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Look out Shard, you're next

Hollywood has plans to raze you to the ground, says Rory Olcayto

As I was travelling north on the Overground line from Peckham one evening last week, I caught some great views of London’s towering new skyline as we pulled into Blackfriars. The Shard, Heron Tower, the Gherkin and the two new upstarts rapidly taking shape, the Cheesegrater and the Walkie Talkie, looked future-shockingly good. So did St Paul’s huge metallic dome. Even the old Nat West Tower and the Blade Runner-ugly Guy’s and St Thomas’ had something going on. The sun, just above the horizon, and the pinkish, hazy sky helped a lot: it made everything look sci-fi.

My next thought was: ‘I’ve seen this somewhere before.’ It was a few nights earlier. On YouTube. The trailer for next month’s Star Trek Into Darkness movie. It begins with a bomb going off in central London. 23rd-century central London. St Paul’s is still there, but the viewing corridors aren’t. In one freeze frame (pictured below), we see the bomb’s explosion from a distance, in a view that has Wren’s dome in the foreground, but it is surrounded by skyscrapers that look much like those in the City do now, except bigger. A couple, though, seem out of place. One is in Chicago Gothic style. Another looks closer to a Hong Kong high-rise (or maybe Foster’s Hearst Tower in New York).

The building that is bombed is a low-riser and resembles a Zaha Hadid number, a Guangzhou or Baku-clone. The view, however, is odd. We’re looking westwards. The tall buildings in the background seem to be lining Charing Cross Road. (CABE and Design for London were obviously made defunct in the Star Trek timeline, too).

It shows how far from the original Star Trek series director JJ Abrams has strayed. We never saw Earth in the 1960s episodes (except in the occasional time travel tale) but the sense was of a unified planet, with a world government, and most of today’s problems - a looming energy crisis, gross inequality, high unemployment and climate change - solved. Yet in this one freeze frame from the forthcoming sequel to Abrams’ 2009 reboot, we can see that vision has been abandoned. Instead, Abrams shows a future more like now than now is. If London really does looks like the way this Star Trek shows it to be in the 23rd century, doesn’t that mean that the bankers win, that corporations win, that financial markets still rule, and foreign funny money still dictate the shape and form of everywhere we live? Apparently, this attack on London is central to the plot, but Abrams has given little away.


Last December however, a poster for the film showed the future London skyline framed through a bomb-damaged facade in the shape of the Starfleet insignia, the Gherkin clearly visible in the distance. And a promotional stunt a couple of weeks ago saw that same symbol emblazoned on the sky above Tower Bridge, achieved by floating LED-equipped drones - quadrotors - into place.

Let’s recap. We’ve got a film set two centuries into the future with a skyline that look like today’s London. A poster for the same film designed for a global audience and recognisable to Chinese and American punters because the Gherkin is in it, rather than, say, Big Ben. And we’ve had quadrotor drones throwing Star Trek shapes above the Thames in real life to promote the whole affair.

Why, why and why? Hollywood has obviously approved London’s tireless bid for ‘World City’ status. Expect to see its skyline destroyed a whole lot more in blockbusters yet to come.

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