Monday, January 07, 2008

New York gets it again, and again ...

A month or so ago I was walking through a subway station when I saw a poster advertising the movie I Am Legend, showing Will Smith leading a German Shepherd along the Manhattan abutment of a ruined Brooklyn Bridge. Its center span is missing, and its main cables droop from the towers into the water. On the Brooklyn side, near where I live, the buildings (including, perhaps significantly, the tower housing the headquarters of the Jehovah's Witnesses) look intact, but lifeless. Above Will's head, under a gloomy, sepia-toned sky, are the words: "The last man on earth is not alone."

A few days ago, again in the subway, I saw a poster for a movie with the bucolic title Cloverfield; however, the scene on the poster was far from idyllic. It showed a decapitated Statue of Liberty, torch arm still aloft, and, beyond it, fires raging in lower Manhattan in the vicinity of my office.

Legend, it seems, is about a plague; a human-generated plague caused by a mutant measles virus made to combat cancer. Cloverfield is just a good old monster movie, though, no doubt, with more sophisticated special effects than say, the first New-York-gets-trashed movie I can remember seeing, the 1953 release The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, in which a gigantic amphibious dinosaur-like creature, Rhedosaurus, freed from arctic ice by a U.S. H-bomb test somehow conducted with the compliance of the Canadian government (oh, for those halcyon days when Louis St. Laurent was Ike's favorite golfing buddy), makes its way southward to its ancient hunting grounds, now inconveniently occupied by The World's Greatest City. In this respect, Beast prefigures the original 1954 Godzilla, also put into action by a nuke test, in which the creature trashes Tokyo (a 1998 remake had Godzilla attacking New York, thereby bringing things full circle).

I generally avoid movies that feature the destruction of, or even major damage to, the city I live in and love. I did make an exception for The Day After Tomorrow, but only because a friend plays a part in it. I had thought to make a list of such movies. For me, an especially gruesome example is Fail-Safe (1964), in which POTUS orders the thermonuclear vaporization of New York in order to convince the surviving members of the Soviet chain of command that we are sincere in saying that our obliteration of Moscow was just a mistake caused by a communications fiasco.

Anyway, I quickly realized such a list would be unmanageably long and probably still way short of complete. So, I invite you to submit your favorite examples. If you want to submit movies in which other prominent cities get laid waste, feel free. If anyone can confirm or deny the existence of a movie called The Creature That Devoured Cleveland, I'll be grateful. A quick Google search left the question unanswered.

Update: Somehow (probably because it was in the December 26 Times, which was part of a pile of papers waiting for us when we got back from Massena and which were gone through quickly), I missed Sewell Chan's piece on this very subject, in which he includes a list of movies in which New York is obliterated.