Alternate Manhattans

I causght a bit of Tim Burton’s Batman on TV a few nights ago, and his version of Gotham got me thinking - what an inspiration New York has been for set designers! Compare Burton’s gothic city to, say, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, with its art-deco spires and nightmarish undercity, or to George Lucas’ super-futuristic Coruscent.

So what other SF/Fantasy/Horror versions of Manhattan have appeared in the movies?

Escape From New York
Spider-Man 1 & 2
Kramer vs. Kramer (you wanted horror? Meryl Streep, you got horror)

Ella Enchanted (The prince’s capital city is made to look like NYC)
The Day After Tomorrow – by geography alone, it’s an alternate world. No Brooklyn, no southern New Jersey, and the tip of Manhattan points north, not south.

The city of Belleville, from The Triplets of Belleville, is obviously New York, right down to the porky Statue of Liberty holding a hamburger in it’s upraised hand. However, this New York appears to be located somewhere in France, as the newspapers and what little dialogue we hear appears to be in that language. Or maybe in that world, the French had better luck with their colonies than the British did, and North America developed as a francophonic continent.

The unnamed city in Seven is, to my mind, clearly representative of Manhattan.

Actually, Canada is more like it. After all, Madam Souza lived in France and I doubt she’s paddle all the way across the ocean just to end up there again. Besides, the few people who spoke in Bellvile spoke English, unless you count the Triplets, who were probably originally from France and still speak it.

I’ve heard Bellville is supposed to be a cross between New York and Montreal.

Fantasy/sci-fi NYC:
King Kong. A glittery night in Manhattan is the theatrical backdrop for Beauty-killed-the-Beast update.
**The Planet of the Apes ** (series). Lady Liberty never looked worse (until ID4, that is.)
**The Omega Man ** – another Charlton Heston post-Apocalypse actioner; this time, it was nuclear war, and only a handful of mutants remains, with Heston the lone holdout civilized man…
**Soylent Green ** – nothing grows anymore. Yet another Heston post-Apocalypse actioner based in NYC… this time, he hunts down a secret recipie, of sorts.
Ghostbusters (series) – Slime from the sewers! The Statue of Liberty walks! (And, she kicks @ss!)
**12 Monkeys ** – Terry Gilliam’s take on the whole biological-weapon Apocalypse thing.
**Dark City ** – morphing skyscrapers and a dour Rufus Sewell in this (color) ode to German Expressionism.
Independence Day – the aliens have us checkmated, and Lady L. bites the dust.
Godzilla – dreadful in every way; this city and its mutant giant lizard spawn are made for each other.
**A.I. ** – future, post-global-warming, post-human-civ ruins of NYC.

**The Gangs of New York ** (2003). And you thought things are often violent and ugly these days…?
The Age of Innocence – an earlier Scorcese interpretation; this time, it was Edith Wharton’s Victorian upper class, largely ensconced in a series of sumptuous interiors.
Top Hat, Swing Time, The Awful Truth, and a zillion other Depression musicals and comedies – the glamorous nightlife and dancefloors of Manhattan.
The Purple Rose of Cairo – Woody Allen’s tragicomic, postmodern take on Depression matinees, and the working stiffs who needed their vicarious thrills.
Radio Days – Woody Allen’s love letter to the late-'30’s and WWII years, when the glamour of NYC was sold to the masses through radio as much as through the movies, and a lucky few enjoyed a vertiginous upward mobility in the radio biz.
**The Godfather ** series.
**The Sweet Smell of Success ** (1957) – Oversized egos and unsavory personalities clash in the brash mass-media industry (specifically, entertainment gossips and agents). Features technical, stylistic breakthroughs in on-location, nighttime filming on the NYC streets.
**The Apartment ** (1960) – Big business booms in brand-new, triumphantly modern glass boxes, but alienated Manhattanites struggle to find friendship, love…
Moscow On the Hudson (1984) – Naive, exuberant Soviet sax musician (Robin Williams) defects at Sak’s, struggles economically, but makes city his home.
You’ve Got Mail – Hit the mattresses; big-box category-killer Gesellschaft vs. boutique-retail Gemeinschaft in the rapacious Trump/Guiliani era, and “selling” wins, with love ultimately reconciling lion and lamb (yeah, right).
**In America ** (2002) – Poor Irish immigrant family in NYC; both glamorous and gritty.

punk NYC:
**Smithereens ** – early-1980’s punk scene in Hell’s Kitchen & environs.
**Desperately Seeking Susan ** – similar to Smithereens: very bohemian, romantic, and somewhat menacing.
**After Hours ** – Yuppie gets stranded in SoHo after dark, and almost everyone’s a wackjob.
**Quick Change ** – Bill Murray, et al., can’t find their way out of NYC after their bank robbery.

A NYC state of mind:
Manhattan – Woody Allen’s B&W valentine to his town; or at least, his neighborhood in it.
**My Dinner With Andre ** – erudite, flaky windbag holds court over dinner for two; one famous vignette describes New Yorkers as the pomo residents of a concentration camp of their own making; they get as far as the G.W. Bridge, but can’t bring themselves to leave…

Nitpick: The city in 12 Monkeys was Philadelphia (though some of the geography was just ridiculous…)

Let’s not forget Superman’s Metropolis, which I seemed to remember being referred to as “The Big Peach” (or some other alternate to “apple”) in one of the films.

Then there were Warriors and * The Taking of Pelham 123* which glorified the NY subway system.

I was unde the impression that The Omega man took place in LA(or maybe that’s just where it was filmed).

Really? Why is that? The area where John Doe finally get his reminds me of Southern California.

I see it as Manhattan because it’s the prototypical gritty urban center, with apartments located so close to the subway that they shake when the train goes by. I think the city is meant to reflect Manhattan and all the menace/anonymity/tabloid mentality that exists in what we commonly see in pop culture depictions of Manhattan and other large cities, providing a familiar location for the serial killer vs. detective story. The geography of the film is more symbolic than realistic.

The fact that the last scenes of the film take place in the desert have been theorized in places as alluding to Christ’s temptation by Satan as written in the Bible, reflecting Doe tempting Mills (successfully) to become Wrath and kill him, thus fulfilling the narrative burden of enacting the seven deadly sins. I think Richard Dyer’s BFI Classics book on Seven goes into more detail about the city, the desert, and their symbolic roles in the film, as well as the rain and the literal darkness of the way it’s shot.

That’s a good point that never occured to me before - I always assumed the city was New York. :confused:

The Manhattan of the Doc Savage/The Shadow novels.
A city a-crawl with secret societies & mad scientists.

With everything done in stylish Art Decco.
Oh yeah, and Zeppelins mooring on top of skyscrapers, with autogyros soaring above it all.


How could I forget James Blish’s Cities In Flight ?!? :smack: