The Day After Tomorrow by Roland Emmerich
20th Century Fox Media Release Date: 05/28/04
Runtime: 124 min
Review by Drew Bittner
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Roland Emmerich / Writing credits (WGA)
Dennis Quaid .... 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 / Sasha Roiz .... Parker
/ Ian Holm .... Terry Rapson
/ Nassim Sharara .... Saudi Delegate / Carl Alacchi .... Venezuelan Delegate
/ Kenneth Welsh .... Vice President Becker /
Michael A. Samah .... Saudi Translator
Fans of blockbuster disaster films, rejoice! This may be the film for you.
In the 1970s, moviegoers had a bonanza of disaster films from which to choose. Star-laden casts suffered catastrophes like their ocean liner flipping over ( The Poseidon Adventure), killer bees ( The Swarm), Richter scale-breaking quakes ( Earthquake) and skyscrapers burning their way up to the rooftop restaurant ( The Towering Inferno). And that’s not even including Jaws. These films were usually thin on plot, getting the disaster itself out of the way right up front in order to show how a handful of plucky survivors get through (or don’t) whatever Mother Nature threw at them.
Now, in 2004, Roland Emmerich has revived this genre with The Day After Tomorrow, using a cataclysmic scenario of global warming-gone-wild out of Al Gore’s worst nightmares. Dennis Quaid stars as Jack Hall (great name for a hero, isn’t it?), workaholic paleoclimatologist and estranged husband/father, whose trip to the Antarctic coincides with a monstrous breaking of the ice shelf; he later tells the Vice President that the piece breaking loose was “the size of Rhode Island,” which has to be a record. Regardless, the effects of global warming appear to be catching up with mankind just as Hall’s son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) heads off to New York City for an academic competition. Sam’s a genius, apparently, but is only part of this team so he can stay close to Laura (Emmy Rossum), on whom he has a major crush.
Although Jack tries in vain to convince the government that really bad things are happening, the Cheney-ish Vice President (Kenneth Walsh) is unconvinced. If it isn’t happening right this second, he presumes, why worry about it? Well, unfortunately, it does happen right that second… and Jack’s worst predictions begin coming true. The world’s ocean currents apparently slow, then stop, resulting in horrific rainstorms along the East Coast, monstrous hail in Tokyo, snow in New Delhi and some gargantuan tornadoes in LA (which suffers a prolonged ravaging unlike any since, well, Independence Day). The storms intensify, trapping Sam and his friends in New York, until finally there’s a monstrous “tidal surge” that floods New York City. The scope of the flooding is immense, with walls of water smashing cars and pedestrians like so many sand castles, so that New York is soon mostly underwater. Manhattan becomes Atlantis in about five minutes.
However, that’s not the worst of it. Ocean expert Terry Rapson (Ian Holm) has tracked the gradual destruction of the world’s weather systems, sending data to Jack that shows something far worse is coming—fast. Three “superstorms”—hurricane-like arctic storms popping up in Northern Europe, Asia and Canada simultaneously—begin to lay on a new ice age, bringing air from the uppermost atmosphere to ground so fast that it immediately freezes whatever it hits. Bingo! People become instant popsicles. Jack manages to warn Sam to stay where he is—in the New York Public Library, where they are forced to burn books to stay warm—but the others who sheltered there want to head south… a course we (the audience) know will lead to their doom.
Despite the impending wave of hypercold heading for New York, Jack goes north to save Sam while his wife, Dr. Lucy Hall (Sela Ward), remains at the bedside of a cancer-stricken child even after Washington DC has been evacuated. American citizens flee across the Rio Grande (a bit of cultural cynicism not lost on the audience I saw this with), while Jack plunges into the blizzard to end all blizzards with his two trusty sidekicks in tow.
Although there are nice character moments amid the sturm and drang of epic disaster, most of the cast are mere walk-ons as Jack’s (rescue) and Sam’s (survival) stories dominate the post-storm second and third acts. The cast is large but largely forgettable, as few of them have anything meaningful to do. One exception is the quiet, frostbitten end facing Rapson’s group, isolated and forgotten in a remote Scottish outpost, toasting what they hold most dear even as the power (and heat) falter and fail.
Plot is not the strong point of this movie. Some bits are likely to provoke a flicker of “what the heck?” in even the most captivated filmgoer. The part of the world that catches it, of course, is the “evil” northern hemisphere; apparently the less-industrialized portions of the world (i.e., the Southern Hemisphere) are rewarded for their lower consumption of fossil fuel by being spared the wrath of God… uh, the abrupt onset of radical climate realignment, that is. However, this zealous green polemic is heartily in keeping with the “they got what they deserved” attitude of the 70s films. Hubris is punished by nature. We got what we had coming to us for heating the globe. Mother Nature strikes back.
Will Jack manage to save Sam?
Will there be heroic sacrifices (or near-sacrifices)?
What do you think? This is Hollywood. Even if the science sounds a bit flaky (and I’m told that it isn’t as off-base as some insist), the picture keeps your attention and gives that same rollercoaster feel as those films of the 70s, when film makers really knew how to blow stuff up. Roland Emmerich, keep this up and you just might revive that wacky genre.