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Just Why Do All Alien Planets Look Exactly Like the Woods Outside of Vancouver?

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Think Pieces | October 9, 2014 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Think Pieces | October 9, 2014 |

There’s a joke in science fiction television that all alien planets look exactly like the woods outside of Vancouver. There are several possible reasons for this.

The first is that Vancouver is actually used for a filming location for a lot of television and film. A number of “facts” have been floated in support of this theory. For one, Vancouver has a relatively large pool of actors due to years used as a filming location, so it’s a self-reinforcing cycle. Said actors end up being relatively inexpensive due to the fact that they can be paid in Canadian dollars (which are legally defined as 1/117 of a bear pelt) and that if they live in Vancouver instead of Los Angeles or New York they’ve likely already given up on ever making a living as an actor any way.

Hollywood politics plays a role as well. The relatively short flight from Los Angeles (a bit under three hours) means that Vancouver seems relatively close and in touch, compared to much of the United States that has the trees necessary to film forest scenes. Said locations in the United States tend to be in places whose politics are deeply allergic to anonymous executives, who cannot name a single Congressman, but are nonetheless terrified of Republicans. The socialist left coast of Canada offers them no such dangers.

When combined with the fact that it’s winter ten months out of the year and Hollywood executives are physically incapable of travelling to locations with a temperature below freezing with the exception of carefully manicured skiing trips, Vancouver also manages to keep most of the executives from visiting sets for most of the year, which is in the deep interests of those who actually go about making television and movies.

I’m sure there are also tax benefits or some such, but like a Neanderthal suspicious of mechanical devices, I contend that matters of finance more complicated than balancing a checkbook are fictional contrivances that exist solely for theft.

So Vancouver ends up being a perfect storm for the production of science fiction and fantasy television.

Or there is a deeper truth, a more terrible truth. All these shows look the same because the woods outside of Vancouver literally connect to a thousand different worlds. Every monster of the week on X-Files and Supernatural, every alien planet explored in iterations of Stargate, Star Trek, and Battlestar Galactica, every time those woods appear on a screen, you are peering through a doorway in those Canadian woods. Somewhere the Peacock brothers are being hunted by a Cylon. Somewhere a G’ould is being eaten alive by a wendigo. A Vulcan is stumbling into the abandoned camp site of murdered teenagers on her way to escaping through one stargate into another stargate in these same woods.

The woods outside of Vancouver aren’t just where we film our fictions. They are the doorway to them. It’s no coincidence that “Vancouver” is an ancient native word that loosely translates as “Cthulhu’s Garden.”

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Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.