The Day After Tomorrow

by Yule Heibel on March 16, 2004

The Guardian has an interesting spin on a movie I hadn’t heard about at all until my friend in Florence, Betsy Burke, sent me the link: “Hollywood disaster film,” the headline reads, “set to turn heat on Bush“:

Here’s the pitch: a dullish candidate, outflanked by his opponent’s serious money, attacked for his liberal leanings, is swept to an unlikely victory thanks to a blockbuster movie that focuses on the effects of big business and the agro-industrial complex.

Audiences throw their popcorn aside, pick up their ballot papers and realise that they too can make a difference. The studio behind the movie: 20th Century Fox, owned by Rupert Murdoch. The director: Roland Emmerich; no Martin Sheen-style bleeding heart Democrat but the brawn behind Independence Day.

It sounds unlikely, but this summer might just see an alliance of commerce, populist entertainment and feel-good concern combine to weaken President George Bush and hand votes to his expected Democrat rival John Kerry.

I have to admit that I got quite excited by this introduction to the film, although I’ve tempered my enthusiasm a tad. I still want to see the film, though. The movie, which has a release date of May 28, 2004, has its own website, which in turn links to some incredible trailers. In fact, the entire website design is very slick, and I am eager to see the movie. Since movie-going has in the past decade slipped to my least favourite things to do, eagerness to go to any movie — and for this one I just might line up on opening day — is indicative of how deeply the promotional material got its hooks into me. I really want to see this film, the website is forcing me to believe that it’s going to be awesome. The other thing that’s exciting is what the Guardian article hints at: the movie might just marshall global anxiety over human intervention in world ecosystems into a force for political sea-change. There is widespread disgust that greed, rapaciousness, and stupidity, coupled with sheer excessive human numbers, has driven us to the brink of something potentially irreversible, and we want to see something done about it. Ok, so it’s a Hollywood disaster flick that might get something done, but grasping at straws has a fine historical legitimacy. At least seen from some angles. Wir haben keine Chance, aber wir nutzen sie. We don’t have a chance, but we’re going to use it. The movie’s premise is based at least in part on several very topical concerns that have been making the rounds in environmental and climate-change conversations. Clearly, the film explores the notion that climate change won’t be a matter of gradually increasing warming over decades, but rather a flipping of the switch so to speak, which will happen when the Great Conveyor Belt (the North Atlantic current) stops moving due to unmanageable masses of fresh water coming off melting glaciers. At this point, should the Great Conveyor Belt stop moving, a new ice age could be upon us within a matter of 2 or 3 years. In the movie, this event is compressed into a single disaster storm that plunges the earth into inhospitality for humans within, well, within a day. And the day after tomorrow is just the anti-climax, presumably the tedious long march into subsistence and survival. Oooooh. You have to see the trailer, it’s incredible. The bad news is that there is much more source material about the movie to digest, and much of it gives one indigestion. To whit, check out this enthusiastic fan or promotional site and its many interviews with director Roland Emmerich. I found it nearly as terrifying to hear Emmerich talk like a Valley girl (rarely have I heard the interjection “like” used so often by anyone) as to contemplate the movie’s spectacular depiction of disaster. This probably says too much about me, but man, you can only hear a person say “like” so many times without wanting to slap them. Another troubling aspect is that Emmerich says he based his movie on scientific research, yet the book he cites as his main inspiration, The Coming Global Superstorm, was written by two people, Art Bell and Whitley Strieber, described as “paranormal superstars” on Amazon’s blurb. Another review from Publishers Weekly notes:

The message is very scary and convincing: humankind has so polluted the environment that the world’s weather is about to react by taking a “ferocious” turn. But the messengers delivering this news seem a bit flaky: Strieber wrote of his own alien abduction episode in Communion; Bell, a late-night radio talk-show host, regularly covers such topics as UFOs, government conspiracies and near-death experiences. They present an imagined sequence for the catastrophic “superstorm,” threatening a possible “extinction event” for humans. It’s like Orson Welles’s The War of the Worlds, only we’re fighting the weather instead of Martians. Interspersed with this alarmist scenario are many credible facts about the effects of trapped greenhouse gasses, as well as explanations of how quickly our ecosystem has deteriorated in this century. Reading, the authors are very grave indeed, lending an otherwise dry scientific topic a heightened sense of drama and making it play as a thriller on tape. Simultaneous release with the Pocket hardcover. (Dec.)

So there you have it, folks, Environmentalism American Style: big, showy, flashy, with potential alien abductions thrown in for good measure, and with a budget on steroids, but also perhaps capable of actually getting something done, mobilising the grass roots. It’s the American way. And if it helps get Bush out of office and helps more momentum to develop for environmental responsibleness, that’s, as someone might say, a good thing. Oh, and speaking of grass (and trees): Emmerich and crew & cast realised while making their film that they were using up huge resources of carbon fuels, which gave them a dose of bad conscience. So they decided to try to make their film “carbon neutral,” and they tell you on their website how you, too, can go carbon neutral: see FutureForests.

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