Turning Up the Hype
For 'The Day After,' A Crowded Lobby
By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 27, 2004; Page C01
LOS ANGELES -- If former vice president Al Gore gives a movie a rave review, is that a good thing or a bad thing at the box office? That is what Hollywood wants to know.
The potential summer blockbuster "The Day After Tomorrow" (opening, actually, tomorrow) is about the adventures of a little planet we call Earth that suddenly finds itself experiencing extreme meteorological distress due to humankind's prodigious discharge of greenhouse gases.
And now a coalition of environmental organizations, Ben & Jerry's, serious scientists, Hollywood gadflies, a Kennedy, a Gore and several anti-Bush organizations has gotten together to promote the movie, ride its coattails and do some bashing of the administration's position on global warming.
Directed by master of disaster Roland Emmerich (the German who blew up the White House in "Independence Day" and also did a "Godzilla" remake), the movie does for global warming what Emmerich did for space aliens and a giant lizard: make it scary (and oddly fun).
The pop-corny scenario is this: a couple of centuries of excessive emissions of carbon dioxide (the stuff that comes out of tailpipes and smokestacks) has finally warmed the globe enough to shut down the thermo-saline North Atlantic Ocean Current, which acts as a kind of heat distribution modifier. Holy guacamole. In a matter of days (scientists say it would actually take decades, if it happened at all), the weather gets really weird.
Jumbo tornadoes flatten Los Angeles. Hailstorms attack Tokyo. And the planet does not warm, but instantly freezes -- as if God's own Sub-Zero refrigerator decided to make us all ice cubes. Gargantuan tsunamis roll over Manhattan, covering Gotham in frost. (The consensus among climate scientists is that global warming will be, uhh, warm. But in computer modeling scenarios, there could be regions that experience a bit of cooling, such as Northern Europe and Greenland, if the Atlantic Ocean current shut down.)
Gore, who says he read the screenplay while the movie was in production and saw a screening this week, admits -- as everyone does -- that the movie is mostly science fiction, but grounded in some science facts. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts the planet will warm by 2.7 to 10.5 degrees over this century.
"It opens the opportunity for debate," Gore said in a recent telephone news conference. "A national conversation." Or, in the words of Peter Frumhoff, director of the global environment program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, which is also getting in on the action via its Web site (and who will be part of the commentary accompanying the DVD version of the movie in a few months), "a teachable moment."
As the film opens in mall multiplexes this weekend, the liberal activists from MoveOn.org promise that thousands of volunteers will be on hand to leaflet theatergoers with information about the impending "climate crisis."
The MoveOn campaign, endorsed by Gore, is heaping blame where it thinks blame is due. In its materials, the group charges: "More than anyone else, one man stands in the way of real progress toward stopping global warming: President George W. Bush. At every turn, President Bush has sided with his friends and big campaign contributors in the oil, coal and automobile industries."
And in his remarks, Gore charged, "The Bush-Cheney adminstration has worked very hard to create the false impression that the scientific community is unsure whether this is a serious problem or not."
"We don't do movie reviews," a White House official said last night, adding that "this is a political season and everybody has their right to an opinion." In the past, the administration has defended its record on global warming by saying it supports research on climate change and promotes voluntary reductions in greenhouse gases.
It is notable that "The Day After Tomorrow" features a character, Vice President Becker (played by Kenneth Welsh), who bears a reasonable likeness to Dick Cheney, and who in the movie pooh-poohs global warming in a scene set at an international climate treaty conference in New Delhi.
Michael Molitor, a geochemist formerly at the University of California's Scripps Institution of Oceanography, served as a paid adviser for the film. He says he helped with the scientific underpinnings of the movie and also highlighted for the filmmakers what he characterized as the Bush administration's contention that the cost of addressing future warming is not yet worth the price.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company