It’s not often one gets to say “The Rock is filming at The Rock.” But, indeed, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is filming at least a few scenes from his 2018 film “Rampage” at Stone Mountain on Monday, May 8th. Those familiar with the 1986 video game on which it’s based might now wonder if the mountain could be one of the very landmarks threatened to be destroyed by monsters in the film. And regulars at the mountain might soon find themselves knocking on boulders just to make sure they’re not hollow like the ones I noticed on the set under construction adjacent to Memorial Hall.
I was initially lured from a brisk 5-mile walk around the base of the mountain on Sunday by an expanse of granite on my left carpeted with the bright yellow flowers and tiny red fruits of the prickly pear blooming now. But it certainly didn't take long to notice the huge entertainment rig and what appeared at first glance to possibly be the start of an outdoor climbing wall. One of the rig's wheels was awfully close to crushing the plants. Suddenly the other movie trucks and trailers I’d passed along Robert E. Lee Blvd. that were parked in the waterfront parking area made sense. It also didn't take long before I was asked to leave by a genial park police officer who’d been called by some sort of prickly set overseer (couldn't resist riffing off of cactus), because I was apparently in a restricted area. But, for want of any notice or signage, I felt I was well within my rights to be right where I was and to be taking photos. I explained to the kind female officer that I was just excited about the cactus blooms and curious about the set and went along my way.
But I walked away thinking that privatization of public land (i.e. a privately run park on state/public land) really does pose a slippery slope. I felt caught between feeling proud that so many movies are filmed in my state—in my hometown of Stone Mountain at that (at least in the park)—and genuinely left wondering just who benefits and profits when the park is leased to film studios. How many restricted areas defeat the very nature of public space for all? How much does the state profit? Or the Stone Mountain Memorial Association? Is Herschend Family Entertainment brokering the film deals? At the end of the day, how many industries and corporations are subsidizing a Confederate monument that still symbolizes white supremacy for many, while the citizens in the immediate area may only ever experience any gains from the mountain's profile being raised by Hollywood in theory or when they are in a dark theater?
No, of course this is not the first movie or television show to be filmed at Stone Mountain Park, and it likely won’t be the last. "The Darkest Minds" is filming there now, too, over near the Sports Pavilion (and I hear that park police officers are paid around $50/hr by the studios to guard the set and that the area is completely blocked off). I remember the fake snow blowing about the base of the walk-up trail during the filming of “A Walk in the Woods” starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte and later seeing the movie and recognizing the spot on the mountain where Nolte’s character empties a bottle of whiskey. I also vividly recall the time the Fox TV show “Sleepy Hollow” took over part of the mountaintop for filming. And, more recently, I recall when CBS shot some of “MacGyver” there at the park.
No doubt there are plenty more, and again, it’s all very exciting! Until one stops to consider if Stone Mountain Park financially thrives like an Oz and remains one of Georgia’s #1 attractions, while right outside its gates, particularly along the business district of Memorial Drive, much of the area is very rundown and chock-full of title loan businesses, pawn shops, gun and liquor stores, seedy extended stay motels, WE BUY GOLD signs, DUI school, tire centers, and deserted strip malls. To be fair, one can also buy a dozen roses for $9.95, a dozen doughnuts at Dunkin Donuts, and get hash browns scattered, smothered, and covered at the Waffle House. Plus, the Stone Mountain side of Memorial still boasts long-standing restaurants like The Original Pancake House and one of Metro Atlanta's first Applebee's locations (it was founded in 1980 and opened up as T.J. Applebee's Rx for Edibles & Elixirs in Decatur, GA). Having grown up in Stone Mountain during Memorial Drive’s heyday, how could I not want to see things improve on this stretch of Memorial that runs from around where East Lake ends to Stone Mountain Park in the same way that the stretch of the Memorial Drive Corridor leading from Moreland Avenue to downtown Atlanta is currently being revitalized, boasting numerous development projects? Maybe this is a county or city issue, but I'm hard-pressed to say it's also still not the state's concern, when Memorial Drive is such a main thoroughfare. Here's an interesting bit of trivia about Memorial Drive, in light of recent news about a Confederate "sympathizers" at Marietta National Cemetery; long before John Lewis, Atlanta’s 5th District Representative Robert Ramspeck, in office from 1939-1947, actually proposed building Memorial Drive from Stone Mountain all the way to Marietta National Cemetery. You'd think Atlanta's narrative as city has been so singularly centered around, and dictated by, the events of the Civil War since its incorporation — excluding numerous other important aspects of its history that were not marked or memorialized to the same extent (if at all).
So when it was reported the other day that 45 year-old Dwayne Johnson might seriously be considering running for President of the United States, I thought, well, "The Rock" just may save the day after all! Meanwhile, we can at least expect an action-packed cave chase on the big screen next year, and maybe we'll recognize Stone Mountain, though it actually boasts no such caves or archways—no matter how realistic the set looks!