John Ur is back this week with the next stop on the Cinematic Road Trip. This time it's Idaho. Sweet!
A confession must be made. The amount of time that I’ve spent within the borders of the state of Idaho between birth and the present day total approximately ninety minutes – eighty of which were spent in the car driving between Montana and British Columbia. But cry not, native Idahoans! For I am aware of the tragedy of my limited visitations to the Gem State.
Any avid reader of adventure and backpacking magazines could rattle off a number of great locations in Idaho that deserve your outdoor attention: Snake River, Hells Canyon (the deepest canyon in the U.S.), Shoshone Falls (higher than Niagara Falls), and Borah Peak (the highest in the state, and which has a number of peaks running through the Rocky Mountain Range), to name a few. You can check out some of the great, natural areas of Idaho here, in panoramic photos no less.
Idaho's 80 recognized mountain ranges stretch across much of the north and southeastern part of the state. The majority of the cities lay in the Columbia Plateau, a region that follows the Snake River through the center of the state. This region is also the home to the farms that make the state famous for its potatoes. And potatoes are the main ingredient of Tater-Tots, a small cylindrical side dish made from deep fried, grated potatoes.
“John,” you say, “I read this column for details on film and landscape. If I want Rachel Ray, I’ll watch the Food Network.” Bear with me please. You see, I would like to theorize that Idaho suffers from Washington Syndrome (can I coin that term?). The state is full of great scenery, but is overshadowed by more iconic places like Wyoming, with Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons to the southeast, and Montana and the glaciers of Glacier National Park due east. As in Washington, the proximity of Vancouver, British Columbia and its hotbed of film making activity overshadows the cinematic opportunities of the state.
Where do the Tater-Tots fit in? Just a few years ago, the country was overwhelmed by a film of modest budget and absurd humor. Filmed in the small town of Preston, Napoleon Dynamite grossed more than $40 million (1000% profit of its $400K budget). The film has eclipsed Dante’s Peak, Pale Rider and Heaven’s Gate as the state’s most famous cinematic export. And it has placed any number of catchphrases into the popular lexicon (see: Vote for Pedro!; Gosh!; and Yesssss!) and it has also elevated the coolness rating of Tater-Tots (as well as Ligers and nunchuks).
But the value of this film does not lie with its simple production nor its wacky writing (though popular with the young’uns). The value lies in showing small-town Idaho, not far from the northern border of Utah, an area of the country little known and little talked about but no less American than Seattle, the Pacific Coast Highway or the Grand Canyon.
Read more: This terrific site helps you find the locations
filmed in Napoleon Dynamite. Check out more Napoleon Dynamite quotes and more films from Idaho here.
Previous stops on the Cinematic Road Trip: Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas.
Photos: Ben Bogdan