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Activists take ‘The Day After’ for a spin

Times Staff Writer

The science behind the plot in the new Fox film “The Day After Tomorrow” is Hollywood fantasy, and the studio itself is part of a media conglomerate whose often conservative media outlets sometimes outrage environmentalists. But a $125-million disaster movie also has long publicity coattails. So rather than nitpick the climate-change scenes -- tornadoes in L.A., the Eiffel Tower under ice -- activists concerned about global warming have crafted catchy talking points, like “The movie is science fiction, but climate change is real.” That’s the message they want to piggyback onto the hoopla surrounding the movie’s huge Memorial Day weekend opening.

The liberal political action group MoveOn.org kicked off its efforts Monday, a few hours before “The Day After Tomorrow’s” New York premiere at the Museum of Natural History (which was surrounded by fake snow for the event). In a neo-Gothic Universalist church a block away, 500 boisterous MoveOn members gathered for the global warming briefing-cum-pep rally.

Al Gore played both movie critic and science lecturer. He called the movie “extremely enjoyable and exciting -- beyond the message.” Before launching into his humor-studded slide show about carbon dioxide and dwindling glaciers, the former vice president, who wrote the 1992 environmental tome “Earth in the Balance,” praised “the honest fiction of this movie.”

That, he said, came in contrast to the fiction of the “Bush White House story about global warming.” To loud applause, he also equated what some scientists say is a coming global warming crisis to the politics of the day. “We see the consequences of not looking ahead and planning ahead in Iraq,” Gore said.

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Laurie David, who is a trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council and married to TV actor and writer Larry David, took on the role of cheerleader for Hollywood. “We all know one disaster film is worth 1,000 environmental speeches,” she said. David expects the movie to be “the tipping point” in the debate over global warming and added, “I never thought I’d be uttering these words, but thank you, Fox.”

The two-hour event included some quick verbal sidestepping.

Comedian and Air America Radio host Al Franken lobbed an obscenity at Fox News Channel -- with which he’s had a running battle. But then he came back to the podium to say that he meant no offense to the studio. “I forgot that it was a Fox movie,” he said.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a lawyer for the NRDC, likewise took a swipe at Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of 20th Century Fox parent News Corp., charging that they were keeping the debate about global warming “away from the American people.” Then MoveOn executive director Peter Schurman praised Fox for the movie.

The efforts of MoveOn and other groups such as the NRDC have only recently been embraced by Fox, which doesn’t even refer to “global warming” on the film’s website. Studio executives have said they weren’t shunning the activists, just making sure the entertainment aspects of the movie didn’t get drowned in politics. The filmmakers themselves stopped by an intimate screening Sunday for Gore, Franken and others.

The scientists at Monday’s rally split the difference -- dismissing the plot and praising its publicity value. Princeton University professor Michael Oppenheimer called it an “unrealistic if brilliantly and entertainingly presented view of New York.” Daniel Schrag, a Harvard University paleoclimatologist, went point by point through scientific problems in the film, including the speed with which the Ice Age comes on. But he embraced the larger message: Current Washington policies are leading to “an experiment at a planetary scale.”

MoveOn has enlisted about 8,000 members for this weekend’s publicity attack. They’ll hand out fliers on global warming after “The Day After Tomorrow” showings around the country. The group is also urging members to call key legislators and ask them to support the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act, which would cut global warming emissions.

“Fun movie, serious topic,” is the message, says MoveOn’s Noah Winer, who is organizing the weekend activities. “There’s a way to hold both [ideas] at the same time.”


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