Friday, May 28, 2004

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (2)

Debating the political effects of bad movies

The Day After Tomorrow is now in theaters. I will not be attending -- not because of the film's ludicrous environmental theories, which make for some cool-looking FX, but because the director dissed Chicago.

Reading the reviews, however, it's clear that the film has put left-of-center movie critics in an awkward position. The Hartford Courant's Deborah Hornblow, for example, thinks the film will help the environmental movement:

[Director Roland] Emmerich's thundering, sometimes pulse-pounding summer blockbuster is a digitized city-destroying, freeze-drying depiction of the effects of manmade global warming. Inspired by scientific warnings and early evidence that the Earth's atmosphere is changing because of mankind's abuse, "The Day After" is a scientifically hyperbolic clarion call to greedy fossil-fuel consumers and Bush administration pols who refuse to recognize the problem, much less do something about it....

For all of its chilly scenes of destruction and Emmerich's practiced control of the dramatic tension, it is one of the disappointments of "The Day After Tomorrow" that it is so unbelievable. The film does capitalize on our collective guilt, but it makes too much of it, catapulting itself into the realm of hyperbolic nonsense....

It is with palpable glee that Emmerich uses his film's premise to throw snowballs at targets ranging from Tinsel Town to the Bush administration. The white-lettered Hollywood sign is obliterated by a tornado. A shopping mall is shrouded in ice and snow. The issue of Mexican immigration and border crossing is reversed, as Americans stream toward the border, only to be forbidden entry by Mexican patrols. Kenneth Welsh's vice president has the wire frame glasses, white hair and the intransigence of Dick Cheney....

All that said, if "The Day After Tomorrow" gets even one person to pressure a congressman or trade in a gas-guzzler for a subcompact, it will justify all of Emmerich's digital exaggeration. (emphasis added)

Slate's David Edelstein frets a little more about blowback:

[I]f I had to catalog all the moronic plot turns in The Day After Tomorrow, we'd be here until the next ice age. It's just so very bad. You can have a pretty good time snickering at it—unless, like me, you think there's something to this global warming thing, and you shudder at the irony of a movie meant to warn people about a dangerous environmental trend that completely discredits it....

The sad part is that Emmerich really thinks he's making a political statement, and he and his producers and actors are making the rounds blabbing about the movie's message to the world. As a German, he's no doubt eager to teach the United States some humility: The most amusing scene features North Americans racing illegally across the Rio Grande as Mexican troops attempt to turn them back. But the mainstream American audience won't want to know from humility, even in a fantasy alternate universe. It's too Jimmy Carter. Meanwhile, global-warming experts I know are already girding themselves for a major PR setback, as everyone involved in this catastrophe becomes a laughingstock. Is it possible that The Day After Tomorrow is a plot to make environmental activists look as wacko as antienvironmentalists always claim they are? Al Gore stepped right into this one, didn't he?

[So what's your take on this global warming deal?--ed. Click here to find out.]

UPDATE: Julian Sanchez has a wickedly funny take on the flick:

Having seen it, I now want to be the first to say: are you f***ing kidding me? George Bush should be buying people tickets to this movie. It's preposterous from start to finish—maybe the D.C. audience has an unusually ironic sensibility, but the crowd was laughing from start to finish, during many of the ostensibly most dramatic scenes....

The catalyst for the movie's meteorological mayhem is an ice age brought on practically overnight by a vaguely specified disturbance in the Atlantic current caused by melting icecaps. But the effect is not to deliver some kind of chilling, potentially mobilizing warning about the perils of our current environmental policy. Instead, the fantastic and sudden global catastrophe turns a genuine issue into a sci-fi threat: It puts global warming in roughly the same category as attacks by Godzilla or The Blob.... In short, the movie makes a genuine (if tractable) problem into high camp. It's about as likely to spur political pressure for more environmental regulation as the X-Files movie was to prompt demands for an alien invasion defense force.

posted by Dan on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM


Emmerich, meet Mickey Moore. The dumbing-down of the left continues apace.

They're doing to the Dems what Falwell and Pat Robertson have done to the Repubs: while they energize the "base," they appall the rest of the nation, degrade the public discourse, and crowd out sane and responsible voices in the party.

posted by: thibaud on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

The Day After Tomorrow will turn out to be the Left Behind of the environmental left. The true believers will think it's gospel, everyone else will think its lunacy.

posted by: tom on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

"The Day After Tomorrow" will discredit environmentalists to exactly the same degree that "The Passion of the Christ" discredited Christianity, "Stargate" disrupted Egyptology, "Man on Fire" raised doubts about cops, "Armageddon" undermined the space program and "Independence Day" boosted sales of Macintosh-compatible laptops -- i.e., zilch.

Roland Emmerich likes to make movies in which lots of things get destroyed. The means for achieving this end -- giant spaceships, giant lizards, giant British officers -- matters not, so long as something goes kerblooey. This year it's giant waves. He's probably hard at work right at this very minute on a giant cicada movie. Big freakin' deal.

If Al Gore and want to stand up for this movie, they'll just have to clean their shoes afterward off without my help. If "The Day After Tomorrow" provides anti-enviro fodder to anyone, it will be the squawk radio halfwits who already flog industry-funded studies as proof that global warming is a myth.

Hey ... there's an idea for a disaster movie. A giant talk-radio host. Get on it, Roland, as soon as that giant cicada movie is in the can.

posted by: Steven on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

The 1979 released “The China Syndrome” may have greatly damaged our way of life. A number of people blame this film for the halt to adding more nuclear plants in the United States. This alone has added more costs to our energy bills. I do not believe this present movie will caused similar harm. After all, it is supported by Al Gore---a real loser. Who in hell wants to take any advice from this buffoon?

posted by: David Thomson on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

DT: The 1979 released “The China Syndrome” may have greatly damaged our way of life.

But I think Three Mile Island happening right after the film was released had a helluva lot to do with it as well.

Not too likely a scenario in this case.

posted by: fling93 on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

Saw this at Tim Blair's site in the comments. A translation of an Emmerich interview in the German press.

Let's just say that the guy seems to be an expert in targeting particular audiences. I imagine that, for all his disdain for half the country, he probably won't give back the dollars they spend on his crappy movie.

Q: Will the anti-Bush mood outside of America be conducive to the success of the film?

A: I had no idea that Bush would get up to all the things he did eventually. During the last election campaign I was already writing the script. I hope America comes to its senses. They have been so lied to by the government. For us Europeans this is crystal clear, but also for a few Americans. However there are still 50% of Americans who want to vote for Bush – this is absolutely inconceivable for me.

Q: Don´t you get into all kinds of trouble when you as a German take such a stand?

A: As I already told my mother, they probably won´t let me back in. (laughs)

Q: But you are not the only one fulminating against Bush. Many filmmakers think the same way.

A: That is indeed new and it is good. I admire colleagues who are commited to political awareness and engage in a critical discourse with people.

Q: The American people do not have the best reputation with regard to ecology. How environmentally conscious are the Americans really?

A: Totally, just not their government. Of course I can only speak for my friends. This may perhaps sound a bit elitist, but most of them drive an electric car. The Americans would approve if those on top would do more for the environment. But they never had a green party in the government which could have had some influence – in contrast to Germany. There is a great gap: Americans want to recycle. 78% of all people there are worried about the environment. But the government doesn´t see it that way. In the last election, the environmental candidate Al Gore had the consent of the regular voters, and only the electoral college finally changed it. I still think it was a family affair in Florda. There was something fishy about it.

Q: You seem to be downright furious.

A: But this all goes much further. With a policy of fear they tried to find a pretext to invade Iraq after September 11. The Americans were made insecure, to make them agree to that. The intelligent Americans are so appalled by what their president does, you cannot imagine it.

Q: Are these things really communicated in the open?

A: Yes, for the first time there are now open discussions.

Q: Whereas the infamous Patriot Act has even succeeded in muzzling media.

A: That is a giant problem. As soon as you criticize something, you are no longer a patriot. What about that? America is the oldest democracy in the world. Since then they have totally developed beckwards. Euope was most of the time under monarchic influence [sic], but is today three or four times as democratic as America. I hope this will soon change. I think that will work out.

