Have you watched Man of Steel, the latest Superman movie? If you did, please read on. If not, here is my spoiler alert: continue reading only if you don’t mind learning some of the details of the film. Like my previous article on the Iron Man trilogy, I would like to share a few thoughts and observations about Man of Steel from an urban planning perspective.
The exploitation of natural resources is an early theme in Man of Steel. The film begins with Krypton facing imminent destruction due to its unstable core, the result of years of depleting the planet’s natural resources. Krypton ultimately explodes, freeing renegade military commander General Zod and his followers, and prompting them to seek out other places that the Kryptonians have colonized. They soon discovered that the colonies did not survive long after Krypton was destroyed, but eventually picked up a distress signal sent from the Kryptonian space ship Clark Kent (aka Kal-El and later Superman) found on Earth. Here on Earth and in reality, the depletion of natural resources caused by the unsustainable extraction of raw materials, especially fossil fuels (oil, coal, and gas), have been an ongoing issue of concern. Increase in the sophistication of technology has enabled natural resources to be extracted quickly and efficiently. Some of the problems associated with the exploitation of natural resources include deforestation, desertification, extinction of species, soil erosion, ozone depletion, increase in greenhouse gases, water pollution, and increased natural hazards and disasters. Knowing the fate of Krypton should cause all of us to think about these important issues even if the planet is entirely fictional.
Smallville and Metropolis
Smallville is the small town in Kansas where Clark Kent grew up and is portrayed as a typical rural American town. In complete contrast, Metropolis is the fictional American city that looks and sounds like New York City. According to DC Comics which publishes the Superman comic books, Metropolis is one of the largest and wealthiest cities on Earth, with a population of nearly 11 million residents. While much of Man of Steel takes place in Clark Kent’s hometown of Smallville, no filming occurred in Kansas. Instead, most of the production took place in Illinois. Specifically, Plano, Illinois, a city with a population of about 11,000, served as Smallville. Downtown Chicago stood in for Metropolis, while Vancouver, British Columbia, was used for scenes that supposedly took place in Alaska. While Vancouver may feel slighted for being passed over for Metropolis after appearing in films like Tron, X-Men, and Mission Impossible, it may actually be a good thing for the Canadian city. After all, as Jessica Barrett of the Vancouver Sun points out, much of Metropolis is destroyed by General Zod in the film’s climax. For more information on where Man of Steel was filmed and why, check out this article on Location Guide.
While downtown Chicago served as Metropolis, special effects were employed to show additional buildings and their destruction caused by the World Engine (see next paragraph) and the duel between Superman and General Zod. Specifically, Double Negative, a British visual effects/computer animation company, used CityEngine, a three-dimensional (3D) modeling software application developed by Esri which transforms 2D Geographic Information System (GIS) data into 3D city models. With the procedural modeling approach, CityEngine allows users to efficiently create detailed large-scale 3D city models with just a few clicks of the mouse instead of the time-exhaustive and work-intensive method of object creation and manual placement. Just about every planner who has used GIS is familiar with Esri which is the international supplier of GIS software and geodatabase management applications. Aside from film production, CityEngine is also being used by professionals in urban planning, architecture, simulation, and game development. To see a video demonstration of CityEngine, visit this site.
The terraforming “World Engine” (not to be mixed up with CityEngine above) is the heavy duty machinery that General Zod was using to transform Earth into a new Krypton. Zod was unsuccessful in his quest, but before being stopped by Superman, he managed to cause substantial damage. You may be wondering, how much damage exactly? Well, there is actually an attempt to answer this question. In a study done exclusively for BuzzFeed, scientist and longtime disaster expert Charles Watson worked with his team at Watson Technical Consulting (WTC) to model and anticipate the damage done to Metropolis, both in the form of human casualties and monetary cost. According to WTC, in the days after the attack, the known damage would already be overwhelming: 129,000 known killed, over 250,000 missing (most of whom would have also died), and nearly a million injured. In terms of the strictly physical damage done to Metropolis, the initial estimate is $700 billion. To put that in context, the physical damage in New York City on 9/11 was $55 billion, with a further economic impact of $123 billion.
Man of Steel is an entertaining film. As a fan of superhero movies, I definitely enjoyed it and would recommend it to others. As a planner, I also found it interesting and somewhat thought-provoking due to the important issues (e.g. exploitation of natural resources, small town life, destruction of a metropolitan area) it brings up and the use of advanced 3D city modeling software.
Man of Steel poster from Wikipedia
Krypton from Wikipedia
Metropolis from Wikipedia
CityEngine from Wikipedia
Photos copyrights may be held by others but republished here pursuant to The Fair Use Doctrine re reviews and commentary regarding the copyrighted material.