How many times can one watch the world's major cities being destroyed by various movie disasters before it becomes just too cliched to bear anymore?
Many times, apparently.
This weekend I saw "The Day After Tomorrow," director Roland Emmerich's latest end-of-the-world summer spectacular.
Not content with simply having the world destroyed by aliens ("Independence Day"), Emmerich made the latest apocalypse slightly (just slightly) more plausible with the form of global warming-induced climate change.
As is expected from a disaster movie, the special effects stole the show, overwhelming the already shaky storyline much like a tidal wave overwhelms Manhattan in the film.
I keep asking myself how much farther special effects can go. But each time I think they've reached the largest scale possible, they reach another unimagined height in the next summer blockbuster.
I also keep wondering when audiences when I will get tired of it. But I haven't yet. Even after "The Day After Tomorrow," I still find myself looking forward to "The Chronicles of Riddick," which promises sweeping computer-generated effects on an interplanetary scale.
I call such visual spectacles "eye candy" implying that they provide intellectually empty calories that give moviegoers a quick high, but don't stick with them long.
I used the term with my editor over the weekend, however, and she informed me that "eye candy" is generally used to mean the physically attractive actors and actresses who account for the draw of many films.
Perhaps a better term for "The Day After Tomorrow" and like films would be brain candy (not intended as a reference to the Kids in the Hall movie of the same title). One doesn't really have to think when he is watching such a movie one has only to sit back and enjoy the ride.
"The Day After Tomorrow" had its share of disaster movie cliches: the repentant absentee father who proves his love for his child by rescuing him against all odds; the romance that blossoms between two protagonists despite their impending doom, and more.
But my favorite example was when hero Jake Gyllenhaal and friends were scrounging for antibiotics on the Russian supertanker the tidal wave brought down Fifth Avenue. The ship is sitting on ice, because a sudden supercooling of air froze the water from the tsunami, and snow from an instant blizzard is swirling down.
Freezing, desperate to get medicine for Gyllenhaal's severely ill love interest, the young men are suddenly faced with a new peril: timber wolves that escaped from the New York Zoo in the storm's chaos.
It's classic disaster movie: Take heroes who are already in an extreme, highly improbable situation and throw in another unlikely threat for added tension.
I haven't even touched on the admittedly souped-up science behind "The Day After Tomorrow." In a recent New York Times article, Emmerich conceded that he has exaggerated a theoretical scenario upon which not even all scientists agree by a thousandfold.
And besides its implausibility, there's also the off-putting heavy-handedness with which the film tries to get its pop-environmentalist message across.
There's the narrow-minded U.S. vice president who refuses to heed the hero scientist's warnings even as his predictions are coming to pass. There's even a swipe at economic justice, as citizens in the northern United States are forced to flee to Mexico, and the Mexicans "open their arms and show us hospitality," in the words of the reformed VP.
Nevertheless, I would still recommend that those who so desire see "The Day After Tomorrow." I think most people know better than to go into it expecting a well-crafted, thought-provoking tale.
And there's no doubt about it: The special effects are great eye candy; I don't care what my editor calls it.
Clay Wilson is the education reporter for the Daily Herald. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.