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2004-05-31 - 2:31 p.m.

Four Days After the Day Before Yesterday

A movie review of "The Day After Tomorrow" Due to an unexpected visitor from Germany, I was unable to see “The Day After Tomorrow” – Hollywood’s disaster flick about global warming - on opening night on Friday. Due to the film’s immense popularity, I was almost unable to get a seat on the following Sunday, even though it was being shown in four theaters within the same cineplex, with starting times coming more frequently than the public buses in Queens. Friends, I am a "paleoclimatologist" (although slightly less good looking than Dennis Quaid, and undeniably female). I am familiar with many of the topics in this film, although I've never risked death by leaping across surging marine ice sheets in Antarctica. Nevertheless I have been asked my opinion multiple times partner the first previews came out in February. My immediate assessment following the 2-minute trailer in February was that “The Day After Tomorrow” is a sensationalist action movie that runs rampant with the facts about global warming in the interest of drama and cool special effects. As such my first reaction was to say, “I’ll probably be ready to see this movie at about just the same time that Hell freezes over.” Well, it’s been a long semester. The newspaper controversies regarding this film have goaded me to attend, with the teasers that all scientists working for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been issued a “gag order” – ordered by top NOAA officials not to comment on any part of the film. The press have also made the somewhat legitimate point that even bad and inaccurate press worth $170 million is probably good for dragging the unwilling US populace towards the inevitable reality that we are dramatically altering our planet. Finally, as my friend Kay aptly points out, Hell *does* actually freeze over in the movie, so why not give it a shot. (She also strategically suggested that we consume a bottle of wine before hitting the theater, so as to dampen my potential tendencies to point out every inaccuracy). After a vexingly slow ride into Manhattan (I almost wrote “glacially-slow” but the subways actually moved more slowly than the glaciers in this movie…), I arrived at the Square a half-hour late to meet Kay, who was able to procure the last tickets for the 9pm show. We went off to enjoy a dinner that rivaled any that I have ever had in Manhattan (food fantastic, delectable wine, live jazz, service unbelievably friendly). Rushing through our last bites of crème brulee, we returned to the theater ten minutes before the film, only to discover that every seat in the theater was already taken, barring to seats together in the very front left corner. Thanks to the wine and calavados this was not a great tragedy, but rather gave us the interesting prospect of staring up Dennis Quaid’s nostrils for the next two hours. No better way to see a film, I say. So now we get to the true point of the story, which is what I thought of the movie…fabulous entertainment, probably because after the first five minutes I had lost count of the inaccuracies and so I gave up. (To begin with, all Antarctic foul weather gear I’ve even seen is bright red, not LL Bean yellow). And to go through the exercise of explaining each Hollywood liberty with truth would be tedious and missing the point. Dennis Quaid as a rugged paleoclimatologist is probably a spot more interesting than the truth, and is probably good for the image of the field. The film doesn’t really pretend to represent science accurately and so there was no point to requiring it. I laughed through the Los Angeles killer tornado scene, and was fascinated by the grapefruit sized hail chunks that fall suddenly and unannounced from the skies over a generic Japanese city. The basic scientific premise holds true: global warming could shut down the North Atlantic thermohaline circulation and cause a significant cooling in the Northern Hemisphere. The concept that complete glaciation of the Northern Hemisphere could happen in two days, in response to three supercell “reverse hurricanes” that suck cold air out of the upper troposphere and freeze the world instantaneously is very creative and makes for fantastic special effects. The more disturbing elements came from how the film was set. It was unsettling to be sitting in a theater on 14th street in Manhattan – a theater that would have been under water and ice in the movie. I could understand that many New Yorkers would not quite be ready to see a film in which Manhattan is destroyed, albeit by a tidal wave – the terrorist of global warming… Even more interesting were the political representations of the film. In real life, government funding for the NOAA paleoclimatology program has been cut severely in the past years, and it is a paleoclimatologist who finally struggles to get the global model computing time to predict the impending disaster, and takes on the Vice President of the United States (played by an actor who was clearly separated from Dick Cheney at birth). Also interesting were the unsubtle political ironies of the closing of the Mexican border to US emigrants, and the extensive US Refugee Camps set up in Latin American countries. The frightening realization that the President’s motorcade is overturned and the evil Vice President is now in charge.. All in all, it’s a good yarn. Fun special effects. Dennis Quaid leaps across huge ice chasms and young teenagers burn every book about tax law but save the Gutenberg Bible in the name of civilization at the New York City Library… Apart from three doomed scotch-drinking meteorologists in Scotland and a Russian ghost tanker that meanders slowly through the flooded streets of Manhattan, the disasters focus on the fate of America and Americans – the message that “we were wrong and now we’re too late” hits you over the head a bit like a sledgehammer. Nevertheless, in a country where our real-life Senator Inhofe from Oklahoma refers to global warming as “just a big hoax,” I wonder if we don’t need a few more sledgehammers…

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...they are just words, Suzi... - 2011-08-29
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