Entries Tagged 'Movies' ↓

UCI on the silver screen

Some years ago, my graduate school advisor at the University of California, Irvine, told the story of one of the oddest buildings on campus: the Social Science Laboratory. Like many of the structures at UCI, it features long horizontal lines and striking contrasts emblematic of 1960s Futurist architecture. But it’s perhaps most notable for what it lacks.

Social Science Laboratory

That’s right. No windows. The Social Science Lab was designed to host experiments in human behavior, and blocking the outside world provides a controlled, soundproof environment, perfect for all kinds of disturbing Milgram experiments.

The missing windows and a bold, high-tech style—at least for the 1960s—had the side-effect of attracting the attention of Hollywood movie producers. Twentieth Century Fox chose the building, together with the courtyard it shares with the Social Science Tower next door, for 1972′s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.

(Yes, the same building where UCI scheduled many of my classes also resembles a slave training facility of the future. That’s grad school for you.)

Curious about the history of this sinister structure, I searched online and discovered that Conquest is just one of several movies featuring scenes from UCI. Russell Dalton, professor of political science, has compiled a rather comprehensive list of movies filmed on or near the campus. Although his page shows promotional posters and a few still frames, it lacks any actual video.

To fill this unfortunate gap, I’ve collected clips from the five Hollywood movies in which UCI makes an appearance. Watch them below in chronological order.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

The first starring role for UCI came in the fourth film of the Planet of the Apes series. The School of Social Science was transformed into a violent training center for simian slaves, and its courtyard became an ape auction block.

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Besides the pure entertainment value in seeing a massive shrewdness of apes invade my alma mater, these clips are notable because they provide a rare historical snapshot of the campus when it was almost brand new. Except for the eucalyptus trees, the passing of nearly four decades has hardly changed its appearance. Even the humble lampposts have remained the same, as shown in the photographs below.

UCI in 1972

UCI in 1972

UCI today

UCI today (photograph by Shruti Gorappa)

Silent Movie (1976)

A parody of the silent film genre, this Mel Brooks film is loaded with slapstick gags and celebrity cameos. Paul Newman makes an appearance during a hospital scene and is pursued—via powered wheelchair—through UCI’s Aldrich Park, the Langson Library, and into the Administration Building. Who knew it doubled as a geriatric lounge?

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Poltergeist (1982)

Today, scientific research at UCI focuses on nanotechnology, fuel cells, and mass spectrometry, but in 1982, the spotlight was on recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis. Or at least, that’s the story in the movie Poltergeist, in which a father seeks the help of parapsychologists from UC Irvine to explain the disembodied voices and floating toys that are haunting his house. In one scene, the researchers hold a meeting at their lab, but an exterior shot reveals it is actually the Langson Library.

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Creator (1985)

Rival biology professors take out their frustrations in a friendly game of tackle football, right in the middle of Aldrich Park. Familiar paths and buildings are clearly visible in the background.

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Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

The architecture at UCI continues to attract movie producers even in the 21st century. In 2001, Warner Bros. selected the Gillespie Neuroscience Research Facility for a scene in Ocean’s Eleven. It may have been chosen because, like many of the newer buildings on campus, it shuns the Futurist style in favor of a cleaner, postmodern look. At least, it was clean until Matt Damon smashed one of its windows.

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The earliest pop-culture Peace Corps reference?

The Peace Corps is a household name. You can ask almost anyone in America if they’ve heard of it, and they’ll probably answer in the affirmative. I’ve always wondered how this small federal agency could have such a huge impact on American culture, but I think it comes down to three basic factors:

  1. It’s exotic. Although many have heard of the Peace Corps, most don’t know exactly what it’s all about. There seems to be a romantic stereotype that Peace Corps volunteers are sent to some tropical village to live in a mud hut and teach the natives animal husbandry or some such skill. (The reality these days is that volunteers are more likely to end up in a city teaching computer literacy, but the stereotype lives on.)
  2. It’s old. Established in 1961, America has had plenty of time to learn about the Peace Corps, and nearly 200,000 returned volunteers have had ample opportunity to spread the word around. In fact, the Peace Corps has been around long enough that it’s even had its own postage stamp.

    Peace Corps stamp

  3. Hollywood loves it. I suspect this factor has had the single greatest impact on making the Peace Corps a household name. I’ve lost count of how many references to it I’ve seen on TV and in movies, each one helping to cement a place for the Peace Corps in American culture. My favorite is this segment from the movie Airplane!.

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Filmed in 1978, I had thought that Airplane! was perhaps the earliest pop-culture reference to the Peace Corps. Last week, when I happened to rent The Pink Panther from GreenCine, I discovered I was wrong.

Playing a supporting role in the film was Robert Wagner, better known to today’s audiences as Number Two from the Austin Powers series.

Number Two

In the scene below, note how Wagner casually mentions the Peace Corps. Moments later, David Niven enters and also drops the Peace Corps name as if it were common knowledge.

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What shocked me about this scene was the date: The Pink Panther was filmed in 1963, just two years after the Peace Corps was established! It could very well be the first reference to the Peace Corps—ever—in mainstream popular culture. Perhaps even more surprising is how nonchalantly the Peace Corps is mentioned, as if everyone knows what it is.

So, contrary to what I had assumed, the longevity of the Peace Corps may have had little to do with its status as a household name. Judging by this clip, it became well-known almost as soon as it was created.