[Poster for Cloverfield]
Of course Hollywood films that depict the destruction of New York City are nothing new, as can be seen by this recent list prompted by Will Smith's stroll through a deserted Manhattan. The timing of the two movies mentioned above may just be a coincidence, though rarely in Hollywood are things so detached. But rather than delve into the Hollywood grist-mill and the playful competition that studios partake in, I propose that the films are coming out now because of two things: the acceptability of imagining the physical destruction of the city a full six years after September 11, and the growing awareness and concern over global climate change. In other words, they combine fears of attack (by others) and fears of destruction (by ourselves).
[Detail from poster for Cloverfield]
Obviously what makes these, and other films so appealing is the fantastical imagery, balancing the familiar (bustling streets, notable buildings, recognizable skylines) and the amazing (empty streets, crumbling buildings, smoking skylines). The CGI-heavy imagery of Cloverfield certainly exhibits this, but after a certain level of destruction (below image) it congeals into a generic ruined urban landscape, resembling illustrations from a mid-20th-century sci-fi story rather than the city that existed before the skyscraper-sized monsters.
[Still from Cloverfield]
Without having seen either of these films, it seems that what they are saying (indirectly, at least) is that the physical construction of the city is as important as the people within. This isn't to say that objects are on par with living things, but when the city is seen as the physical expression of life, in all its good and bad respects, it is hard to deny the city's importance. But is all this imagined destruction also saying the bad respects are outweighing the good these days, and a brighter future is becoming harder and harder to picture?