Not So Remote

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Where did THAT come from?!

Ray: Fraser! What are you doing?!
Fraser: I'm telling you a ghost story. It is customary to exchange ghost stories around a campfire in the wilderness.
Ray: We're not in the wilderness.
Fraser: ...An approximation of wilderness.
Ray: No it's not, Fraser, we are in a park in the middle of downtown Chicago! I had to step over a wino and kick two junkies just to get here.
Due South, "A Likely Story"

Our heroes find themselves stranded or lost in an isolated location far from civilization... or so it seems. Turns out the place presumed to be uncharted wilderness was actually not so remote after all. The day is saved, and everyone has a good laugh.

Or maybe it's only the viewer who knows that civilization is a few short steps away, and the fact that the protagonists are going to starve thirty feet from a supermarket will be a source of Tragic Irony.

The converse can also be true, where the characters know they're near the heart of civilization but the audience is kept in the dark — at least until the camera pans out to show where they actually are. This type of Bait-and-Switch will invariably be Played for Laughs.

The characters may appear to be stranded on a Deserted Island, lost in a Hungry Jungle, disoriented in the Wild Wilderness, desiccating in a Thirsty Desert, adrift on the High Seas, abandoned in a Polluted Wasteland, or cursed to forever wander The Lost Woods; the only real constant is that they're mistaken about how unreachable they are.

Perhaps they went on the Horrible Camping Trip and nobody warned them Don't Go Into the Woods. Perhaps they were forced to Abandon Ship and have no way of knowing where they washed ashore. Perhaps they got caught in a blizzard and can't see more than six inches in front of their faces.

There may be an element of gullibility or cluelessness to our heroes' predicament, too: they may believe they're somewhere remote only because they got swindled into a Fauxtastic Voyage, were sold a Fool's Map, or spectacularly Failed a Spot Check. Maybe they just Gave Up Too Soon.

Whether the heroes find civilization or not, the audience at least knows that it was right around the corner all along. Or possibly that the whole setting was just a soundstage.

See Hidden in Plain Sight, Missed Him by That Much. Compare Earth All Along.

As a Reveal trope, the more dramatic examples may be spoilers, so beware!


Examples

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    Comic Books 
  • Idées Noires features a subversion: A man is lost in a forest in winter. He sees lights in the distance and assumes he must be nearer to the city than he thought. He pursues the lights, confident he's no longer doomed to die of cold... and he's right: the lights were actually the eyes of a pack of wolves.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Doonesbury, Duke and Honey use a small ship to take a group of sightseers to view the British blockade of the Falklands. On the way there they're shipwrecked for months on what they believe to be a deserted island right up until they are found by some birdwatchers from the mainland, who reveal that it's actually Matagorda Island, right off the coast of Texas.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Legend of Total Drama Island, two contestants get lost in the woods after getting separated from their team during the camping challenge. After spending the night in mortal peril, the still-conscious player carries her dying teammate on a desperate search for help, only to discover that they had walked in a circle after getting lost and spent that hellish night a stone's throw from base camp.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Flying Down to Rio, Roger and Belinha have to make an emergency landing while they're, well, flying down to Rio. They think they're on a Deserted Island in the Caribbean, but it turns out they've landed at the Port-au-Prince golf club.
  • Looney Tunes: Back in Action. The characters are wandering aimlessly through the desert when suddenly a Walmart appears. Thank heavens for well-timed Product Placement!
  • In National Treasure Ben and Riley are left for dead in the Arctic by Ian, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. But after they dig themselves out of the wreckage of an exploded merchant ship, Ben says there's an Inuit village about ten miles away where they can catch a ride with a bush pilot.
  • The first film by George Lucas, THX 1138, is about a Dystopia that sends its criminals to a bivouac seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Narcotics in the convicts' rations limit their vision so that everything in the distance appears as empty whiteness. The title character escapes this Cardboard Prison simply by walking far enough into the emptiness that he encounters a wall, which he follows to an exit.
  • For most of Walkabout, the nameless teenage protagonist and her little brother are truly lost in the Australian Outback. But in one scene, they are shown resting on a ridge, no more than a quarter-mile away from a white settlement on the other side of the ridge. The Aborigine boy who saved their lives doesn't show it to them, maybe because he doesn't see a need to, or maybe because he doesn't feel their walkabout is over, or maybe because he's sweet on the girl.
  • At the end of Road to Morocco, Hope and Crosby are adrift on a raft at sea. Just as Hope's starting to get wound up about the possibility of them dying out there, Crosby points out New York on the horizon. Hope complains that he's just cut short what could have been the most dramatic scene in the movie.
  • At the start of Juan of the Dead, Juan and Lazero are (sort of) fishing on their makeshift raft, seemingly far out at sea, until it's revealed they're actually in Havana's harbor, maybe ten minutes from shore.

    Literature 
  • The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King follows nine-year-old protagonist Trisha as she steps off the path and becomes lost in the woods. After walking for hours, she has to make a choice between following her plan to go in one straight line, which would mean wading through what looks like an impassable bog, or turning aside. She chooses to turn; the narrative "pans out" to reveal that the bog leads into a popular vacation lake and if it were summer she would already have been able to see boats.
  • Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix is a YA novel in which the protagonist believes her insular little village is in rural antebellum Indiana. She really couldn't be more wrong.
  • In Uncle Louie's Fantastic Sea Voyage, a story by Swedish illustrator and writer Jan Lööf, a boy and his uncle embark on an high-seas adventure to Africa on a vessel made from junk. One night at sea, the small ship crashes against some rocks and they are forced to take shelter after encountering a rhinoceros and other wild animals native to Africa. However, when they step outside the next morning, they discover that in last night's darkness, they have stumbled into the animal pen of the local zoo, where the zookeeper and astonished guests greet them.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Cheers: "Get Your Kicks on Route 666" has Sam, Frasier, Norm, and Cliff take a road trip. They crash into a ditch somewhere in the desert and get stuck. They spend the rest of the night trying to survive in the middle of nowhere, then go to sleep. Sam, Frasier, and Cliff wake up to find Norm missing. Seconds later, he rolls up in a golf cart. It turns out there was a resort just over the hill.
  • Due South:
    • In the Cold Open of "A Likely Story", Fraser and Ray seem to be out camping in the woods; it's quickly revealed that they're actually in a city park in the middle of Chicago.
    • In "The Call of the Wild", Fraser is out on a lake, attempting to ice fish but getting no bites. The snowy hills that can be seen surrounding the lake appear heavily wooded. Then Ray shows up.
      Benton Fraser: Ice fishing takes patience.
      Ray Kowalski: Yeah. Well, you gonna need a lot of that, Fraser, cause there ain't no fish in here.
      Benton Fraser: How do you know that, Ray?
      (the camera zooms out to show the Chicago skyline)
      Ray Kowalski: Cause it's the city reservoir. Drinking water, no fish.
      Benton Fraser: Oh.
  • Good Eats, of all things. In "Down & Out in Paradise," Alton is abandoned on a tropical beach after a shipwreck, and consequently spends the episode cooking desert island food. Turns out he's in Hawaii and only about a mile from the city, but he had no idea because he had lost his glasses.
  • Hawaii Five-0: After Steve and Danny's attempt to go camping with Grace and the Aloha Girls gets ruined by a gun-wielding diamond thief, Danny takes Grace for a private father-daughter camping trip. It's revealed that they're actually in the middle of Danny's living room when Danny leaves the tent to let in the pizza guy.
  • How I Met Your Mother: In "Arrivederci, Fiero," Ted tells a story of how he and Marshall went on a road trip and ended stranded in a snow storm in the middle of nowhere. They had to snuggle to keep warm over the night. Turns out, they stopped in front of a motel in a small town, as they found out in the morning.
  • M*A*S*H. In one episode Klinger and Charles are out in a Jeep (Klinger was taking Charles to the airport, as he was going to Tokyo for R & R) when a bad storm breaks out. They take refuge in an overturned truck and find several wounded Greek soldiers inside, whom Charles must treat without adequate medical supplies. The next morning Klinger goes out in search of more resources and discovers that they were only a short distance away from camp the entire time.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus. One sketch started with explorers and a native guide trekking through close-set trees and underbrush in Darkest Africa. Eventually they come upon a clearing with a nice outdoor restaurant right in the middle of the jungle, where they decide to have lunch.
  • Classic The Twilight Zone episode "I Shot An Arrow Into The Air". The first manned space flight goes off course and crash lands on an astronomical body with breathable air and Earth-normal gravity. The astronauts somehow come to the conclusion that they are on an uncharted asteroid, and without the resources to fix their rocket and limited rations, their hope for rescue or survival looks bleak. With two of the five astronauts having died due to the crash, the remaining three have to try to survive as long as possible. One of them, desperate and scared feels he has to resort to murder to survive and eventually kills the other two survivors for the dwindling water supply. He sets off and shortly finds the sign for the city of Reno, Nevada over a ridge, and breaks down knowing that his partners had died for nothing.
  • The X-Files, "Quagmire": Scully and Mulder explore a lake at night, and their boat crashes and sinks. They spend quite a long time on a rock, and Mulder even brings out snarks about cannibalism. They are saved by Dr. Farraday later that night.
    Scully: We would have been out here all night if you hadn't answered our distress call.
    Farraday: Oh, I didn't. I was walking by, I heard you talking.
    Scully: Walking by?
    Farraday: Yeah, the shore is just a stone's throw from here.
  • In an episode of Stargate SG-1, a gate mishap sends O'Neil and Carter into an ice cave. When they dig their way out, they think they landed on an ice planet. Turns out they're actually on Earth, in the Antarctic—still pretty danged remote, but less so than they initially thought.

