There is some evidence that the shutting down of the Gulf Stream has happened in the distant past, leading to the dramatic cooling of temperature over a few decades in some parts of the world. But most scientists agree that the abrupt climate change depicted in the movie could not happen.
"The Earth's climate is never going to flip in a matter of days the way it does in the movie," Worldwatch's Sawin said.
She worries that the catastrophic events in the film may be so extreme that audience members may not take the climate-change issue seriously.
"There is some concern that what the movie shows is so extreme that people will say, Oh, that could never happen, so I'm not going to worry about it," she said. "That blows a very serious issue out of proportion and could cause people who are skeptical to become even more skeptical."
Emmerich dismisses such worries. "People are smart enough to know this is a movie," he said, "and in a movie everything is more extreme."
No Science Fiction
Environmentalists see the movie as an opportunity to educate and hope the film will spark public concerns about climate change. The activist group MoveOn.org is recruiting volunteers to hand out flyers at theaters when the movie is released. The flyers read: "Global warming isn't just a movie. It's your future."
Some observers speculate that the movie's distributor, 20th Century Fox, is trying to distance itself from what could be construed as a political message in the film. Having a big action movie labeled a serious "issue" film could have a negative impact on its box office prospects, observers argue.
But Emmerich believes entertainment and education can mix.
"Like many other people, I have this feeling that we're slowly but surely destroying our planet," he said. "I came [to this issue] because of science fiction, and then I realized it wasn't at all science fiction but something that is very real."