CBSNews.com Chief Political Writer
Dennis Quaid almost drops off an Antarctic ice shelf as I sip my Mango-Peach Vitamin Water. The goal is to see if "The Day After Tomorrow," a controversial new disaster film that worried the Bush administration, could actually change voters' minds.
The answer is a resounding no. The film is too Hollywood, too absurd for anyone to take seriously.
Minutes later in New Delhi, where it is snowing, Quaid (who plays a prescient climatologist named Jack Hall) is lecturing world leaders about the pending dangers of global warming. There is mention of the Kyoto Protocol, the real world global warming initiative that the United States refuses to join. Soon Japan will have grapefruit-size hail.
Quaid warns, "If we don't act now it is going to be too late." The film's vice president (a dead ringer for real world Vice President Dick Cheney) looks skeptically at Quaid and replies, "Our economy is every bit as fragile as our environment."
The expression, "When hell freezes over," takes on new meaning in "The Day After Tomorrow," which opened this past weekend. The film reeks of pseudo science and a thinly veiled liberal agenda. But it has good special effects. And a good Hollywood ending. Humankind prevails (you never would have thought, I know).
The premise is that global warming causes ocean currents to shift. Polar caps melt and temperatures drop 150 degrees. People freeze instantaneously. Washington-based Quaid attempts to rescue his son in New York. In a week, the second Ice Age has begun.
Scientists have pooh-poohed the movie. But that didn't stop it from causing a political row; the real-life response verged on the ridiculous.
NASA banned its scientists from commenting on the film, a decision later reversed. Former Vice President Al Gore supported it, saying he would begin a series of speeches on global warming pegged to the film's release.
Sen. John McCain said he will "take all the help we can get" in generating awareness of global warming. McCain is currently pushing for the passage of a bill to gradually reduce carbon-dioxide emissions, which scientists largely agree contributes to global warming.
The conservative media trashed the movie. Gossip-news blog The Drudge Report led its Web site with the film's news for days. Liberal advocacy group MoveOn.Org placed 8,000 volunteers outside theatres this past weekend to hand out brochures that read: "Global Warming Isn't Just a Movie. IT'S YOUR FUTURE."
Can you hear the ominous Hollywood score?
All this controversy led to massive free media (this article being a case in point). Newspapers and the television networks ran stories headlined "The Movie the White House Doesn't Want You to See." For a $125 million film with a $50 million marketing budget, 20th Century Fox couldn't buy better publicity.
Film historian Peter Rollins points out that Fox and other studios have tried for decades, and mostly failed, in their attempts to influence Washington.
One exception, Rollins said, was "The China Syndrome." With stars like Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas, the movie's storyline was that a near crisis at a local nuclear power plant almost causes a major disaster.
"Literally when that move came out, there was going to be a vote Monday here in Oklahoma about the Black Fox nuclear power plant that was going to supply nuclear energy to northeast Oklahoma," said Rollins, a professor of English and American film studies at Oklahoma State University and the editor of the newly published "Columbia Companion to American History on Film."
"Public opinion turned around over the weekend," Rollins said. "Black Fox nuclear power plant is still a hole in the ground and nothing has happened since they dug the hole."
Today everything seems to belie politics, especially Hollywood. Michael Moore's anti-Bush "Fahrenheit 9/11," which was the first documentary to win the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, was refused distribution by Disney.
Hollywood moguls Harvey and Bob Weinstein bought the film rights last week and announced Tuesday that it will reach theatres nationwide on June 25.
Before that, on June 15, "The Hunting of a President" will screen in Little Rock, Ark. It is the highly anticipated documentary by director Harry Thomason investigating "the 10-year campaign to destroy Bill Clinton" by conservatives.
"I don't think anybody knows what the impact of these things are," Rollins said. "People who have studied this issue very carefully believe that they don't change people with strongly held views."
Americans haven't stopped eating McDonalds en masse because of the irreverent look at fast food obesity in the recently released documentary "Super Size Me." But film buffs don't doubt liberal Hollywood's effort to have an impact on politics.
"It's worst than a conspiracy. It's a consensus," Rollins laughs, citing an old friend's phrase. "You don't have to convince somebody that Hollywood is liberal."
Nor does it take much convincing to see that "The Day After Tomorrow" has a not-so-subtle liberal bent.
"Yes, I saw it in Austin this weekend with a couple of my boys," admits Bush-Cheney chief strategist Matthew Dowd. "Other than the fact the acting was on par with 'Waterworld,' and the plot where an Ice Age happens in 14 minutes, I thought the special effects were good. My 18- and 19-year-old sons felt the same way and they are not diehard Republicans."
So there you have it. "Not diehard Republicans" laugh the film off as well. This is, of course, just another summer blockbuster. It is a Roland ("Independence Day") Emmerich flick. In that other big Hollywood movie, humankind also prevails through the impossible plotline of a Mac-based virus infecting an alien computer system (computer compatibility issues are tossed aside).
As in "Independence Day," New York is destroyed in "The Day After Tomorrow" as well. Iced over. The cityscape becomes a frozen glaze of white. The New York waterway is reduced to a massive plate of ice only broken by a half-sunken ship and the torch of the Statue of Liberty, as refugees flee across.
And at the end of the film, speaking from sunny Mexico City, the entire U.S. government in exile, the vice president addresses Americans on the Weather Channel, no less.
The vice president says, "I was wrong," about global warming. I couldn't help but chuckle at the overt liberal notion that it only takes the second Ice Age for this fictional conservative administration to admit it was wrong. Fat chance, for liberals, on Iraq. But then, that is reality. And the twine never does meet in "The Day After Tomorrow."