DAY AFTER TOMORROW, THE(director/writer/producer: Roland Emmerich; screenwriter: based on a story by Mr. Emmerich/Jeffrey Nachmanoff; cinematographer: Ueli Steiger; editor: David Brenner; music: Harald Kloser; cast: Dennis Quad (Jack Hall), Jake Gyllenhaal (Sam Hall), Emmy Rossum (Laura Chapman), Dash Mihok (Jason Evans), Jay O. Sanders (Frank Harris), Sela Ward (Dr. Lucy Hall), Austin Nichols (J. D.), Arjay Smith (Brian Parks), Tamlyn Tomita (Janet Tokada), Ian Holm (Terry Rapson), Kenneth Welsh (Vice President Becker), Adrian Lester (Simon); Runtime: 117; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Mark Gordon; 20th Century Fox; 2004)
“More of a disaster as a film than entertaining or informative.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The cowriters of the screenplay Roland Emmerich and Jeffrey Nachmanoff were inspired by Art Bell and Whitley Striber’s pseudo-science book “The Coming Global Superstorm,” taking some liberties with the original story. The Day After Tomorrow at a $125 million budget opts to be the mother of all disaster pics, but instead turns out to be just another run-of-the-mill summer disaster blockbuster flick that is more of a disaster as a film than entertaining or informative. It pretends to be interested in spreading the word about mankind ruining the environment and politicians acting irresponsibly by taking no action to avoid a major environmental catastrophe, but schlock director Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day”/”Godzilla”) is more interested in having some silly fun with global warming than in making actual sense of a possible catastrophe down the road. In “Independence Day” Emmerich had the world under attack from aliens, as he proves once again in “The Day After Tomorrow” that he doesn’t care what the disaster is because it’s all about being entertained. The trouble is I could hardly find anything to be entertained by as the world suddenly goes into a new ice age and the computer-generated special effects take over, with the first casualty being the development of character. Emmerich has a low regard for the audience catching on to any of his digs, as he half-heartedly leaves us with the too obvious message he constantly hits us over the head with “that we should learn from our mistakes.” In any case, he seems to be more interested in telling a more personal diverting story than telling us more about the greenhouse effect–as he barely alludes to the U.S. rejection of the Kyoto Protocol limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
Top paleoclimatologist-a professor dedicated to the study of weather patterns throughout the ages-Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) and his neglected nerdy genius-like high school student son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) become the focus of the film. The ice age catastrophe only seems to be used as an excuse for the divorcé professor to make up for being an absent father, as he heroically tries to get from Washington, D.C. to the New York Public Library before his son, who went there for a scholastic competition, will freeze to death when he runs out of books to burn. The professor’s medical doctor ex-wife (Sela Ward) keeps in the background worrying about her son, in an underwritten part where in a subplot she’s obsessed with taking care of a young cancer patient.
The film opens as the Antarctic ice shelf starts to crack and Jack Hall’s weather research team is lucky to escape alive. Hall then spiritedly lectures, at an international science seminar for government officials on global warming in New Delhi, that the forces of nature will unleash into an apocalyptic disaster some day in the distant future unless we change our reckless environmental policies. But the American Vice President Becker (Kenneth Welsh), a Cheyney-like figure, sneers and treats him with contempt saying his ideas will only wreck havoc on the fragile economy. Soon tornadoes rip Los Angeles (tearing down the Hollywood sign and the Capitol Records building); a massive snow storm pounds New Delhi; hail the size of softballs hits Tokyo; and in New York City, a tidal wave occurs as the temperature swings from sweltering to freezing in one day (the Statue of Liberty gets covered in snow). In this movie scenario the effects of global warming leading to cataclysmic consequences happens immediately, as the Northern Hemisphere in a few more frantic days gets covered with a sheet of ice and snow (as Hollywood brazenly alters the facts with hokum, though some environmental groups say that the accuracy of the movie’s science is beside the point–at least it raises awareness).
All the science is explained by Hall and his fellow scientist played by Ian Holm, stationed at a weather outpost in Scotland. Holm notices unusual drops in the ocean temperature in several locations–too many to be a malfunction or coincidence. It seems that this great thaw is melting the polar ice caps, which are then changing the mixture of salt with the fresh water of the Atlantic Ocean, which is then redirecting the Gulf Stream and is the cause of the severely changing weather patterns. Once the facts are delivered by the sober-minded scientists the film gets on with the spectacle in the usual formulaic way. The people living in the north are sacrificed as being in a hopeless situation, but the president recovers from his initial indecision and acts in a resolute manner to make the emergency decision to evacuate those in the southern states to Mexico. Ironically, Mexico is so flooded with American refugees that it closes its borders, only to open them again and allow refugee camps for Americans when the president promises to forfeit the Latin American debt owed.
The conclusion has workaholic Hall stranded in Philadelphia and then snowshoeing over a glacier to keep his promise to his son that he will be there for him. Sam is in the main library huddled together with Laura (Emmy Rossum), the nice smart girl on his scholastic team that he has a crush on, and a few other brave souls who sensibly listened to Sam’s warning that to try and go south would only end in disaster (Sam was told to stay put by his father in their last phone conversation). The dullards (the silent majority) who in a sheeplike manner followed the police authority figure failed to survive.
By the time the film ends, even the villainous Cheney-like vice president turns into a real sweetie as he apologizes on TV by saying, “We were wrong–I was wrong.” Some critics say that the day they see any of these Bushies show humility and apologize for their many catastrophic mistakes, will be the day hell freezes over.
This film, I’m afraid, was too cheesy to be of much help to the concerned environmentalist. Though they are probably right, it’s at least better than nothing (I think!). But the film’s real aim seems anti-climactic after civilization in the Northern Hemisphere is wiped out and all those recognizable American landmarks are destroyed for the sake of the summer blockbuster genre, as the film now comforts us that even though things turned ugly those who survived still got each other and down deep most human beings care even if they don’t always show it (even Bush Republicans and negligent fathers and the homeless). I found it all too superficial, in fact revolting to excuse our leaders’ hubris and the public’s indifference to ongoing industrial pollution so easily with a simplistic narrative told in such a bad-movie kind of way.
REVIEWED ON 6/1/2004 GRADE: C-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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