Hot­bed for dis­as­ter

Lava, tsunamis, alien in­va­sions – LA has ex­pe­ri­enced them.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOVIES - by SAndy CO­HEn

THIS city has the worst luck. Through decades of dis­as­ter films, Los An­ge­les has been tar­geted by aliens, top­pled by tem­blors, sunken by tsunamis, lev­elled by lava and a rogue tor­nado once took out the Hollywood sign.

And so it will be that calamity again strikes the City of An­gels in the new sci-fi film Sky­line (now play­ing in Malaysian cine­mas), fol­lowed by an­other bout of de­struc­tion early next year in the movie Bat­tle: Los An­ge­les.

What is it about Los An­ge­les that in­vites such re­peated dev­as­ta­tion?

“Peo­ple love watch­ing Los An­ge­les get de­stroyed,” says Bat­tle: Los An­ge­les di­rec­tor Jonathan Liebesman. “It’s nice to screw up the great weather.”

There’s so much more to it than that.

The city is home to Hollywood and the movie busi­ness, so the artists who write about, di­rect and ex­e­cute mass de­struc­tion in Los An­ge­les are of­ten in­ti­mately fa­mil­iar with the ter­ri­tory.

Pro­duc­tion de­signer Jack­son De Govia, who helped blow up the Bev­erly Cen­ter shop­ping mall and dec­i­mate Wil­shire Boule­vard’s mu­se­ums in 1997’s Vol­cano, says he loves trash­ing his own city on film.

“One of the funnest things you can do in movies is blow stuff up,” says De Govia, who also pul­ver­ized Nakatomi Plaza in the orig­i­nal Die Hard.

“And if you’re blow­ing up your home­town, and that home­town is Los An­ge­les, it’s even bet­ter, be­cause who hasn’t wanted to do that at times?”

Los An­ge­les is a city filled with in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised land­marks: the Hollywood sign, the Capi­tol Records build­ing, City Hall and the sky­scrapers of down­town.

They make for “con­ve­nient cin­e­matic short­hand,” says Craig Detweiler, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for En­ter­tain­ment, Me­dia and Cul­ture at Pep­per­dine Uni­ver­sity in sub­ur­ban Mal­ibu.

“It al­lows the scale of the dis­as­ter to strike ev­ery­body,” he says. “Ev­ery­body recog­nises the Hollywood sign. It’s like, ‘Oh, that’s big’.”

Apart from its land­marks, Los An­ge­les is a pop­u­lar dis­as­ter-movie lo­cale be­cause of its geog­ra­phy. Sit­ting in a seis­mic zone on the western edge of the con­ti­nent, it is sur­rounded by beaches, moun­tains and deserts.

In real life, the city is sub­ject to floods, fires, earth­quakes and big waves, so see­ing free­ways col­lapse or Santa Mon­ica swal­lowed up by the sea (as in 2012) is not such a stretch.

“LA can have these mul­ti­ple func­tions as an apoc­a­lyp­tic dis­as­ter place be­cause it’s on the verge be­tween ur­ban­ism and na­ture,” says Leo Braudy, a Uni­ver­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia pro­fes­sor and author of The Hollywood Sign: Fan­tasy And Re­al­ity Of An Amer­i­can Icon.

In the film

“There’s a sense of the pre­car­i­ous­ness of hu­man habi­ta­tion over this po­ten­tially erup­tive na­ture,” Braudy says.

Los An­ge­les is also a city many peo­ple love to hate, notes Amer­i­can Film In­sti­tute his­to­rian Bob Bir­chard: “LA, and cer­tainly Hollywood, have been as­so­ci­ated in some peo­ple’s minds as a hot­bed of the devil’s work, so that un­der­ly­ing el­e­ment is part of the genre.”

That no­tion is not just im­plied in 1996’s Es­cape from L.A., it’s stated: Los An­ge­les be­comes known as the “is­land of the damned” and “a de­por­ta­tion point for all peo­ple found un­de­sir­able or un­fit to live in the new moral Amer­ica”.

