Thursday, January 13, 2005

Movie Review: The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

Thursday, January 13, 2005
A film by Roland Emmerich

Yes, "The Day After Tomorrow" is the latest in a long tradition of disaster movies and it managed to spawn the rather dreadful television movie "Category Six". The premise here is that after decades (centuries, even) of devastating the environment through industry the world is facing a climate shift. Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) is a scientist who has been warning anyone who will listen that we have to start thinking about the future right now and not leave the Earth a worse mess for future generations to deal with after it is too late. Hall believes that similar, severe climate shifts have happened several times throughout the history of this planet. In Jack's prediction, however, he admits that this may be decades if not centuries away. For there to be any sort of a movie, however, we know that this drastic climate shift is about to happen in the immediate future.

Jack Hall is dismissed by the Dick Cheney look-a-like Vice President, but from the beginning of the movie we have been seeing some strange weather. The air temperature dropped so quickly over Scotland that helicopters little froze in midair and dropped. The pilots also physically froze in place. Maybe cryogenics will be able to help them out in the future. Likewise, there are reports of bizarre weather all over the planet and it is becoming apparent that something is very wrong. Not too far into the movie government officials start believing Jack and have Jack and his staff work out a forecast model for what this storm is going to do. The only potential forecast that Jack has is what he believes happened tens of thousands of years ago. With this forecast he sees that the climate shift is going to be harsher and quicker than anyone would imagine possible.

"The Day After Tomorrow" is not just about death and destruction and pretty special effects, but there is a side-story revolving around his son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal). Sam is a high school student and is incredibly bright. He is in New York City for some sort of a Quiz Bowl Championship. On his team is a girl he is very interested in named Laura (Emmy Rossum), but he is too shy/scared to talk about his feelings for her. When the climate shift occurs, they are trapped in New York after the city floods, then freezes. From talking to his father, Sam knows that the deep freeze which knocked out the helicopters is headed for New York and anyone caught outside will not survive it.

As good of a job as Emmy Rossum did in "The Phantom of the Opera" she is given nothing to do here other than be the love interest of Sam, and this entire subplot is unnecessary. Honestly, most viewers know that these disaster movies are never very good, but we watch them to see wanton destruction and some special effects. Surprisingly, the discussion about what is going on with the weather is actually interesting and is one of the better parts about the movie. I think it is because the characters are taking the issue seriously and there is nothing campy or horribly unrealistic about it. If the absurd is taken seriously, the absurd becomes believable. But even that pales in the absurdity of Jack trying to travel from Washington D.C. to New York City to rescue Sam after the Climate Shift and before the Hard Freeze. That part is just too absurd for words.

Dennis Quaid is a very good actor and his work puts this whole discussion into the realm of the believability, and I have been enjoying his recent work since "The Rookie". Gyllenhaal is a bit old for his role here, but he is fine as is Rossum who has nothing to do. The reason we watch this movie, however, is the destruction. It looks good (well, as good as the destruction of our planet can look). The trouble is just that all of the climate stuff is done in the first half of the movie, so that the rest of it is just anti-climactic.

A movie like "The Day After Tomorrow" makes me wonder what happens after the movie ends. What happens to all these people now that the climate has stabilized? Is there is a shift in ecological responsibility? Will there be new world powers since half of America (and Europe) is under ice? Of course, the movie doesn't answer the questions, but it is something to think about after the movie is over. The reason I think about the questions is also because the movie itself wasn't that good. It isn't supposed to be, or, at least I don't think it is supposed to be good. It is a special effects bonanza in the tradition of disaster movies. In that sense, it is no worse than anything that has come before and it looks better (though "Deep Impact" is still far superior to any recent disaster movie). If you like disaster movies (despite their lack of narrative or performance quality), then this should be entertaining. If you want an Oscar Caliber film, then look elsewhere. Grade: C-.

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