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It’s not uncommon to find Iceland grabbing attention in Hollywood movies – it’s just rare for audiences to know it is Iceland. In the last two years, the country’s glaciers, volcanoes, black sands and waterfalls have lent the required other-worldliness to films such as Oblivion, Prometheus and Thor, while also featuring in HBO’s Game of Thrones TV series.
But in the Ben Stiller-directed The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which goes on UK national release on 26 December, the island’s epic scenery gets a lead role, and this time the locations aren’t supposed to be an alien planet – this time it’s all about Iceland.
Stiller’s romantic comedy, which is based on the classic James Thurber short story, is about a daydreamer who is forced to leave behind his flights of fancy and challenge himself by seeing the real world. The film features Iceland as an integral part of the story – a first for a blockbuster.
Filming took place at locations across the country and reflects the diversity of the landscape. Seyðisfjörður (population 668), in the east fjords, surrounded by Mount Strandartindur and Mount Bjólfur, is part of an energetic skateboarding sequence.
In the west, Grundarfjörður – on the Snæfellsnes peninsula – is where Stiller, who plays Mitty, must cycle from in search of his friend Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn).
The village is dominated by Mount Kirkjufell, but the 30-minute drive to Stykkishólmur (also featured in the film) is a big draw, too, as it crosses the Berserkjahraun lava field.
The fishing village of Garður on the Reykjanes peninsula is popular for birdwatching and is part of a coastline sequence where Mitty has a leap of faith … into the North Atlantic Ocean.
Höfn, a pretty harbour town in south-east Iceland, appears as Greenland airport, and was used as a base to reach locations close to the breathtaking glacial lagoon of Jökulsárlón and the Skaftafell national park.
This also meant the film crew could access Kálfafellsdalur and Fjallsárlón. The first is a steep valley, the second a glacial lagoon; both are part of the enormous Vatnajökull national park. Underlining the country’s versatility, these areas appear as Afghanistan in the movie: their craggy beauty creating the right ambiance of awe-inspiring remoteness. (As well as Iceland just being Iceland, it also stands in for Himalayas and Greenland).
Thurber’s short story and Stiller’s film centre on a character whose internal life is more exciting than his external one, but it feels appropriate that Iceland’s bewitching, beautiful and sometimes brutal terrain is what ultimately convinces Mitty that the “real” world can be as dynamic as his dream world.
Iceland Travel has recently launched a Walter Mitty-themed self-drive tour. The six-night package costs from €754 (£636). The Secret Life of Walter Mitty will be in UK cinemas from 26 December. For more on Iceland, see visiticeland.com.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk.