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Science FICTION Reviews
Basing the film in New York was a perfect choice when considering density of population. It was the largest city in the United States in 1880, remained at that position in 1930 when the film was made and would continue to, to this day. Although the depiction of 1880 New York as a sleepy quiet town, isn’t quite accurate. In 1880 when only Manhattan and the Bronx were counted as New York the population was already over a million, the only city in the United States to reach this milestone, it had increased in size by a third in just ten years thanks to mass immigration from Europe in particular Italy.
By 1930 New York, now including all 5 boroughs, the population had reached almost 7 million adding a million every decade, so the assumption that New York could get up to the double figure millions by 1980 was very plausible. They had no way to know that that the 1970’s would actually be a declining decade and that 1980 would have almost the same population as 1930.
So with a 11 to 12 million population expected, Art director, Stephen Goosson built big, and where are they going to fit this population? Where else but in the air, impossibly high skyscrapers and the population flying in individual aeroplanes, criss-crossing the sky at varies heights, each airlane as busy as an major road the difference here is with limitless height available, no traffic jams. Controlling these airlanes are traffic police in their own floating control pods, directing traffic, presumably left, right as well as up and down. Below the buildings are crisscrossed with bridged walk ways and train lines , far below what looks like a road still exists with cars presumably for those that haven’t upgraded to a plane yet.
The planes themselves are far more functional than a hover car with unachievable anti-gravity, these have side rotors to control height, propellers at the front for propulsion, with a combination of these, they can hover allowing the population to ‘park’ in designated spaces and for the braver of some, to wing walk between aeroplanes to ‘visit’ another driver. Unfortunately we don’t get too see what the family version of these planes look like and despite how manual the controls appear to be, there are no seatbelts and all personal planes seen are open top.
The city was built in a hanger with a painted backdrop and in the nearfield buildings built and lit individually along with the connected arches and moving miniature vehicles. It took 5 months to build at a cost then of $168,000, an equivalent of $2.5m today. This set would be seen again in Buck Rogers’ serial of 1939, unfortunately it was also this set that crippled science fiction feature films, for the next 20 years (although World War II may also have contributed), as studios were not willing to follow it with the budget required to match this specific set, due to the low box office numbers of this film.

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