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This is part of a poster for the new Star Trek movie, showing a half-destroyed city skyline from the future, with some very interesting buildings dotted about. Over on the left there, you can see one that looks like an unexploded bomb, which must’ve been a tough sell to the city planning board. And there’s another one that looks like a chisel, the penthouse apartment of which must have some serious storage problems.
But the one that does stand out is the Gherkin, the pointed and pear-shaped glass vibrator that is such an integral part of the London skyline these days. Which suggests that this future skyline is actually London. And of course, that set off a train of thought about how iconic buildings are used in the movies to try and bring home a sense of personal jeopardy to an invasion scenario.
“LOOK!,” you are supposed to think, “that’s flipping BIG BEN! And I’ve BEEN THERE! This must be VERY REAL!”
But let’s face it, all of the really famous landmarks have already been used up, countless times. So many times, in fact, that if even a quarter of the alien invasions or natural disasters in science fiction had actually taken place, the White House would be entirely made of easily-replaced sheets of styrofoam by now. And it’s starting to become so common, that frission of identification is starting to wear off.
So here are five alternate locations for a startling alien invasion, or a massive natural disaster, depending on which is nearest:
The Liver Building, Liverpool
It faces out across the Mersey, and has two huge bird statues on top, so you can either go the Day After Tomorrow route, and put people inside it while the forces of nature conspire to wipe mankind off the face of the Earth, of you can put people inside it while alien forces conspire to wipe mankind off the face of the Earth, and then somehow use the birds to aid the fightback, or a flying saucer could knock one of them onto the street below, bringing home the full horror of, I dunno, a Saturnian Smoke Demon attack. They then go on to vaporise the Cavern Club and John Lennon’s old house, for an encore.
Criccieth Castle, North West Wales
In days of yore, kings, dukes and barons would build themselves a big castle on top of a hill and use it as a base of operations, from which they could send out armies to do fighting and, if things went badly wrong, raise the drawbridge and generally hide in relative safety. The reasons for building a hard-to-enter fortified house on top of a big hill are still applicable today, providing you are either hiding from a rampaging army of zombies, trying to escape rising floodwater, or, best of all, an actual alien general, looking for a place to use as a base of operations (under the invisibility cloak of English Heritage doing some renovations). And seeing as the global image of the Brits is that they’re never more than half a mile from a castle, it’ll be easy to identify with whatever goings on are, y’know, going on.
The Angel of the North, Gateshead
As the leaning tower of Pisa will tell you, a good movie landmark’s location does not need explaining, and the Angel of the North, a big metallic statue woman with airplane arms, is a very good movie landmark. It would serve as an alternative Statue of Liberty, should any further remakes of Planet of the Apes seek to change the location of the big plot-twist ending to the North East of England, and could even be a useful ally if it’s the kind of movie where statues come to life, and the heroes need to make a flying machine out of bits and bobs that are lying about, A-Team style.
Truro Cathedral, Cornwall
I’ll admit to a vested interest in this one, as Truro is my home town, but have a look at the cathedral. If any building was to look good while being razed to the ground by a heat ray, it’s this one. Especially as the surrounding buildings are all so short. And Truro is one of those small cities that exists in a natural bowl of hills, so if there was a second ice age or a massive flood that prevented the river Fal from emptying, it would fill up until the spires of the cathedral would be the only visible points of reference for miles around. Lord, what fools we mortals be, etc…
A Remote Scottish Loch
So here’s the pitch, for an exciting encounter with a terrifying creature! Up in Scotland they have these huge freshwater lakes called lochs, right? And they’re, like, really big. So big, in fact, that it’s plausible that a large monster of some sort could live in one of them, and be almost undetected by the locals. Almost. Suddenly, odd things start to happen, there are unexplained disappearances, weird footprints in the mud and some scientists arrive to investigate the disappearances, only to find their instruments are giving off strange readings, that suggest some kind of prehistoric life form living in the loch, but they can’t pinpoint where it is without three of them going out in a tiny boat in the dead of night, with only a broken radio and six bottles of whisky to protect them. And that is when things start to get really tens… what? It’s been… what? Loch NESS? What kind of silly name for the site of a monster movie is Loc… oh. Oh I see. Well, I’m not writing it again. Hopefully they won’t notice.
Where would you set an alien invasion epic? Tell us here:
See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic