Tønsberg — From Hollywood to reality

As a resident of a small and, from a global perspective, relatively anonymous town in Norway (ten out of nine Americans would be unable to place it on a map) it’s always nice to notice international recognition, even if the recognition in question is bordering on unrecognisable, barely noticeable without subtitles, which brings it to the point of being questionable. But hey, that’s entertainment!

Take Tønsberg, for instance. Dating back to 871 A.D. it’s the oldest town in Norway, well rooted in the Viking era. It’s a place of history, and home to some 40,000 people.

“Thor” and “Captain America” — Big Movies in Little Tønsberg

Hollywood’s Marvel Universe blockbusters visit Tønsberg not once, but twice, first in in Thor, and second in Captain America. Not only that, but it appears during the first three to four minutes of both movies, and though it only lasts for a minute or two, it sets the foundation for each of the storylines. That’s not at all bad for a place which the average person has barely if ever heard of.

Three minutes and thirty-seven seconds into “Thor”, with brightness increased significantly.
Click here for original pretty dark version.

I can’t help but notice, though, that the filmmakers didn’t bother to do their shots on location, and they cannot possibly have had the faintest idea about Tønsberg except how to spell it. One can only assume that they are blissfully unaware of maps.

Three minutes and forty-four seconds into “Captain America”, also somewhat brightened for detail.
Dark original likewiseways here for your clicking pleasure.

It’s hard to believe that a humble church in Tønsberg was home to the Tesseract, a magical, shiny cube which is not only the most powerful energy source in the world, but also serves as a portal between Asgard and Earth through which both baddies and gods may travel, and nobody knew! Nobody, that is, except for Herr Agent Schmidt from Das Deutsche Matrix, or something, but then it would require the skills and experience of an Elven Sith Lord from Rivendell to unravel the mysteries surrounding this wondrous artifact.

Agent Schmidt finds the Tesseract in a humble church in Tønsberg,
and he’s not taking it to Mount Doom for recycling.

Norway is known for its mountains and fjords, so I can easily understand how someone might be mistaken on this point, but it so happens that although Vestfold county sits along the Oslo Fjord, it is also the flattest county in the entire country, almost comparable to Denmark (which I have every confidence that any Hollywood director worth his salt could easily plant in the middle of the Swiss Alps and get away with it). In other words, the topography of an ever so slightly wrinkled pancake.

You may notice from these screenshots how, with the passing of centuries, the mountains grow progressively shorter. This could conceivably be attributed to natural erosion, but in that case nature has been exceptionally busy. It’s more likely that each production team didn’t have a clue what the other was doing, and that they were of the predisposition that neither continuity nor factual correctness have anything to do with making great movies.

Tønsberg, present day, according to Google Maps. Not a mountain in sight!

Behold modern day Tønsberg, as it appears on Google Earth (for lack of aerial photos in Creative Commons). There are few places flatter than this. There are, however, places elsewhere that resemble the mountainous and fjordious scenery presented in “Thor”.

«If you took the town of Tønsberg, scrunched it up a bit, shook out all the farms and fields, hurled it hundreds of miles across the country and filled it with cruise ships then you’d be wasting your time, because it looks very much as if someone has already done it. Welcome to Geiranger¹

Geiranger, and the Geiranger Fjord (image: wikipedia.org).

Now, if you are going to use a Geiranger-ish location, it puzzles me that it gets named after a place which not only looks nothing like it, but in fact is its exact opposite. I have no idea how Hollywood producers do their thinking or gather their inspiration, or how much margin of error they allow in their not-looking-up-the-basics-about-places-they’re-going-to-pretend-to-use-in-their-movies-at-all, but it’s kind of amusing, which is OK because Hollywood is all about entertainment anyway.

Routes between Tønsberg (south) and Geiranger (north):
The straight and short (red), and the long and winded (blue) routes between them. (image: Google Maps)

The distance between Tønsberg and Geiranger is 360 km (225 miles) as the crow flies (helicopter or hydroplane recommended as Geiranger has no airport), or about 670 km (420 miles) by road. I might add that I have so far visited Geiranger only once, and I was treated to a view that only the thickest of fogs can provide. You don’t see that on any postcards, which is hardly surprising because we couldn’t see anything at all.

Geiranger in rather inconveniently dense fog, approximately the consistency of spun sugar,
taken on our West Coast vacation trip in 2007 A.D.

Which brings us to the final paragraphs. What am I trying to say here? Basically two things:

  1. It’s fun to see your home town featured in a Hollywood blockbuster, and
  2. Don’t expect Hollywood to get even the simplest, most basic facts right, ever 😉


  1. A variation of
    “If you took the whole of Norway, scrunched it up a bit, shook out all the moose and reindeer, hurled it ten thousand miles around the world and filled it with birds then you’d be wasting your time, because it looks very much as if someone has already done it. Welcome to New Zealand.”
    Douglas AdamsLast Chance to See (1990).

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