The Day After Tomorrow

written by Roland Emmerich and Jeffrey Nachmanoff

directed by Roland Emmerich

starring Dennis Quaid, Ian Holm and Jake Gyllenhaal


review by Stephen Notley

Thank you, Roland Emmerich. In these times when America and the world are gripped tight in disasters built entirely by and for human beings, it's good to step back once in a while and appreciate the entirely nonhuman catastrophes just waiting to clobber us whether we've got our own shit worked out by then or not.

Like, for example, rapid climate change. The Day After Tomorrow, of course, takes the whole thing to retarded Hollywood extremes with a huge megastorm that brings down a new Ice Age in three days, but there are folks in the climate community who've done projections of huge shifts that take place in the 10-20 year range and the Pentagon took those projections seriously enough to do a study of the strategic implications of a major change in Earth's climate (quick summary: lots of wars, we're all dead).

So -- rapid climate change *is* something to be scared of. Of course, The Day After Tomorrow doesn't actually have anything to say about this beyond a vague "we should do something," but that's not its point. Its purpose is to throw stormy horrors at Americans and maybe, a month from now, some of them will have disturbing dreams about being alone in the snowswept ruins of their town, everything they've ever known blasted away by neverending winter.

As a movie, well, The Day After Tomorrow is about what you'd expect from the man who gave us Independence Day, Godzilla and The Patriot. That is, it's a series of special-effects destruction set pieces linked together with a soap opera set of flunky characters runnin' around with no real thematic sense or overall point.

But! If you wanna see Los Angeles get torn apart by tornadoes, this is your movie. Likewise if your secret cataclysm fantasy is a New York semi-submerged in water or a Tokyo pelted by half-baby-sized hailstones. The Day After Tomorrow doesn't quite have a monster, exactly, in the way that Independence Day and Godzilla did; the closest thing it's got is a twirling continent-sized hurricane with a 50-mile-wide eye that sucks space-cold air down from the upper atmosphere to flash-freeze everything it stares at. Not bad, but y'can't really hate it, and more importantly you can't defuse it with a computer virus or trap it in the Brooklyn Bridge and kill it with missiles. You just have to wait for it to kinda peter out.

Oh, yeah -- there are some people in this movie, too. Dennis Quaid is the Cassandra climatologist whose warnings go unheeded, though of course given the timeframes involved there's obviously dick anybody could have done. Sela Ward plays his wife, a doctor trapped in a cancer boy subplot that sucks precious oxygen from the theatre every flickering moment it appears. Meanwhile Quaid's son is Jake Gyllenhaal of Donnie Darko, a nerdy kid who was on the school debating team just so he could hang around with his would-be girlfriend Emmy Rossum (a charming enough Shannon Elizabeth/Mia Sara fusion) and  so they both end up stuck along with another nerd in flooded-then-frozen New York. Thus they "struggle to survive", burning books in the New York Public Library, facing computer-generated wolves and occasionally running from super-ice that --no shit-- chases them down the hallway.

The Day After Tomorrow, like Independence Day, features a cast of characters uncommonly cool with seeing civilization shatter around them. They're so busy with the day-to-day, y'know, it never really comes up, and luckily the movie's over before anybody really has to sit down and come to grip with what's happened. The movie pretty much punts the only truly interesting thing about this scenario, which is the issue of relocating huge human populations from newly unhabitable areas to newly less habitable areas that also happen to have huge human populations of their own. Rather than the typical rising sea-level disaster, this apocalypse has a keen sense of geopolitical irony in that it freezes the northern hemisphere solid, forcing the rich to rely on the generosity of the poor. In the film, this translates into a scene that's supposed to make America viewers go "Huh!" of Americans illegally crossing the border *into* Mexico --fancy that!-- followed by the apparent relocation of 200 million Americans to a Mexican refugee camp. Wow --thanks for being such a good sport about this, Mexico!

The movie plays with the destruction of America, but like Emmerich's earlier The Patriot, it can't really conceive of a world where America doesn't exist. Sure, we see an American flag flap listlessly in the breeze before superfreezing solid, and we see ol' Lady Liberty windblasted with icicles, and yeah, everybody in America is either dead or in Mexico. But The Day After Tomorrow dares not blast the audience with real tragedy or bleak hopelessness, so we feel it's just a matter of time before we get all this snow cleared away and get things back to normal. A cop-out, of course, but whaddya expect? This is Roland Emmerich we're talking about here.

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