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Wednesday, December 26, 2020

Movie posters for current release I Am Legend and upcoming flick Cloverfield are plastered all over the Big Apple, and in both cases, the dominating visuals consist of recognizable New York City landmarks (i.e., the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge) reduced to ruins.

With this in mind, the question is asked: Why is NYC a frequent target for Hollywood-conjured destruction?

The basic answer is that the City is so big and prominent that it serves as a “global shorthand” for conveying apocalyptic impact:

James Sanders, the author of “Celluloid Skyline,” about the history of New York in movies, ascribed the resonance of disaster scenes involving New York to the prospects for special-effects shock. “What would be the point of showing a demolished suburban street? You’d get the point but it just wouldn’t have the punch. You take the most familiar, iconic symbol of civic society in the world — a big city, and for Americans, that’s New York — and that’s where disaster is going to be the most powerful.” He added that New York serves as a yardstick — what architects would call a scale — that illustrates the magnitude for a disaster.

In other words, what would be the point of showing an already flattened-out landscape being destructively flattened? The subtext being that it’s already a wasteland — which might sound like an urban-elitist attitude, and yet that’s how viewers/readers around the world interpret the landscape in this context, by reduction if nothing else. When big buildings fall down, it’s more resonate than if, say, a strip mall or farmhouse gets wasted.

Then again, maybe that’s why those who don’t dwell within urban canyons enjoy watching the big-screen mayhem:

Former Mayor Edward I. Koch, who keeps himself busy by, among other things, reviewing movies for several local newspapers in Manhattan, attributed the persistence of the destruction theme to “edifice envy.”

“They want to see our skyscrapers destroyed because they are envious of them,” Mr. Koch said in a phone interview. Asked whom he was referring to, he said, “‘They’ is the rest of the country.”

But fair’s fair: It’s certainly possible to get across massive disaster on a suburban/exurban scale. Witness this current trailer for the “BlackSite: Area 51″ videogame:

Is this a divide amongst visual mediums: Movies are better at vertical, videogames at linear/horizontal? Either way, plenty of mayhem to go around.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 12/26/2007 09:56:05 PM
Category: Movies, Videogames, New Yorkin'
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4 Feedbacks »
  1. New York also has the most recognizable landmarks and a skyline familiar to those across the country. The same can’t be said for most other cities that might have one or two shots you could use. NY is just easier for the audience.

    Comment by David — 12/27/2007 @ 01:02:59 PM

  2. OMG I ask this question all the time, leave us alone Hollywood! I hated it even before the WTC attacks, IE films like Armageddon and people falling out of a skyscrapper already had me horrified, nevermind after the real thing. However, I think they choose New York because it’s so iconic and prestigious that they know it will terrify us no matter where in the country audience members live.

    Comment by Tara — 12/27/2007 @ 03:04:58 PM

  3. True enough, NYC’s the most bang for the buck on landmarks. The Walt Whitman Bridge (Philadelphia) or Sears Tower (Chicago) aren’t nearly as recognizable.

    Although I will say that Washington DC comes close to matching New York, with all the Federal buildings and monuments.

    Comment by CT — 12/27/2007 @ 09:24:39 PM

  4. […] was a story a couple of days ago, linked to by Costa, about why New York City is so often the victim of massive waves of cinematic destruction. The […]

    Pingback by Movie Marketing Madness » I don’t heart NY — 12/31/2007 @ 08:00:37 AM

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