Jewish World Review June 3, 2004/ 14 Sivan, 5764
Super Size Stinker: Global Warming Strikes Out
I had a number of options for idling away a chunk of last Saturday afternoon. It was sunny in Baltimore, after a week of intermittent thunderstorms knocking out power on four occasions and after throwing fly balls and liners to my son Booker in the backyard, a lounge chair was awaiting for me to read Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas? The Red Sox-Mariners game was on Fox, a neighborly chat about the presidential race could be arranged (Baltimoreans, while mostly enlisted in the Kerry Corps, as a rule don't send Bush partisans to the penalty box), or I could simply sit outside and listen to the high-decibel cicada freedom symphony. Aside from chewing holes in the leaves of our apple tree, I really cherish the six-week swarm of the much-derided cicadas, although it's sobering to realize that by the next time they appear on the East Coast, I'll be, God willing, 65 years old.
But any hopes of a day without irritation were dashed when the boys insisted upon driving to the multiplex and join the locusts at a screening of the ridiculous The Day After Tomorrow. This was two hours of visual and political torture, and it was only a last-minute decision to wear long pants and a sweater that saved me from turning into a human icicle in the absurdly air-conditioned theater. I like cinematic special effects in small doses, but this blockbuster was unrelenting from almost the opening moments, not letting up until the sappy "happy" ending which attempted to complete the non-existent plot.
The sheer silliness of this movie makes The West Wing appear believable.
Family reaction was mixed. My wife Melissa and our older son Nicky were thumbs up as we debated on the ride home; Booker, who claimed he'd aged 15 years during the course of the movie, said the outing's only redeeming feature were the nachos and Milk Duds he consumed. Never mind the hocus-pocus global warming propaganda I can't think of any pop culture event that'll cause more backlash for the likes of Al Gore, who, judging by his recent NYC speech, has personal issues to deal with that dwarf an upcoming ice age, worldwide drought or the return of dinosaurs it was the imagery in the film that left me disturbed.
When the iconic Hollywood sign is destroyed early on, it was hard to escape the thought that this, unlike most of the film's rat-a-tat-tat catastrophes, could actually happen any day now. Obviously, terrorists wouldn't make the famous landmark a priority a dirty bomb in the Holland Tunnel or in the bowels of Grand Central is the gold standard but it wouldn't be bad icing on the cake for a day of treachery. Heck, any attack in Los Angeles, even if didn't cost a single life, might dispel the entertainment industry's unspoken assertion that We're All Arabs Now.
Needless to say, had the World Trade Center not crumbled almost three years ago, the towers would've featured prominently in The Day After Tomorrow. Instead, the filmmakers had to settle for the Statue of Liberty and the New York Public Library. I didn't get quite as exercised as some critics about the fictional vice-president's passing resemblance to Dick Cheney. What else would you expect from any mainstream movie produced and directed by wealthy men who, at private cocktail parties compare Bush to Nixon and Hitler and engage in mindless chatter about the crisis at public schools that their own children don't attend?
(Yes, I realize the film comes out of Rupert Murdoch's 20th Century Fox, but ideology and profit are discreet passions, as Democrats like Jon Corzine, John Kerry, Bob Shrum and John Edwards, given an elephantine dose of truth serum, could tell you.)
Liberal reviewers, like Slate's David Edelstein, were distressed that director Roland Emmerich had inadvertently zapped one of their pet hobbyhorses. Edelstein laments: "Of course, if 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 itů [G]lobal-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?"
Gore, according to the Los Angeles Times, found the film "extremely enjoyable and exciting beyond the message." And the Chicago Tribune's Mark Caro wrote on May 30 that MoveOn.Org, once the engine of Howard Dean's presidential campaign, has posted this message on it website: "The Movie the White House Doesn't Want You To See."
That's doubtful: The success of The Day After Tomorrow is good for business (the robust economic recovery, is, of course, the most under-reported story of the year), and the fact that doom & gloom prophets like Gore are unintentionally skewered is a bonus.
I like entertainment that's political in nature, regardless of bias, as long as it's grounded in a semblance of reality. Pointing this out to my sons, I recalled Fail Safe from 1964, one of Henry Fonda's finest performances, as a Hollywood feature that was thought provoking.
Just seven during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, I clearly remember, and always will, the somber Oct. 25 birthday dinner for a brother of mine who'd turned 12. My parents, while attempting to carry out the usual tradition of blowing out the candles on a cake, presenting a couple of small gifts, couldn't hide their utter fear. At one point, my mother just blurted out, "Let's hope Gary has a 13th birthday to celebrate."
Similarly, the made-for-tv movie The Day After (1983), in which Jason Robards and his fellow Kansans get knocked off in a nuclear war, was frightening enough that I had a nightmare after watching it. Nicky bought the DVD last Sunday, and didn't find anything to get nervous about; he mostly complained that it wasn't "scary" and the special effects were "dated." Could be Dad's the family's only member who didn't have a color tv until adolescence but I'll pass on watching that one again.
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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.
© 2002, Russ Smith