The film appeal of Y2K -- Chris O'Donnell and Sean Connery both have movies featuring the calendar bug

Can a Chris O’Donnell movie destroy civilization as we know it? Sure, we all survived Batman &amp Robin, but the question is less of a joke as the young star gets set to star in Y2K, a thriller involving the eponymous computer-calendar bug that is aiming for a fall 1999 release — not long before the dreaded year-2000 date that some experts have predicted will wreak havoc on computer systems worldwide.

In fact, the film is one of a trendlet of movies and TV shows using Y2K as a plot point. In addition to its role in Y2K, the bug recently popped up in both the apocalyptic Lance Henriksen series Millennium and the upcoming 20th Century Fox feature film Entrapment (shooting now for a spring 1999 release), in which master thief Sean Connery plans his big heist to coincide with the great computer blackout of Jan. 1, 2000.

So what’s the appeal? ”Y2K is the ultimate ticking clock,” says Y2K producer Bing Howenstein, who describes his film as ”a Three Days of the Condor for the new millennium.” Others worry that his film, in sowing panic, might in some way help create the disaster it describes. Explains Mike Goodin, a spokesman for the Internet-based Y2K Newswire: ”Hollywood can play a critical role in how the Y2K crisis ends up unfolding. Bank reserves are so thin right now that a movie in the fall of ’99 that portrays Y2K as causing bank troubles could actually set off a run on the banks.”

”That’s gonna happen anyway,” replies O’Donnell, whose company, George Street Productions, is producing the film, ”and the government’s taking steps to deal with it. We’re not trying to freak anyone out, though we might play a factor.” Indeed, according to published reports in the New York Post and elsewhere, government officials and computer experts are actively considering the possible impact of the film on the public mood, and planning their responses accordingly. ”Yes, we’ve heard about that,” says Howenstein. ”And from a marketing perspective, it’s pretty cool for us. But,” he quickly adds, ”we’re being very careful to take a responsible approach to the subject and consult with Y2K experts.”

Taking no chances themselves, Goodin and his colleagues have moved their newsletter operation to Cody, Wyo. — a spot chosen for its ”isolation and self-reliance” — to wait out the millennium. Interestingly enough, Millennium used just such a scenario of Y2K-spooked computer scientists turning survivalist as a plotline in the recent episode ”TEOTWAWKI” (a common Internet acronym for ”The End of the World as We Know It”). ”Y2K was just too good to pass up,” says Millennium story editor Kay Reindl. ”There’s something really intriguing about the idea that through this programming error, we’ve created Armageddon ourselves.”

O’Donnell is a little more cavalier about the possibility of global chaos: ”The millennium is a great opportunity that won’t happen for another thousand years, so let’s have fun with it. Besides,” he adds, ”I’m not too worried about Y2K. I’m on my Mac.”