    Video Games 
  • On the second day of the ski trip in Persona 4 Golden, the player character and their partner(s) get lost in a snowstorm and seek refuge in an abandoned cottage... that turns out to be a storage shed at the back of the ski lodge.

    Western Animation 
  • The Critic: In "Jay of Arabia", Jay and some POWs are lost in the Iraqi desert and losing hope when they run across an International House of Couscous.
  • Futurama:
    • In "The Cryonic Woman," Fry and his ex-girlfriend freeze themselves again and woke up in a Mad Max-esque wasteland that they thought must be the year 4,000. Turns out it's just suburban Los Angeles a few days after they froze themselves.
    • In the episode "In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela" Zapp and Leela crash land on an unknown planet with no way of returning home. Here, they witness the Earth's destruction at the hands of the V-Giny, a rogue death sphere hell bent on "censoring" indecent planets. Later, it turns out that they were on Earth the entire time and the Earth being destroyed was actually a hologram as part of an elaborate scheme to get Leela to like Zapp.
  • Family Guy: In "Road to Europe," Brian and Stewie are in the middle of the Arabian desert and their camel has died. Just as they've cut it open to use as an improvised shelter Brian notices a Comfort Inn over the next dune.
  • Prison guard Sam Schultz from the Looney Tunes cartoon "Big House Bunny" gets tricked into being locked in a cell, where he's given an escape kit by Bugs Bunny in disguise. Sam tunnels his way out of the cell, emerging in what seems to be a lush jungle. As he parts the leaves, Sam discovers he's actually among potted plants in the warden's office, whereupon the warden dresses Sam down mercilessly.
  • In a "Peabody's Improbable History" segment from Rocky and Bullwinkle, Peabody and Sherman visit Robinson Crusoe, who instead of being stranded on a Deserted Island is on the deserted half of a very populated island, the other half being a tropical paradise vacation spot a la Club Med. Crusoe just wants to be left alone.
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Pizza Delivery", SpongeBob and Squidward are lost in the middle of nowhere. SpongeBob suggests going one way because, according to the pioneers, moss always grows facing civilization.note  Squidward goes in the opposite direction, with SpongeBob following him. The camera then reveals that the town was just over the ridge towards where the moss was facing.
  • An episode of Timon & Pumbaa has them stop by on a tropical beach. After the events of the episode (dealing with some natives making Pumbaa their king), they return, only to find a modern city has sprung up.
    Timon: Developers, oy.
  • In the Duck Dodgers episode "Just the Two of Us", Dodgers and the Martian Commander find themselves reliant on each other for survival on a deserted island, after the Cadet and the Centurions go on vacation. Eventually, the Cadet chases a volleyball through a thick clump of ferns and finds them.
  • On episode of CatDog revolved around Cat, Dog, and some of their friends getting Lost at Sea, with their only sign of civilization being a very distant light from a lighthouse. They decide to become pirates under the leadership of Cat, who quickly becomes Drunk with Power. In the end, it turns out they weren't at sea at all, but floating around in a fountain in a parking lot—and the "lighthouse" that they saw was actually a traffic light.
  • In an episode of American Dad!, Stan mistakes a nuclear attack drill for the real thing and rushes his family out to what he believes is a secluded wilderness. Not only does somebody already live there, it turns out to be a short walk from a diner, a summer camp and a cliff overlooking a bustling cityscape.

Alternative Title(s): Civilization All Along

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