The Day After Tomorrow Review
Like a cheesy disc jockey, Roland Emmerich takes us through a selection of disaster movie greatest hits in The Day After Tomorrow. His set includes the tidal wave from Deep Impact, the tornadoes from Twister, the deadly hailstones from Dante's Peak and a whole album full of tried and tested disaster film clichés which date back to the Irwin Allen epics of the seventies.
Present and correct are: the early signs of impending doom, the scientist who sees the disaster coming, the authorities who will not listen to reason, the motley group of survivors trapped by the catastrophe, the young couple who find love in the midst of chaos and, last but not least, the cute dog that barks whenever something bad is about to happen. The dog doesn't perform any heroic leaps like the dogs in Independence Day and Dante's Peak but I was pleased to see it nevertheless. And the writers earn bonus points for making its owner a wise homeless man.
I enjoy the early warning signs the most. I love the way it's always major cities with recognisible landmarks that get ravaged, so we can watch New York pulverised by asteroid fragments or the Colosseum blown up by an electrical storm. It's never the middle of the Gobi Desert, is it?
In The Day After Tomorrow, the ominous events are a rain of giant hailstones in downtown Tokyo and a devastating pack of tornadoes in Los Angeles. Something is obviously up with the weather and sure enough, a British meterologist (Ian Holm) notices the temperature of the Atlantic ocean is dropping alarmingly. He phones Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid), an expert on prehistoric climatology who has a theory about what caused the Ice Age and believes a new freeze may be imminent. The warm climate of the Northern Hemisphere is partly the result of the North Atlantic Current, which circulates warm water from the equator. Jack believes that melting ice from the polar caps, a side-effect of global warming, could disrupt the current and cause a superstorm followed by a sudden and violent drop in temperature across the northern half of the globe.
Jack is right. Soon enormous storms are forming around the world, giant waves are swamping New York and lethally cold winds are sweeping down from the upper atmosphere and freezing everything in their path. The US government is too late to save millions but sets to work evacuating the rest of the population, bringing them to safety in Mexico. However Jack's biggest concern isn't the future of humanity, it's his teenage son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is in New York competing in an academic contest and mooning over his classmate Laura (Emmy Rossum). As the storm hits New York, the kids try to survive the flood tides and the subsequent freeze while Jack fights his way across the country to rescue them.
Technically, The Day After Tomorrow certainly delivers the goods. The special effects are excellent and Roland Emmerich shows them off to maximum effect as he did in Independence Day. The trouble is, when Independence Day was released, spectacle on this scale was new and exciting. Now it's old hat. This month alone, armies have clashed in ancient Troy and legions of monsters have done battle in Van Helsing. It doesn't help that the sights in The Day After Tomorrow are familiar. We've seen tornadoes trashing buildings and throwing cars through the air, we've seen tidal waves crashing down on Manhattan. The effects may be improved but they can't have the same impact. The problem is underlined by Emmerich's overuse of the same corny shots of extras reacting to disasters that he overused in Independence Day and Godzilla.
The script, co-written by Emmerich and Jeffrey Nachmanoff, also suffers from a serious structural weakness. It peaks way too early. The big, destructive special effects sequences promised in the trailers are over in the first hour. That leads to a very anticlimactic second half, which is largely made up of Jake Gyllenhaal and his fellow survivors sitting around, talking, and Dennis Quaid trudging manfully through the snow. These are very likeable actors, well cast in their roles and watching them is painless. However, this is an action film, it doesn't have the depth or credibility to be anything else and it could have used a bit more energy in the later stages. When it does build to a ludicrous climax, involving super-cold winds, a desperate race for medical supplies and - I kid you not - a pack of ferocious wolves, the change of pace is welcome but you may find yourself giggling rather than gripping your armrest.