SCENE FROM THE DAYAFTER TOMORROW
20Th Century Fox  /  REUTERS
A wall of ocean water courses down New York's Fifth Avenue in the wake of a catastrophic climatic shift, in a scene from the new action thriller film "The Day After Tomorrow" directed by Roland Emmerich.
updated 6/8/2004 5:50:28 PM ET 2004-06-08T21:50:28

Since when have summer blockbusters become controversial?  The upcoming disaster movie “The Day After Tomorrow” has sparked some not only in the film and scientific communities, but even among politicians.

In the film, the world is counting down to an Armageddon-type demise brought about by huge hail storms, 110 foot tidal waves, massive tornados, a killer blizzard and a 150-degree-below-zero cold snap—all due to the effects of global warming.

Fact or fiction?
Writer-director Roland Emmerich, who will appear on Friday's episode of 'Deborah Norville Tonight' told the show that Art Bell's science fiction book “The Coming of the Superstorm” sparked his interest in global warming. And after he and co-writer Jeffery Nachmanoff did some research, they found that there was a lot of truth behind the concerns.

In the film, Randy Quaid plays a climatologist who attempts to warn political leaders of an impending Ice Age if global warming triggers a significant shift in the earth's climate.

A likely event?  According to most scientists, no.  The type of havoc nature wreaks on the world happens within days in “The Day After Tomorrow.”  Most scientists agree that if such events occurred, it would take centuries, or at least decades, to occur. 

Video: Warming fact and fiction “This movie exaggerates the basic scenario,” climatologist Patrick Michaels said on the show. 'The Day After Tomorrow' is the irrational, reactive, juvenile approach to global warming.”

Still, the producers recount some curious real-life weather events that happened around the world while they were filming the movie. There was a deadly hailstorm in Central China, Europe's floods-of-the century, 75 tornados in one day in the U.S., and an Antarctic shelf's falling into the sea.

Nachmanoff fictionalized a shelf collapse based on research, and this later happened in real-life while the film was in production. “We read an article which suggested that the Larsen B shelf was scheduled to collapse in 10 to 12 years. We thought ‘That would be really cool, let's put that in the script.'” During filming, the ice shelf actually collapsed.

But not all scientists seem hate the movie. Some of them, in fact, hope the movie will do for interest in global warming what “Jurassic Park” did for dinosaurs.

Nachmanoff thinks the audience is smart enough to tell the difference between what's real and what's not. “People can tell the difference between science fact and science fiction.  “We're just provoking the debate about a somewhat forgotten issue,” he says.

Hot political topic
But much like everything else in the news, the movie has become a political hot potato.

Former Vice President Al Gore urged people to see the movie. “It's an emergency that seems to be unfolding in slow motion, but it actually is occurring very swiftly—not as swiftly as the movie portrays, but swiftly in the context of human history,” Gore said in a conference-call organized by the liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org.

Although Emmerich said his movie is not an attack on the Bush administration, he is allowing the liberal advocacy group to host the premiere. 

Moveon.org is urging its supporters to see the movie and hand out fliers afterwards.  The website and the fliers also contain headlines such as “This is the movie President Bush does not want you to see” and “One man stands in the way of real progress towards global warming: George W. Bush.”

“People are using this movie as a political tool,” Jim Dyke, communications director for the Republica National Committee says. “These are Bush-haters.”

It doesn't help that the actor who plays the U.S. vice president in the movie has more than a coincidental physical resemblance to Vice President Dick Cheney. Of this, Emmerich says that the part went through a typical casting process. The actor who ultimately got the part was the best person for the role. “It wouldn't have been fair to discriminate against him just because he looked like Vice President Cheney,” he says.

Dyke argues that it's irresponsible to politicize a fictional movie with a doomsday scenario that is far-fetched.

Historically, movies have had an impact on public opinion and legislation—and this may not always be a good thing. The 1979 movie “The China Syndrome,” was about a nuclear meltdown and was also viewed as a scientific impossibility.

However, 12 days after the release of the movie, the accident at Three Mile Island occurred. Nuclear power's reputation never fully recovered from the accident, and the hysteria the film spawned.

“While I love the special effects of the movie, it does a disservice to public policy, like Jane Fonda did in ‘The China Syndrome,'" says Michaels. "We have never made another nuclear power plant due to that movie.”  "The China Syndrome" is now considered a cult classic for anti-nuclear activists, despite some of its technical flaws.

Former Astronaut Buzz Aldrin cautions people from propaganda in mainstream media, saying that these can sometimes be a disservice. He mentions, as an example, the conspiracy theories that claimed that the walk on the moon was nothing more than special effects. “We're misleading a generation of people,” he says. “These days, teachers are frustrated that their students are beginning to suspect the government of lying to them on every turn.”

He also thinks that environmental concerns shouldn't be partisan. “I'd like people to be able to rely on credible [sources], respecting honesty between people rather then this bickering back and forth,” he said. “There should be no Democrat or Republican stance.”

The producers are aware that they're getting attention because of all this debate. Referring to the best-selling book “The Da Vinci Code,” Emmerich says, “People now are going to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa. That's not a bad thing.”

“I think you can take the movie however you want,” Nachmanoff adds.   “I think some people take the movie too seriously.  We did this in the interest of making an entertainment movie, not for scientific purposes.”

This episode of 'Deborah Norville Tonight' is scheduled to air Friday, May 28, 9 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV. Catch the debate between Moveon.org's Peter Schurman and Jim Van Dyke of the Republican National Committee over the movie. Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin weighs in as well.

Producer Steve Forrest, The Associated Press, and Cathy Finkler contributed to this report.

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