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The Day After Tomorrow
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Written by Roland Emmerich and Jeffrey Nachmanoff
The Day After Tomorrow
Principal Cast
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
Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Newbert

It's a cold end to the world in The Day After Tomorrow, director Roland Emmerich's latest smackdown of American icons. The film eagerly, but too confidently, serves a political message with its mayhem, mixing a finger-wagging lecture about global irresponsibility with the thrills of watching civilization being pummeled by giant tornadoes, drowned beneath rising oceans, buried under titanic snowdrifts, and finally frozen solid -- or at least in the upper northern hemisphere. It complements its hokey-science argument with a straw man argument by introducing a fictional White House duo cast to look exactly like Bush and Cheney, mostly so that they can first be excoriated as the film's de facto villains and then later apologize for their lack of environmental concern. It isn't that I don't take the basic message seriously, neither do I think the movie's anything less than sincere; global warming is a reality, and using it as the fulcrum for a sci-fi actioner (of sorts) is legitimate. But Emmerich and screenwriter Jeffery Nachmanoff shouldn't act so smug when several of the scenarios in this film stretch credibility -- including the aforementioned apology. (If you think that would actually happen, then you are perfectly dedicated to fantasy.) The ground drops out from under their, and their characters, feet. But perhaps one shouldn't make too much of such pretensions. This is, after all, a fairly standard disaster film, constructed according to well-worn formula, and dedicated not to changing your political affiliation, but grabbing your money, though it remains perhaps the best disaster film I've ever seen -- which only makes it a solid entry in a flaccid genre.

Like Independence Day and Godzilla, Emmerich scatters his characters, major and minor, over the United States prior to events unfolding, then works to reconnect them. Paleo-climatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) is a workaholic researcher whose model explaining the advance of the last ice age turns out to be the explanation everyone grabs for when such phenomena begin to arrive as snow in New Delhi and bowling-ball sized hailstones in Tokyo. Hall has an estranged wife (the beautiful Sela Ward, who's wasted here in only half-a-dozen scenes) working in a children's cancer hospice in Washington, D.C., and a precocious teenage son (Jake Gyllenhaal) who has become stuck on a school field trip with his classmates in New York as the weather turns first truculent, then psychotic; a forty-story wavefront forces them to take refuge in the New York Public Library and the entire Eastern seaboard goes underwater. Hall warns his son to stay put and avoid an oncoming storm that will bring supercooled atmospheric drop-offs (or some such thing) that will freeze everything to a hundred below in a matter of seconds; then heads out in the teeth of the blizzard to undertake a walking trek from the nation's capital to the Capital of the World. Meanwhile, Ian Holm plays a Scottish meteorologist who warns of the advancing cold fronts, and various well-recognized character actors step in for brief reaction shots. It's the rule of disaster flicks that as no one can save the world, the characters are obliged to save each other, and those that can't accept their fates stoically. And so, while some people live and some people die, we're eventually treated to the camera-savored image of Lady Liberty up to her skirts in a massive snowdrift.

Emmerich's movies are built around crackerjack first hours and then tread water for the remaining couple of acts; The Day After Tomorrow is no different in that respect. Sadly, the screenplay is verbal sludge, but the manufactured drama is supported by incredible visuals -- this is CGI of the first order, and credit must be given for finding creative ways to plug an audience into the wholesale destruction without losing what frail narrative thread there is. These images also carry a ton of psychological weight. Emmerich well knows that the most lasting image of his oeuvre is that vaporized White House from Independence Day, and so we find several copycat images here: the Hollywood sign being uprooted by the giant tornadoes, the New York Public Library surrounded by the sea, the frozen Statue of Liberty that has been used in the film's ad campaign, an abandoned oil tanker that floats down a New York boulevard, etc. A dramatic stasis is reached by the film's middle, and the conflicts from then on are forcefully contrived, though the sequence where wolves that have escaped from the Bronx Zoo are hunting on a ship that our heroes are simultaneously raiding for supplies is still scarier than anything in Van Helsing.

It's facile lip service to the third world aside, The Day After Tomorrow isn't terrible, just too goofily ambitious for its own good. It's an entertaining disaster pic, wise enough to pick up the pace when it lags, not smart enough to justify its pandering. I'll still give it two out of four massive tidal waves.

Copyright © 2004 David Newbert

David Newbert worked for public and university libraries for several years before joining the college book trade. He lives in New Mexico, where the aliens landed.

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