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The Day After Tomorrow - what if tomorrow came?



Feature by: Jack Foley

SO COULD it really happen? Could the world be plunged into an ice age at anything like the rate at which events unfold in The Day After Tomorrow?

The obvious answer is ‘no’. Global warming aside, it has been widely stated that the chances of such a cataclysmic set of events unfolding in real-life are damn-near impossible.

Yet that hasn’t quelled the debate surrounding Roland Emmerich’s spectacular epic, which has got several US politicians extremely hot under the collar, and provoked plenty of analysis among environmentalists.

As a cautionary tale, the film may well serve to have audiences asking, ‘what can we do to help’, given that the events are based on reality.

We know the Earth is warming up, that the ice caps are melting, and that the O-Zone layer is precariously balanced - so what is there to stop the rest from happening?

The film itself depicts a time when the melting polar ice caps have poured too much fresh water into the oceans, thereby disrupting the currents that stabilise our climate system. As a result, global warming pushes the planet over the edge and into a new Ice Age.

Along the way, viewers get to see hail the size of grapefruit pounding Tokyo and tornadoes wreaking havoc in LA, not to mention the tidal wave which decimates most of New York.

Yet Emmerich believes that much of the film’s fun lies in its closeness to reality.

"At the core of any ‘disaster movie’ there always has to be something factual, something real for the audience to grab onto," he says.

"What we already know about global warming and climate change has provided us with a great fact base for the movie, and that directly affects the believability of the characters and the world that we have created for them."

Indeed, during the course of making the film, a series of extreme weather events, world-wide, contributed to the growing body of evidence that climate change is already underway.

In July 2002, for example, a deadly hailstorm struck central China, during which the hail stones, which were the size of eggs, killed 25 people.

The following month, parts of Europe were ravaged by what became known there as ‘the floods of the century’. At least 108 people were killed and tens of thousands had to be evacuated.

In November, a major outbreak of severe weather and tornadoes occurred in the US, and a total of 75 tornadoes touched down in one day, killing 36 people and causing damage in 13 states.

Additionally, the production suffered through four months of what would become one of Montreal’s coldest winters on record, with daytime temperatures topping out at minus 25oC on numerous occasions.

Producer, Mark Gordon, states: "The theory that global warming could cause an abrupt climate shift is gaining mainstream attention. While nobody knows what the exact result will be of mankind’s addition of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, some experts have referred to it as ‘the largest uncontrolled scientific experiment in history’."

With this in mind, several leading climatists have been asked for their opinions concerning the likelihood of such a rapid deterioration. And while they have been quick to praise the movie for the way in which it has brought the issue into the public eye, much of the film’s science has been described as flawed.

In an article on BBC Online, Sir David King, the government's chief scientific adviser, agreed that while the scientific consensus was that climate change might lead to a weakening of the thermohaline circulation (THC), or the phenomenon that drives the Gulf Stream, it was not expected to cause its complete halting, as in the film.

He added that the film ‘unrealistically concertinas, into a few weeks, a scenario which, if it did occur, would take decades or a century’.

But he did praise the makers for getting the basic message, about climate change, across in a few sentences of dialogue, which he referred to as ‘a beautiful piece of script-writing’, observing that there had been 21,000 extra fatalities, in Europe's heat-wave, in 2003, that had been attributable to climate change.

It is comments such as these which have been seized upon by environmental campaigners, in America, as a means to slam further the not-so-green policies of the Bush administration - which, ironically, have landed the film at the centre of a political storm.

According to a recent report in the New York Times, industry groups, in Washington, are furiously lobbying Capitol Hill to ensure the film does not help passage of a bill, limiting carbon-dioxide emissions, which many scientists say contribute to global warming.

While former US Vice-President, Al Gore, compared the exaggeration of the film's premise to the approach of the Bush administration to global warming.

"There are two sets of fiction to deal with," he said, in a conference organised by moveon.org. "One is the movie, the other is the Bush administration's presentation of global warming."

He went on to accuse the White House of ‘trying to convince people there's no real problem, no degree of certainty from scientists about the issue’.

But at a time when Hollywood, as a whole, is seeking to back-track on some of the more controversial film-makers’ opinions concerning all aspects of the beleaguered Bush administration, a spokesman for the distributor, Twentieth Century Fox, is quoted as saying:

"Clearly, the movie is entertainment, but all of this activity creates additional interest, making it more topical. It's been wonderful."

And the company’s US marketing executives are also believed to be billing the film more as an action-adventure, roller-coaster-style experience, rather than anything which seriously questions political policy.

One thing is for certain, however, the lively debate surrounding the film - be it political or environmental - should serve to guarantee that profits snowball at the box office.

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