immediate vicinity.
Location searches behaved more haphazardly than I expected. I could type in “San Francisco” for example, and TheMovieMap would dutifully zoom in on the City by the Bay and its multitude of film locations. But if I wanted to jump to another city—”Chicago,” say—TheMovieMap would usually turn up a “No Results Found” message. It took me a few tries to realize that app wanted to type in both the city and the state—even then, instead of zooming over to the correct location, the map would pull back to a more global view.
I had better luck using TheMovieMap’s Find By Name tab. Tap on that, and you get a scrollable alphabetic listing of all the films in the TheMovieMap’s database; there’s also a handy A-to-Z navigation bar on the right side of the screen for quickly jumping ahead to titles like Raiders of the Lost Ark or X-Men.
TheMovieMap’s listings are rather extensive, but by no means complete. Indeed, even movies contained in the app don’t have a complete list of their locations. (The aforementioned Raiders, for example, shows the movie’s Tunisia locations, but not scenes shot in Kauai or Stockton, Calif.) To build out its listings, TheMovieMap features a Submissions tab, where you can let the developers know about any missing entries. I found placing the pin in the exact location on a map to be a bit of pain—more trouble than it was worth, actually, to let the world know that the Oakland Coliseum stood in as the home ballpark for the Angels in 1994’s Angels in the Outfield remake. But TheMovieMap added my submission in a couple of days, which is an admirable turnaround.
(There are limits to the value of crowd-sourcing, of course. In the app’s main window, I noticed a pin stuck smack dab in the middle of Africa, all by its lonesome. Curious, I tapped on the pin, and the pop-up menu claimed that it was a location used in the movie Maverick. Now it’s been a good 15 years since I’ve seen this western comedy starring noted funnyman Mel Gibson, but I’m pretty sure that’s nonsense. If memory serves, the scene the app refers to was shot in Yosemite National Park; at any rate, I’m willing to wager that Maverick was most definitely not filmed in Chad near that country’s border with Cameroon.)
The app suffers from its share of problems you’d associate with a 1.0 release—namely the navigation woes I’ve already mentioned and a propensity toward crashing. Occasionally, maps won’t load after a search, and you’ve got to toggle back and forth between the standard, satellite, and hybrid views to make anything appear. Note also that TheMovieMap requires either a Wi-Fi or network connection, so if you’re using an iPod touch (or running the app in 2x mode on a Wi-Fi-only iPad) and there’s no wireless connectivity to be had, you’re not going to be able to look up where exactly on Long Island it is that Sonny meets his grisly end in The Godfather.
But my biggest gripe with TheMovieMap is how poorly the app has implemented maps. Often times, when you pick a movie or location, the app zooms in so closely, you have no context for where you even are. Take the standard view entry for Quiz Show, which zooms in so closely on that movie’s location, you can’t even see the cross-streets. Tap the pin for more information, and you’ll get the name of the movie and the scene in question (as well as a button to jump to a page with more info), but no sense for where you are in the world. It’s very frustrating.
Finding out where a movie scene may have taken place is hardly an essential task, so an app providing that information had better be fun and pleasant to use. At this stage, TheMovieMap isn’t either of those things. Movie buffs should wait until the sequel to see if things improve.
[Macworld.com executive editor Philip Michaels can soon be seen in a major motion picture. Unless, of course, you happen to blink during his scene.]