Day After Tomorrow, The

May 27th, 2004 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emily Rossum, Ian Holm

Director: Roland Emmerich

Independence Day has a bad reputation nowadays, of being the first in a tedious line of airheaded, wading-pool depth, CG-driven blockbusters (Van Helsing, we’re looking at you).

But transport yourself back nine years and remember the awe you felt at the terrifying spectacle of city-sized spaceships wiping New York, Los Angeles and Washington DC off the map.

Insensitive though it now seems to depict the destruction of New York and Los Angeles (once more, after seeing it in Independence Day, Godzilla, Deep Impact and Armageddon), scenes of such sweeping destruction are — to be fair — what computer generated effects in movies were invented for. With the power of a point and click, filmmakers can conjure up any number of gigantic terrors from their (and our) imaginations that were impossible to depict realistically before and make them look more lifelike than ever.

Upon seeing the teaser trailer for The Day After Tomorrow before Christmas last year, it was easy to be cynical about the sight of tornadoes criss-crossing Los Angeles and a five storey high tidal swell surging through New York streets. But if you’re a fan of the largesse of cinema — no matter how intellectually retarded — you’ll love every frame of the final product.

The Day After Tomorrow jumps right in, building a mood of impending doom as soon as the title credits have stopped rolling. Part of a small research team in Antarctica, climatologist Jack Hall (Quaid) witnesses an ice shelf the size of Rhode Island (Tasmania for us Antipodeans) break away.

The result of global warming, the cracking up of the ice continent is joined by freak weather conditions around the globe — snow in New Delhi, a lashing rainstorm in the Northeast US and reports of disturbing temperature drops in the North Atlantic current — the hydro-thermal system that drives the northern hemisphere’s weather.

After giving evidence at a UN conference on the effects of global warming, Hall is approached by a kindly British scholar, professor Rapsom (Holm), who’s the only one to agree with Halls theory about the impending crisis — of course.

Faster than anyone (including Hall) can believe, the shit hits the weather vane. Monstrous storms descend from the Artic circle, blanketing Europe in snow, sending a tidal surge across the US east coast, and flattening the west.

Focusing on the Hall family, the film follows the plight of its three members. One is Jack’s wife Lucy; a doctor holed up in a hospital with that most heart wrenching of Hollywood stalwarts, the little sick kid.

And the other is their son Sam (Gyllenhaal), a slacker/genius student who’s gone to the big Apple to take part in an academic competition and gets stuck by they approaching maelstrom with two friends, one of them his character’s love interest (Rossum).

As Rapsom and his colleagues are hemmed in by plummeting temperatures in their tiny Scottish weather station, they witness and report on the progress of the chaos spreading across the northern hemisphere. Three giant cyclonic storm systems are growing and blanketing half the earth, the eyes at their centres deadly pockets of superfrozen air that snap freezes everything in their paths.

With one of the storms heading south across the continental US, Hall abandons his post in Washington to reach New York on foot (or rather, snowshoe) and save Sam and the small band of survivors holed up in the city library, while the rest of America flees south to Mexico.

Propping up the B-movie premise and story are a couple of comments on the state of society. The whole thing — embodied by Hall’s speech at the UN — is an environmental statement (though more as an excuse to use an environmental statement for high drama than to make the statement itself) on our abuse of the global weather system.

The apathy the film believes will be our downfall is embodied in the skeptical US Vice President more concerned with the effects on the economy than the possibility of millions dying.

There’s also more than one cheeky jibe at the world geopolitical system that will make you laugh; for example, a news voiceover explains how — in order to secure safe passage of the American hordes desperate to cross into Mexico — the US government has cancelled all Latin and South American debt.

But don’t be fooled into thinking Hollywood’s gone all political. Despite high profile coverage of the science of The Day After Tomorrow (including a blanket ban by NASA on it’s staff discussing the film with the media), it’s a device to tell a story and showcase some cool special effects and not hard social comment.

Emmerich himself has admitted that much of what scientists believe will happen because of global warming has been changed for dramatic effect, including the onset of a new ice age in less than two days — a process that will most likely take up to a decade if global climate systems collapse. As the anonymous reporter once said ‘never let the facts get in the way of a good story’.

You’ll occasionally want to roll your eyes at the corny devices and melodramatic dialogue, but The Day After Tomorrow is unashamed popcorn entertainment. Unlike most of the CG blockbusters we’ve seen over the last 10 years however, it actually is entertaining.

For industry observers who like to look behind the scenes curtain, Emmerich’s former producer and co-writer Dean Devlin (with whom he created Stargate, Independence Day and Godzilla) is conspicuous in his absence. Is all not well at Centropolis films?

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