The Day After Tomorrow


Roland Emmerich is infamous for making his name levelling whole cities in the cause of some good, clean, blockbuster fun that still manages to casually racks up bodycounts in the millions – but what if he was to take his gift of flipping over national monuments the same way a sore-losing gunslinger flips over a card table and use it for good?
Well, we don’t have to wonder, because in 2004, Emmerich gave us The Day After Tomorrow, a movie that begs us to do something about our crumbling environment before it kills us all – and then gets us to thrill when it all spectacularly goes to shit anyway. Yes, it’s time for another go around of chronically overqualified actors to alternate between delivering on-the-nose predictions of an oncoming disaster and gawping at a green screen when it all finally comes true. But will the added ecco message make this particular Day stand head and shoulders above the rest?

Jack Hall is a respected paleoclimatologist and a failed father, but one day, while drilling for core samples, a humongous section of the Larsen Ice Shelf just suddenly breaks off like a soggy cracker. Needless to say, this isn’t usual behavior, so after some scientific digging he appeals for action at a UN Conference only to be heckled by none other than the highly dubious Vice President who decries Jack’s findings as mere sensationalism. However, soon more and more extreme examples of weather start to make their presence felt; basket ball sized hail stones brain hapless civilians in Tokyo, gargantuan hurricanes erase the Hollywood sign in LA and super storms aceoss the globe are building that pull frozen air down from the troposphere to flash freeze literally everything caught in the eye. While the various human cast scrambles to get the word out and save lives (like trying to evacuate everyone from the Southern states of America into Mexico), Jack’s estranged son Sam is caught in Manhattan when a giant tsunami traps him, some of his class mates and other various survivors in the New York Public Library. However, this proves to create an even stickier situation as a sizable chunk of the planet is about to enter a new ice age and so Jack and some buddies grab their equipment and trek, by foot, to New York for an ill-advised rescue mission to save his son who doesn’t have long until the next super-freeze turns him and his friends into really creepy ice sculptures unless their taking shelter.
But that’s just it – Sam isn’t currently taking shelter, but is instead looking for penicillin to help a class mate with some blood poisoning while simultaneously avoiding some starved timber wolves. Can anyone get to where they need to in time before things get a little bit more serious than temperatures getting “a bit nippy”.

I’m not entirely sure why, but of all the “modern” wave of disaster epics, The Day After Tommorow has always stood out to me as being head and shoulders above the rest. It’s certainly not because the movie gives the genre a renewed sense of respectability because all the cheesy things you’d expect to find in its peers such as Dante’s Peak, Volcano and Twister are all present and correct. Characters make over dramatic, yet over simplified statements that sum up exactly how bad shit’s gonna get that come across as so serious, you can’t help but snicker like a school kid screwing around in class; there’s endless moments of back ground actors comically agog as they get pounded by wind machines before we cut to a digitally rendered disaster scene; numerous supporting actors except their fate with calm grace, happily sacrificing themselves so that someone higher up the cast list can fight on; it’s all there and its coated in layers of thick, thick cheddar.
And yet, there’s something of a greatest hits feel about it that turned out to be far more entertaining that Emmerich’s later effort, 2012, which also had an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feel, but none of the earnestness. I don’t know, maybe it’s the fact that the film is genuinely trying to drop an unsubtle, ecological warning on us (two years before An Inconvenient Truth), while seemingly not realising that people go to disaster movies precisely because they want to see everything get fucked up. There’s also the grimly amusing paradox that to realise such an accelerated apocalypse on film, the on screen science has to be wildly exaggerated and incredibly simplified for a general audience, which is usually the first thing to make naysayers throw their hands up when asked to take the message seriously.
So, apart from the fact that the movie torpedoes it’s own warnings about the environment due to the fact that it still has to play like a movie, what else stands out?
Aside from the occasion dodgy visual or obvious green screening, the ecco-chaos still stands up pretty well and as the situation visibly gets worse as the temperature drops, the action scenes actually manage to feel quite varied with the parameters changing things up beyond merely having people running from weather.
Dennis Quaid attacks his role by making every single line he has into a barked statement as if he’s made a bet with himself to try and get every single line he says into the trailer, while Jake Gyllenhaal, three years on from Donnie Darko and one year away from Brokeback Mountain, gives good hero. Other actors such as the late, great Ian Holm are on hand to inject all the science-y stuff with the appropriate gravitas, while other plot threads – such as Jack’s doctor wife staying with a sick child in an abandoned hospital – seem surplus to requirements when Emmerich seems dead set on making irrevocable changes to the entire planet that end the film on a somber (yet somehow still positive) note.
And this is probably why The Day After Tomorrow has that slight edge; its plot threads involving Mexico opening its borders to American immigrants due to the USA canceling all Central and Latin American debt and librarians agonizing which rare book should or shouldn’t be burnt to keep the fires going may be as blunt as fist bump from a raging gorilla, but you honestly feel that everyone involved are trying to mawkishly say something by having an ending where people can’t just go back to their everyday lives when all the fireworks have stopped.

While its guilty of more than a few problems that usually come with disaster movie territory, Emmerich’s slight attitude adjustment eventually overcomes its awkwardness (what the hell does that title even mean?) and almost adorable naivety (behold the politician who actually admits to his blunders that have cost the lives of countless Americans and expects to keep what job he has left?) to give us another city crusher that actually has something more to say than just BOOM.
Don’t agree? Then make like the movie and just chill out…


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