And in a recent interview with the German Spiegel newsmagazine:

"We must not destroy our planet. The United States are the most powerful country, and there sits George W. Bush, a president who cares about nothing but oil. How different would the world be if the Democratic environmentalist politician Al Gore would have come to power? All this is hard to bear for me as a German. I never want to be an American."

Then he claims his next car will be a hybrid fuel/electric one, but asks: "Why does the industry build the ugliest bodies for hybrid cars? There is method behind it. They want to keep selling their expensive fuel models..."

Another newspaper writes that currently he still drives his "old" BMW.


If you read German, the initially cited article is here:

posted by: Steve in Houston on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

I have just returned home after viewing “The Day After Tomorrow.” Oh my God, there is definite lesson to be learned from this fantastic film: The Lord Jehovah will punish you for voting in favor of a Democrat presidential nominee! It dawned on me immediately, early in the film, when the city of Los Angeles was destroyed. Didn’t their citizens voted overwhelmingly for “Crazy Al” Gore in the last election? Later on, the city of New York is buried under ice and snow. The same thing holds true. These blue state folks also voted for Al Gore . Just think about it for a minute. Vermont is over 96% white and enforces economic policies which inevitably discourage racial minorities from moving into the state. Wouldn’t this alone enrage a benevolent but just God? It is only the red states that are given a chance to survive. These citizens are mostly left unharmed. Yup, a vote for John Kerry will certainly bring about a disaster. God doesn't like it when one fails to vote Republican. I thank the Good Lord that I live in Houston, Texas. We are His kind of people.

posted by: David Thomson on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

That whole interview is embarrassingly ignorant, but this line is particularly absurd:

"Q: Whereas the infamous Patriot Act has even succeeded in muzzling media."

The Patriot Act has muzzled the media? That makes no sense at all.

posted by: Xavier on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

Xavier's quite correct. Assuming that the transcript and translation of the interview are both accurate, Emmerich is either ignorant or a nutter.

posted by: Thorley Winston on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

All that said, if "The Day After Tomorrow" gets even one person to pressure a congressman or trade in a gas-guzzler for a subcompact, it will justify all of Emmerich's digital exaggeration.

Comments like this make me wonder why there's unemployment in America. If a dunce like Deborah Hornblow (is that her real name?) can make a living saying that one politically correct car sale offsets the trouble of making a $100,000,000 movie, then surely there are good jobs out there for everyone.

posted by: Morty on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

My 15 year old son went to see the movie tonight with his freinds. They thought it was quite cool (the special effects) and the science ridiculous. Its going to affect most peoples views on global warming the way 'Alien' affects people's views on sending probes to Mars.

posted by: Kozinski on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

if "[whatever]" gets even one person to...

...I nominate this for "the rationale of the left".

posted by: rosignol on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

The Bush administration is also not doing very much about the horror that is digitally created cats... go and tell 10 friends to see Garfield the Movie, the other movie Bush doesn't want you to see. It's sure to cause a massive movement to vote him out in November!

posted by: HH on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

Saw this movie tonight and concur it's the silliest movie. One small irony noted: every TV newscast in the movie seems to be Fox.

posted by: zhombre on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

Of course, every newscast is Fox. The movie was produced by Fox.

posted by: Yamaneko on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

According to The Guardian, only the U.K. and one Scandinavian country (Norway, I think) were able to meet CO2 reductions as mandated by the Kyoto protocol. No other countries even came close. Europe was at least 10 years behind the U.S. in clean air technology, so most of the reductions (such as in the U.K.) came from closing or updating coal-burning plants.

Recent studies have shown that a greater reduction in global-warming would come from reducing methane and black carbon. Since Europe relies more on Natural Gas (which produces methane) than the U.S., they made sure methane production was downplayed in Kyoto (having many more votes than the U.S., they were able to ensure this). Black carbon is mostly produced in the third world, but they mostly got a pass by Kyoto.

