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April 24, 2004
NASA Panic Over Disaster Movie Gives Hollywood Too Much Credit

Tomorrow's New York Times features a story on a too-typical example of bureaucratic mountain-making from molehills, as NASA at first gagged its scientists from commenting on an upcoming movie that shows global warming causing a new Ice Age -- in five days:

In "The Day After Tomorrow," a $125 million disaster film that is to open on May 28, global warming from accumulating smokestack and tailpipe gases sets off an instant ice age.

Few climate experts think such a prospect is likely, especially in the near future. But the prospect that moviegoers will be alarmed enough to blame the Bush administration for inattention to climate change has stirred alarm at the space agency, scientists there say.

"No one from NASA is to do interviews or otherwise comment on anything having to do with" the film, said the April 1 message, which was sent by Goddard's top press officer. "Any news media wanting to discuss science fiction vs. science fact about climate change will need to seek comment from individuals or organizations not associated with NASA."

The e-mail missive found its way to the Times via a very unhappy NASA scientist who resented the gag order. The political appointees running the show seem to fear the questions that may arise once The Day After Tomorrow hits a theater near you. Certainly some people still think that movies depict reality rather than fiction, but the rest of us with more than three functional brain cells will not likely leave the film asking, "What has the Bush administration done to keep massive glaciers moving across the entire continental United States in less than a week?" Lord knows, this question will be so much more important than anything about real security threats, like terrorism.

The Times relates a couple of scenes for their readers to demonstrate the seriousness of the scientific research performed for this film:

The new movie's script contains a host of politically uncomfortable situations: the president's motorcade is flash frozen; the vice president, who scoffs at warnings even as chaos erupts, resembles Dick Cheney; the humbled United States has to plead with Mexico to allow masses of American refugees fleeing the ice to cross the border.

The notion that a motorcade could be flash-frozen isn't politically uncomfortable, it's scientifically laughable. We live in Minnesota, which gets a hell of a lot colder a hell of a lot quicker than almost anywhere else, and I've never heard of a flash freeze, unless it's when Mitch Berg goes streaking in the wintertime. (Painful, yes; politically uncomfortable, no.) All that the panicky NASA functionaries have to remember are two names: Hollywood and Roland Emmerich.

Emmerich, who wrote and directed this Irwin Allen descendant, also directed Independence Day and The Patriot (the Mel Gibson historical film, not the Steven Seagal chop-socky movie). Independence Day hardly qualifies as a master of scientific knowledge. Numerous violations of the laws of physics occurs throughout the film, such as the climactic spectacular explosion in outer space -- a recurring mistake in science-fiction films -- instead of a massive and almost instantaneous implosion. Emmerich hardly stands alone in Hollywood on this point. Film after film produced in big-budget Hollywood extravaganzas routinely discard even basic science, such as the truly egregious Armageddon or the worse Volcano. Perhaps the worst example would be the hilarious horror/suspense film Hollow Man by Paul Verhoeven, where so many laws of science are violated that it begins to resemble the UN Oil-For-Food program by the time you make it to the last reel.

Emmerich, however, manages to blow historical research as well as scientific research, as the American Revolution movie The Patriot demonstrated. Emmerich treats us to a Bizarro World where blacks exist as free men in South Carolina, where the nation's most rabid slavery laws expressly forbid it; provided a happy village, assumably in SC, where whites and blacks lived and frolicked together as equals (don't we wish); and where the British commit an atrocity by burning down a church full of civilians, when nothing like that ever happened -- except in France during WWII, when the Nazis did it.

In short, Hollywood provides the negative to reality's photograph: if it's in a movie, it's almost certainly untrue, especially in large-budget films. And if it's an Emmerich film, it's likely to be cheesy as hell on top of all the mistakes (and likely to pull in big box office anyway).

So, quit panicking, you nerveless NASA nabobs, buy some popcorn, and enjoy the comedy. No one with a brain takes this effluvia seriously, and why worry about the rest?

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 24, 2004 6:42 PM

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