A note to the reader: Certain scenes in the following account have been dramatized, Hollywood-style--entirely made up--but the description of the film, the scientific information and all the quotes are real.
ACT 1: HOLLYWOOD
INT. MOVIE THEATER--NIGHT OF MAY 28, 2004
Camera pans a series of faces busy munching popcorn, slurping sodas, etc. Camera then rests on you, the SKEPTICAL MOVIEGOER. Your eyes roll during the previews of the space battles--
SKEPTIC: C'mon. You can't hear explosions in the vacuum of space... .
And then the feature begins. It's called The Day After Tomorrow, and it's a spectacular disaster flick, obviously the gleeful product of someone who has thought far too much about the mechanics of global catastrophe. On screen, a climactic upheaval is brewing. Electrical storms lace the sky over New Delhi while hail pummels Tokyo. A lone paleoclimatologist scrambles to warn the world about impending disaster, yet he is too late: In Southern California, tornadoes dismantle the Hollywood sign and most of downtown Los Angeles. A massive storm surge crashes through Manhattan, followed by wind so cold people freeze to the sidewalks. Chaos follows: world-pounding, civilization-scattering chaos, all thanks to a glitch in the weather.
Camera whips back to the Skeptical Moviegoer's face: The smirk is gone. Destruction depicted this vividly can have that effect. But more: The Moviegoer vaguely recalls that the concept of abrupt climate change served up in the film was recently on the front pages--courtesy of the Pentagon, no less--and that story didn't have a happy ending, either.
SKEPTIC (eyes darting, feet tapping): This is just Independence Day minus the aliens. Science fiction, weak on the science--right?
FLASHBACK, THREE MONTHS EARLIER: EXT. MOVIE STUDIO--DAY
Camera zooms in on the SKEPTICAL SCIENCE WRITER, as he emerges from an on-lot screening of the film's rough cut.
WRITER (voiceover): As I emerged from my preview screening into the light of day, I wasn't quite sure what to think. For certain, flash-frozen pedestrians and tinseltown twisters did not have the ring of plausibility. Climate can't change in a Hollywood minute.
But still. Ice ages happen. I'd even vaguely heard that they don't take ages to happen. And so I decided to figure out if there was even a hint of good science in this special-effects extravaganza. And the logical first stop was the director of The Day After Tomorrow. Maybe he'd just grin and agree that the movie is a fun riff on a thin premise: show business.
ROLAND EMMERICH, director and producer of such movies as The Patriot, Independence Day and Godzilla, wheels up in a German supercar the color of a new pistol. Emmerich is handsome, graceful and well-tanned, with a glinting smile and hair that matches his car's paint job.
INT. BUILDING 29
Emmerich shuts the door of a dimly lit editing room and settles onto a sofa. Writer settles in across from him and prepares to pounce, suspecting that Emmerich's motivations are more political than scientific, his disaster flick a well-timed swipe at the current administration in an election year.
EMMERICH (with a moderate German accent): Your flight in was OK?
WRITER: Let's get right to the point, Roland. Your movie purports to be built on a scientific premise, but there's no way that the climate could change like that in a matter of days. What do you have to say for yourself?
Emmerich proceeds, with disarming candor, to acknowledge the unscientific speed of the movie's plotline.
EMMERICH: The scientific community will say, "too fast." And that's OK. Otherwise there is no movie.
WRITER (voiceover): But that's as far as he'd budge; he refused to crack on the underlying principle: Abrupt climate change could plunge the planet into an all new ice age, rendering much of it uninhabitable. And when I pushed him on the politics...
EMMERICH: I started writing this script back when I was finishing The Patriot, before Bush was elected. By then it was already too late.
WRITER (voiceover): "Too late"? This guy really seemed to believe that rapid climate change is not only a real threat --it's inevitable. But I couldn't be sure that even a well-intentioned Hollywood director could be trusted not to mangle the science, particularly when the god of drama must be served. I needed to consult higher scientific powers. I had to visit the Oracles.