Finally, the use of genetically modified crops would reduce global warming, since less farmland would be needed throughout the world, and thus reduce the amount of forests that would have to be burned down (so more rainforests to absorb CO2). Plus, GM crops require less tilling, meaning more CO2 is trapped in the soil rather than being released into the atmosphere... European agricultural interests oppose GM crops, and have been quite successful in generating propaganda against them.

All this is irrelevant, of course, since everybody KNOWS that Europe is more environmentally sophisticated than the U.S., where evil corporations have doomed the planet to hell. To even suggest that global warming can be blamed on anybody besides selfish, ignorant Americans MUST make that person a tool of the oil lobby, so I guess I'm suspect...

posted by: John on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

"... Emmerich is either ignorant or a nutter."

The two alternatives are not mutually exclusive.


posted by: Ric Locke on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

To think I used to like Emmerich. What a stupid ass he is. How dare he rip our country like this? He makes all these movies, like Independence Day and The Patriot to appeal to the US audience and get our dollars then he rips on this country overseas? To hell with him! Hell, him dissing Bush is funny, in Independence Day he had this great big story about a fighter pilot getting into the White House. So now it happens and he complains?

What a maroon!


posted by: David Powell on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

If I want to see fantasy, contrived situations and laugh-out-loud visuals then I'm going to wait until Shrek 2 opens. At least that's intentionally hilarious.

posted by: David Gillies on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

The prediction model for global warming assumed that temperatures will rise all around the world, with nothing to slow or stop it. Heck, that's the definition of warming and global. The movie pulls a fast one, however, by slipping in Dennis Quaid's new model, which only includes enough warming to melt the south polar ice, then causing global cooling. Since that supposedly occurred 10,000 years previously, it is difficult to see how driving SUV's figures in. Amazingly, the sanctimonious environmentalists continue to blame the politicians and industrialists for not accepting the previous model, which is now totally discredited. In the end, the Cheney surrogate apologizes, not for melting the ice cap with greenhouse gases, but for depleting the earth's resources, which figures largely in green orthdoxy, but is not mentioned in the first global warming model, nor in the Quaid model. Indeed, since the Quaid model assumed climate shift over centuries, the suddenness of the onset of disaster would seem to discredit that model as well. I was taught that the scientific method required experimental verification of predictions, and that departure from the result that the theory predicts would invalidate the theory until new explanations are experimentally verified. As in the movie, real life greens don't really know what they are predicting, and don't seem to care if experiments invalidate the concept. Like flat earthers they just shift their rhetoric. ("Global warming is entirely consistent with cooler climate")

OK, I'll lay it out: If the climate is so delicate that man's tinkering could send it off in either direction, then the precautionary principle ("We should implement Kyoto just to be on the safe side") could have the opposite effect than what we would want. If the climate isn't that delicate, then we can and should wait until experiments verify the cause, the effect, and the cure. Also, if the polar ice were to melt, and sea level rises, don't you think that the more water stored in large capacity toilet tanks around the world, the better off the people in Los Angeles will be?

posted by: Stephen Lassey on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

David Thomson: Is it not evident from the trailer's "Ten thousand years ago one storm changed the face of our planet" and "Where will you be?" that this movie is actually made for the "Left Behind" crowd?

After all this talk everywhere about "Day After Tomorrow", I can't possibly be the only person to notice this.

posted by: Ilkka Kokkarinen on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

What I loved about this movie is that it didn't even live up to the conventions of the disaster-movie genre. Usually, the Handsome Maverick Scientist delivers his Warning, which is Rejected By the Powers That Be, and his Predictions Come To Pass.

But in DAT, it's already snowing in India when Dennis Quaid chews out the Cheney lookalike. It's too late! Even if Cheney believed him, even if he had come into office believeing himand did everything he could to ratify Kyoto, nothing he could have done could have prevented the disaster? So what's the point?

Unrelated to the looney science in the movie, but equally pointless: Quaid makes an arduous trek to NYC to "rescue" his son. He arrives to find his son alive, and they then are rescued, along with every other survivor in Manhattan, by the military. So why, from a plot perspective, did he have to make his journey (and, not incidentally, get his best friend killed in the process)?

