Architecture of evil corporations in movies

In Roger Ebert’s review of the latest Mel Gibson movie, the thriller Edge of Darkness, he takes a considerable detour to talk about how corporate headquarters are depicted in film, and how the architecture can lend credibility to a film.

I agree with Ebert: more credible archeticture and set design makes film realistic. In this case, when the subject of the movie is corporate malfeasance, credibility is undermined then it gives the audience a false sense of security: corporations don’t really behave like that. When believability’s edge is dulled, then the fictional Northmoor becomes like a boogieman.

Ebert writes:

[…] Northmoor — which you will not be surprised to learn traffics in illegal, traitorous and dangerous activities — occupies a spectacular structure atop a tall riverside hill, visible from miles around: Its tower, its modernistic design, its curious enormous gleaming globe, suggesting a planetarium. It is a building worthy of magazine covers, not least Architectural Digest.

One purpose of corporate architecture is to impress. Northmoor’s desire is to impress us, the moviegoer. Its structure looks left over from a James Bond movie, and indeed the “Edge of Darkness” director, Martin Campbell, made “Casino Royale” (2006). It’s the kind of edifice that inspires such questions as, “What do they do in there?” Much of what they do takes place in enormous buried spaces within the hill. This low-profile corporation undertook a construction project on a par with a subway line.

So, what’s the deal with the above photo? That’s the reverse view, from my backyard, where the set of Northmoor HQ was built. In reality the set was on the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain in South Deerfield, MA, which is a state park. If you’ve seen Edge of Darkness and the office we’re talking about, there was no CGI involved (photo of the set here). The entrance of Northmoor, where cars are shown driving up, was filmed about 9 miles away at the Five College Library Depository, a former nuclear war relocation site.

Doesn’t my photo, taken in the winter, look mysterious, or ominous even? Maybe Edge of Darkness should have been shot in the winter? While I love living here and the Western Mass green in the summer, it doesn’t work as a setting for a thriller.

Considering Northmoor was supposed to be doing nuclear work for the government, what the hell were they doing at the top of a mountain with a wonderful view? No doubt, it looked great. But secrets are supposed to be secrets, and don’t include two story plate glass windows overlooking the Pioneer Valley.

Roger, considering you’re not a big fan of the Northmoor set, I’m happy to let you know there was bunch of nighttime filming that didn’t make the final cut.