One of the standout independent films of 2015 was a British sci-fi thriller that put a new spin on the artificial intelligence debate. A computer-programer wins a competition to spend a week at his eccentric boss’s house in the middle of nowhere. Upon arrival, he’s set a challenge: to test whether a female robot (played by Alicia Vikander, below) can think and feel like a human.
Ex Machina is the directorial debut of novelist-turned-filmmaker Alex Garland (The Beach), and unlike most sci-fi movies its breath-taking backdrop didn’t involve any digital jiggery-pokery – it was all filmed in northern Norway.
The film opens with Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson (the lucky coder) swooping over vast glaciers and mighty mountains in a helicopter. Doubling as the boss’s house is a stunning boutique hotel on the northwest coast or, as the owner likes to describe it, Europe’s first landscape hotel.
Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac as the eccentric tech entrepreneur
“The brief was: We need a multi-millionaire’s extraordinary home in splendid isolation,” explains location manager Alex Glasshouse.
In the story, this bachelor pad is in the wilds of North America, but Glasshouse needed somewhere closer to home. His rejected list included the Spanish architect who built Cristiano Ronaldo’s home (which reportedly cost £4.8 million), and Tyrol’s new breed of luxurious spas in the Austrian Alps.
He only headed to Norway when he realised that a photograph that he had been using for inspiration was of Juvet Hotel. It’s an hour’s drive from Alesund – a seaport famous for its art nouveau architecture – but Glasshouse and Garland opted for an even more scenic route.
“The best way to recce the country was by helicopter. Places that are not that far apart would have taken days to get to because of the dramatic topography.”
Just like Gleeson’s character, they were awestruck by their journey and even more so when they landed. “The hotel is built on top of this stunning river that crashes off the moun- tain above you, fuelled by glacier meltwater,” says Glasshouse. “It’s absolutely beautiful. The rooms have floor to ceiling, wall-to-wall glass windows and sit right above the river, so you feel as if you’re part of the landscape.”
Europe’s first landscape hotel
Juvet Hotel is in the grounds of a farmstead-turned-nature reserve in the dramatic Valldal valley. The architects, Jensen & Skodvin, wanted to construct a hotel in harmony with the verdant surroundings, so the nine rooms are actually individual “cubes” that sit on stilts jutting out into the landscape, and the spa is built into the riverbank.
Juvet is just one of dozens of innovative buildings that have sprung up alongside Norway’s 18 National Tourist Routes – roads that take you through spectacular scenery. One was recently voted the world’s best public toilet. It sits on the edge of a cliff, overlooking Aurlandsfjord.
Yet as in the film, the landscape is the star of the show. During one scene, Gleeson’s character and his boss climb up a spectacular water- fall – Gudbrandsjuvet – that really is located a mile or so down the road from the hotel. In another, they hike to a glacier.
This one was in the Sognefjord region, which is Norway’s longest and deepest fjord, which stretches from the coast to the peaks of Jotunheimen National Park and blue ice of Europe’s largest glacier, Jostedalsbreen. Sognefjord has long been popular with Norwegian holidaymakers who come here to walk, raft, rock-climb, mountain-bike, enjoy a spot of summer skiing or to cruise down the emerald green fjord.
At this time of year, northern Norway lies under a thick blanket of snow, but Garland and his crew were shooting in spring when the fruit trees begin to bloom in the lush mountain pastures.
“You can see the quality of the light and freshness of the air in Ex Machina,” says Glasshouse. “It wasn’t 24 hours of daylight, but it wasn’t far off. And to hear the birds still calling at midnight was really surreal. It’s an extraordinary part of the world.”
See historic Bergen and pretty Ulvik, with their stunning springtime scenery. Take in the beautiful landscapes of Sognefjord, Geirangerfjord and Hardangerfjord – where sheer mountainsides plunge into still waters – and enjoy the many comforts of your cruise ship, Magellan, on this wonderful Norwegian fjordland voyage. Click here for more details.
See the magnificent fjords of Western Norway as Magellan sails from Tilbury on this Easter cruise. This wonderful odyssey takes in some of the most spectacular highlights of this uniquely scenic coastline. Click here for more details.