Other amusing bits: the notion that, if such a thing came to pass, Americans would be begging for entry into Mexico. Am I the only one who thinks that the U.S. Army would politely inform the Mexican Government that the place was under new management and would they please leave the keys behind when they vacated their offices? Also, despite the fact that Canada is even more thoroughly obliterated than the norhtern U.S., our neighbors to the north rated not a single mention in the movie except as a source of ominous air masses...

posted by: jimbo on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

Please remember, it's only a movie ..

posted by: zbot on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

Good Jimbo, But I've more Grevious sins to consider.

First, you're right - it fails as a DisPic. Why?

The Conclusion doesn't follow from the premise.

Premise: Fragile Ecosystem (Forwarded by Protag)
Conclusion: Robust, Extremely aggressive Ecosystem that restarts when out of balance.

So shouldn't the new Prez be telling everyone to drive only SUV's without exhaust pipes and burn everything in site for the next, say 1000 years or so?

But that's for the Philos to work out. Here's the movie-buff critique:
Two quibbles, Saw it a the Fort Benning Movie House (full) and when that final scene came with that Major and his rank in the middle of his forehead - the place went nuts.

Quiet Movie House - Scene change - "Fix your phkng headgear, asshole!" - insane laughter and "ho-ahhing".

A bad Mil scene rivals the best of the black movie houses for invited commentary on a military post.

Second - Is your son dead or alive? I don't know genius - why not look for the smoke coming from the chimney of the half-burried NYCL? Oh, that's right - there wasn't any.

posted by: Tommy G on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

I saw that movie yesterday. Even leaving out the debate about politics and the global environment, it was just a bad movie, plain and simple. It had the usual great CGI effects, so-so acting, and absolutely lackluster story-telling. I knew who was going to die and who wasn't in the first few scenes, and I knew it would end on some implausibly upbeat, happy note (although I wasn't prepared for "Dick Cheney's" unbelievable come-to-Jesus moment, good God). So I was bored halfway through, and I usually love disaster movies.

posted by: RebeccaH on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

Waitaminnit. Does the movie really claim that the last glacial started 10,000 years ago? That's about the time it ended.

posted by: Paul Zrimsek on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

I haven't seen it yet, but it sounds as if this moview will give Day of the Animals a run for its money. Here is the sci-plot device for that masterpiece:

"The opening credits give warning that the ozone layer is being dangerously depleted by mankind's actions. A measure of our protection against a hostile universe stripped away, somebody is going to have to pay the price.....Merciless solar radiation fries all the reason out of the animals, turning them into homicidal beasts. And they only hate people!"

posted by: "Mindles H. Dreck" on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

Not planning to see the movie (I can think of far better uses of my time -- like feeding my blog addiction).

But really, what did we expect from this guy, given he expected us to believe one of our laptops could, without any manual configuration or trouble-shooting, communicate with an alien ship's computer system (it's hard enough to network computers created by humans) -- let alone that we would know what security holes their OS has so we can write a virus to exploit it?

posted by: fling93 on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

You don't get it. Brent Spiner (the long-haired "mad scientist" working for the government who is really Lt Cmdr Data from Star Trek NG) had been working on the alien tech squirreled away in Area 51 since the late 1940s. They figured out how a lot of that stuff worked, it was just that there was no power source until the alien Mother Ship came back. Jeff Goldbloom didn't come up with the way to hack the alien net with his Apple Powerbook all on his own.

posted by: Paul on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

I am a person with no fixed opinion one way or the other on global warming. I am also only an environmentalist in the sense that I am vaguely in favor of conservation. In other words, I am a typical American on these issues. I saw the movie over the weekend and here's my review:
*The special effects were cool.
*Dennis Quaid is a bad actor.
*The Mexican border scene was cute.
*The plot was predictable, but not overly tiresome.
I never considered the movie in the context of the environmental debate, and neither will most Americans. Guys... It's a movie.

posted by: Larry Burton on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

I had thought about going to see TDAT but ultimately decided against it...looks like I made the right choice.

posted by: Chris Oakley on 05.28.04 at 10:15 AM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?