December 20, 2007

Destroying New York

It's occured to me more than once the strange phenomenon that is the disaster flick, that popcorn blockbuster, is a very curious beast indeed. Poor New York is by far targeted more than any other city on earth, as the setting for large-scale battles between humans and aliens or superhumans and their foes, as the case may be.
Over the last ten years we have seen icons around Manhattan destroyed in movies such as "Independence Day", and "Godzilla"; the city done in altogether in "The Day After Tomorrow", and badly damaged in this past summer's "Transfomers" and the "Spiderman" franchise. Opening this week is "I am Legend", where the island become home to one last surviving human and overgrown with weeds, and forthcoming is the much-hyped "Cloverfield", in which some unseen nemesis throws the head of Lady Liberty through a few skyscrapers.
How many times did we hear witnesses of September 11 say that the tragic event was like a movie? I found it interesting that Oliver Stone chose not the show the actual collapse in his film "World Trade Center". Instead, he used shadows and mostly sound to cue the audience into the moments we likely have burned into our brain stems forever. In fact, we barely ever see either of the Towers in the movie whatsoever.
Yet in films not about 9/11 we see destruction of New York City of unbelievable scale and intensity, and for some reason we go in vast numbers to see them. Now we had disaster flicks well before 2001 but they appear to have gotten more vivid, more horrific, and more terrifying. I'm not completely sure what explains this phenomenon, so I'll turn to Stephen King's great non-fiction book on horror, Danse Macabre, in which he writes that horror movies show us the miseries of the damned and thus help us to rediscover the smaller, but never petty, joys of our own lives. King argues that such movies aren't a celebration of death, as most assume, but rather a celebration of what it means to be alive in the face of certain death; that when we watch such films we are gathering together to "sing the song we all know in our hearts: time is short, no one is really okay, life is quick and dead is dead".

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