Global Warming Ignites Tempers, Even in a Movie

May 12, 2004 | New York Times


LOS ANGELES, May 11 — Any studio that makes a $125 million movie about global warming is courting controversy. But 20th Century Fox does not seem to have fully anticipated the political firestorm being whipped up by its film “The Day After Tomorrow.”

Environmental advocates are using the film’s release, scheduled for May 28, as an opening to slam the Bush administration, whose global warming policies they oppose. Industry groups in Washington are lobbying on Capitol Hill to make sure the film does not help passage of a bill limiting carbon-dioxide emissions, which many scientists say contribute to global warming.

Meanwhile on Tuesday Fox sparred with celebrity advocates who complained that they had been disinvited to the movie’s premiere, only to be reinvited later in the day.

All this is occurring as the entertainment industry is on the defensive, with television networks acknowledging they are censoring themselves to avoid being accused of promoting indecency and the Walt Disney Company distancing itself from a film critical of the administration’s foreign policy.

In a telephone news conference on Tuesday former Vice President Al Gore compared the exaggeration of the film’s premise to the approach of the Bush administration to global warming.

“There are two sets of fiction to deal with,” Mr. Gore said. “One is the movie, the other is the Bush administration’s presentation of global warming.” He accused the White House of “trying to convince people there’s no real problem, no degree of certainty from scientists about the issue.” The news conference was organized by, an Internet-based liberal advocacy group.

Dana Perino, the spokeswoman for the Council on Environmental Quality, which coordinates environmental policy for the White House, said the administration’s policies would reduce global warming threats without destroying jobs.

“While they’re working on movies,” she said, “we are advancing our scientific knowledge, developing transformational energy technologies and reducing the greenhouse-gas intensity of the American economy.”

Early this week Laurie David and Robert Kennedy Jr., vocal anti-Bush environmentalists, said that Fox had withdrawn their invitation to the film’s premiere in Manhattan but later called to reconfirm the invitation.

In between, a Fox spokesman said the studio had arranged a special screening for them and Mr. Gore a day before the premiere, and another screening for scientists.

Ultimately Fox chalked the invitation issue up to miscommunication.

Invited or not, Ms. David, a prominent member of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Fox rejected an offer to have the premiere serve as a fund-raiser for any one of numerous environmental groups. (Studios often use premieres as charitable fund-raisers.)

Before learning from Jim Gianopulos, Fox Studio’s chairman, that her invitation to the premiere had been reinstated, Ms. David said: “Fox is completely disinterested in raising any consciousness. In fact they’re bending over backward to disassociate themselves from the environmental community.”

She continued, “Any connections to anything political they’re afraid will hurt the opening.”

A Fox spokesman denied any attempt to play down the movie’s environmental message or to distance the film from activists. “Clearly the movie is entertainment, but all of this activity creates additional interest, making it more topical,” Jeffrey Godsick, the spokesman, said. “It’s been wonderful.”

Directed by Roland Emmerich, “The Day After Tomorrow” imagines a catastrophic climate change and the rapid arrival of a new ice age caused by global warming. Massive storms destroy Western Europe, Manhattan is covered in a sheet of ice, and tornadoes blast Los Angeles.

The film’s trailer shows Dennis Quaid, who plays a paleoclimatologist, warning the vice president — played by an actor who closely resembles Vice President Dick Cheney — that “if we don’t act now, it will be too late.”

Fox, which financed the big-budget movie, is part of News Corporation, whose chairman and chief executive, Rupert Murdoch, is a strong supporter of Mr. Bush. Mr. Godsick said he did not know if Mr. Murdoch had seen the film.

Mr. Kennedy, an environmental lawyer, said on Tuesday that Fox’s attitude toward environmentalists seemed comparable to other instances of self-censorship by media corporations in a politically charged climate.

“This is part of an unfortunate pattern that fits in with CBS canceling the Reagan mini-series and Disney refusing to distribute Michael Moore’s film” “Fahrenheit 9/11,” he said in an interview before his invitation to the premiere was reinstated. He was referring to recent controversies over political considerations affecting entertainment decisions.

“This is like back to the 1950’s and 60’s, where people in Hollywood were scared to death of Joe McCarthy, censoring artists, not distributing films, blackballing people,” he said. “It’s a classic thing that you’re supposed to avoid in democracy, the merger of state and corporate power.”

Mr. Godsick said that Fox, which plans to spend about $50 million to market the film, was not keeping any interested party at arm’s length. The marketing strategy had no connection to the other recent episodes in Hollywood, he said.

“Look, different groups have different agendas,” Mr. Godsick said. “Some are to politicize things, some are to go beyond that. The real power of the movie is to raise consciousness on the issue. That’s a win-win for everybody.”

The studio’s Web site promoting the film,, does not include the words “global warming” in its synopsis of the story. But the site does include a section labeled “What can you do?” with a link to Future Forests, a nonprofit British group that promotes limiting carbon-dioxide emissions.

Mr. Emmerich ensured that the movie production participated in CarbonNeutral, a program that involves buying credits to offset carbon-dioxide emissions created during the movie’s filming, Mr. Godsick said.

Fox marketing executives have expressed concern that the movie not be perceived as a scientific “treatise,” as one executive put it, emphasizing that its appeal is as an action-adventure, roller-coaster-style experience. said it planned to have thousands of volunteers handing out leaflets about global warming outside theaters when the movie opens. Meanwhile in Washington a coalition of industry groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers, is working to make sure that the movie does not contribute to the passage of a bill limiting carbon-dioxide emissions.

Jennifer 8. Lee contributed reporting from Washington for this article.

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