Is the new World Trade Center ready for its close-up?
Eleven years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, New York City's collective phantom limbs are not completely reattached. But they're close. No longer the site of a gaping hole that reminded city dwellers of the devastation that took place that day in 2001, the new World Trade Center is quickly rising back to life. In April, the centerpiece of the site, One World Trade Center, surpassed the Empire State Building's 1,250 feet to become the tallest building in the city.
All of which means we can soon expect the new World Trade Center to occupy its rightful place as a prominent background player in the more than 200 movies and TV shows that shoot in the city each year. Speaking by cellphone from the 9/11 memorial ceremony on Tuesday morning, a spokesperson for the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment told the International Business Times that no permits to shoot on location at the new World Trade Center have been issued yet, as the site is still a construction zone.
But filmmakers, she said, do not need permits to capture the buildings from a distance. And with two massive towers -- the 104-story One World Trade and the 72-story Four World Trade -- having risen so quickly out of the ground, their imposing presence in the skyline is impossible to ignore, particularly in wide-angle panoramic shots so common to movies and shows set in the city.
That leaves film and TV producers with a particular challenge: How do they deal with the city's rapidly changing skyline? Despite One World Trade's imposing presence, its naked girders and mounted cranes mark it as still very much a work in progress. And with many movies filming up to a year before their release date, shots of under-construction towers can make the completed film feel decidedly dated.
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Some filmmakers have readily chosen to ignore this challenge. The unfinished One World Trade can already be seen in this summer's "Men in Black 3" and "The Dark Knight Rises," despite the fact that the latter takes place in fictional Gotham City.
Other filmmakers have been more proactive. In 2006, not long after design plans for One World Trade had been completed, the Adam Sandler comedy "Click" featured a scene set in the New York City of the 2030s, in which two identical One World Trade towers can be seen looming over the skyline. Similarly, last year's season finale of the Fox series "Fringe," which was partially set in the year 2021, features a shot of the completed One World Trade Center.
To be sure, the challenge of capturing an ever-changing skyline is not a new problem for filmmakers shooting in New York City. Although the skyscraper boom of the thirties, forties and fifties took place at a time when most movies were shot on soundstages, the 1970s ushered in a new era of New York-centric auteurs, such as Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese, who refused to shoot on phony New York sets recreated in Hollywood. Among that group was William Friedkin, whose 1971 Academy Award-winning drama, "The French Connection," is sometimes credited as the first movie to feature the original Twin Towers, which were under construction when the film was shot.
That the original Twin Towers stood for only 30 years makes their presence in movies and TV shows categorically era-specific, a detail that filmmakers have handled in different ways. In the months immediately following the attacks, many images and references to the towers were edited out of films and TV shows, mostly out of respect for the families of the victims. One notable example was the original "Spider-Man" film, which was slated for a summer 2002 release, but had already featured the towers in an early movie trailer and poster campaign -- both of which were quickly revamped following the attacks.
Conversely, director Cameron Crowe left the Twin Towers in the rooftop shots of "Vanilla Sky," which was released only two months after Sept. 11. "The idea of wiping them away by the computer -- I couldn't do it," Crowe told the Associated Press at the time. "They've already been taken away once; they'll stay in the movie. Hopefully, the audience will understand it's a tribute."
When the new One World Trade is finally competed in 2014, its addition to New York City's long and storied filmography will serve as its own tribute -- not to what we lost, but to what we've gained.