Bir­chard says the first dis­as­ter film was The Lost World in 1925, in which London was de­stroyed. New York took its first on-screen beat­ing in 1933’s King Kong.

Since Los An­ge­les did not rise to promi­nence un­til af­ter World War II, it was not a pop­u­lar site for an­ni­hi­la­tion un­til 1952’s War Of The Worlds.

the city is fac­ing the threat of an alien in­va­sion.

Since then, the city has been sub­ject to all kinds of dis­as­ters, both nat­u­ral and oth­er­worldly, in films such as Earth­quake with Charl­ton He­ston, Su­per­man with Christo­pher Reeve, and more re­cently, Ter­mi­na­tor, In­de­pen­dence Day, The Day Af­ter To­mor­row and 2012.

Ul­ti­mately, heav­ing de­struc­tion on Los An­ge­les shows Hollywood’s sense of hu­mour, sense of op­ti­mism and a real love for its sunny, palm­lined home.

Greg Strause, one of the film­mak­ers be­hind Sky­line, says the alien­in­va­sion flick was in­spired by the breath­tak­ing view from his Ma­rina del Rey condo. The in­vaders’ first tar­get? Movie stu­dios.

“It’s a strange co­in­ci­dence that the moth­er­ships, they de­scend on all the stu­dios first,” he says with a laugh. “One’s in Cul­ver City. One’s in Cen­tury City... Those aliens, they have pe­cu­liar tastes.”

“We bar­be­cue all of West Hollywood and Bev­erly Hills,” adds co-di­rec­tor Colin Strause.

The de­struc­tion was achieved dig­i­tally at the Strause broth­ers’ own vis­ual-ef­fects firm, Hy­draulx. The com­pany also did spe­cial ef­fects for Bat­tle: Los An­ge­les, an­other alien­in­va­sion tale as seen through the eyes of one Ma­rine pla­toon in Los An­ge­les.

De Govia and his team lov­ingly re­built al­most the en­tire Mir­a­cle Mile stretch of Wil­shire Boule­vard at three-quar­ter scale for the de­struc­tion scenes in Vol­cano. They also built the Bev­erly Cen­ter in minia­ture. Then they blew ev­ery­thing up.

A long­time Los An­ge­les res­i­dent, he’s been moved, lit­er­ally, by other dis­as­ter films set in the city.

He wanted to buy a home near the reser­voir in the Hollywood Hills, but de­cided against it af­ter see­ing Earth­quake, in which the reser­voir’s dam breaks and floods the neigh­bour­hood be­low.

“It’s al­ways in your mind,” he says. “Dams do break. We see it in movies all the time.”

But re­gard­less of the on-screen dev­as­ta­tion, there are al­ways a few sur­vivors in these films, along with a mes­sage of hope, which USC’s Braudy re­lates to the West Coast’s spirit of op­ti­mism. That is yet an­other rea­son for Hollywood to choose Los An­ge­les when do­ing dig­i­tal dis­as­ter.

“It’s kind of hedged, but there’s al­ways hope: Hope for change, hope for res­ur­rec­tion,” he says. “It’s an odd kind of Western op­ti­mism: We’re go­ing to start over again, like a phoenix ris­ing from its own de­struc­tion.”

It is cathar­tic to see peo­ple tri­umph over tough chal­lenges, and it is fun be­cause it is all pre­tend. Los An­ge­les may be in ashes, but step out­side the the­atre, and there it is in all its gilded glory.

“LA is good at play­ing it­self in film. It’s a fa­mil­iar face,” says Detweiler. “Just as we ex­pect Will Smith to res­cue the day, we ex­pect LA to get blown up and some­how mirac­u­lously reap­pear in the next sum­mer block­buster.” – AP

Chop­pers to the res­cue:


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