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Too warm for comfort

Hollywood's latest `disaster' film, "The Day After Tomorrow," to be released today, may be sloppy science — but a good wake-up call for the world. ANAND PARTHASARATHY examines why.

A snow storm sweeping New Delhi.

HOLLYWOOD'S BIG budget `disaster' movies usually have a few things in common: eye filling spectacle, high decibel sound — but not too much sense.

German born Roland Emmerich is a particularly skilled practitioner of the genre. His latest sample of on-screen excess is receiving the sort of critical attention that must seem flattering, if not disconcerting. When "The Day After Tomorrow" opens world wide, including multiple Indian metros, today (May 28), quite a few of the scientific types will be in the audience. Why? Because the film, while delivering the customary doses of ear-shattering eye-popping, adrenalin-pumping special effects, raises the latest bogey to beset mankind: fears of what unchecked global warming will do to the planet.

A meteorologist (Dennis Quaid) working in Antarctica, witnesses massive chunks of the continent melt and break away. This is followed by unusual manifestations of weather around the world: tornadoes slamming across Los Angeles; snow storms sweeping across Delhi; tidal waves lashing New York; jumbo-sized hail stones raining on Tokyo... as experts try to warn governments of the disaster that will accompany such climate shifts, melting polar ice raises sea levels and unleashes a new Ice Age.

The main protagonist has to handle a personal crisis to handle — his school-going son is stranded in New York and has taken refuge in the public library. Only a trek from Washington can save him.

When Nature catches up ... a scene in New York.

The few scientists privy to what the film depicts, have pooh-poohed suggestions that global warming can happen so fast, with such devastating effect. But many who scoff at the film's flimsy science, applaud it for raising an awareness in people, about global warming. They hope that it will prod the U.S. to forsake its ostrich-like attitude to such global environmental concerns and its stubborn refusal to mandate reduction in domestic levels of carbon dioxide emissions.

Former Vice-President Al Gore was quoted by The New York Times: ``There are two sets of fiction to deal with. One is the movie; the other is the Bush administration's presentation of global warming.''

Twentieth Century Fox which distributes the film has also attracted flak for its alleged disinterest in exploiting the film's educational potential. Independent environment pressure groups plan to redress this by distributing leaflets at screenings — but this may well end up as a free-for-all: US-based manufacturing lobby groups are expected to step in — to prevent the film from influencing lawmakers when they are asked to stiffen emission norms later this year.

Right now "The Day After Tomorrow" looks like the old, familiar, Hollywood hokum — with just a tinge of reality to put viewers into a cold sweat. ``If we don't act now, it will be too late,'' says the character in the film playing the American Vice-President.

For once, a clichéd catch phrase dreamed up by script writers may yet end up as a `mantra' for a grimly warming world.

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