A film review by Craig J. Koban


2004, PG-13, 124 mins.

Jack Hall: Dennis Quaid / Sam Hall: Jake Gyllenhaal / Laura Chapman: Emmy Rossum / Jason Evans: Dash Mihok / Frank Harris: Jay O. Sanders / Dr. Lucy Hall: Sela Ward / Vice President Becker: Kenneth Welsh / Prof. Rapson: Ian Holm / President Blake: Perry King / Brian Parks: Arjay Smith

Directed by Roland Emmerich /  Written by Emmerich and Jeffrey Nachmanoff

If there were ever a film that tip toes ever-so-dangerously between being a truly scary and awe-inspiring spectacle and a silly and cheese infested melodrama then it is most assuredly Roman Emmerichís THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW.  

It has the type of completely convincing and large-scale special effects that dwarfs any previous disaster picture and it truly engulfs you in the terrible tragedy of the disaster.  No expense was to great to make this epic visual film make you believe in its wacky premise.  The film is so convincing on these levels that it ostensibly allows one to forgive its painfully one-dimensional subplots and, letís face it, ridiculous premise.  Nevertheless, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, to be fair, is the best film about the new Ice Age hitting the Earth, characters that are meteorologists, teenagers in love, and sickly cancer patients I have ever seen. 

No, honestly! 

You gotta give your props to Director Roland Emmerich: he sure loves to destroy cities.  In his INDEPENDENCE DAY aliens in massive 10-mile wide spacecrafts came and destroyed nearly every major city on Earth.  In the dreadful GODZILLA the title character wreaked havoc in New York.  THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW represents Emmerichís third outing at destroying The Big Apple, but this time it's not aliens or hundred foot tall lizards that breath fire.  The cause for this disaster is global warming itself. 

Dammit, I hate when scientists are right! 

The filmís plot and premise are based simultaneously on a scary and realistic proposition and an overly inflated and exaggerated one: global warming is leading to a radical climate shift and a new ice age and this has caused many scientists worldwide to flinch, panic, and lose lots of sleep.  Of course, when scientists speak out in concern for their findings in these types of films, they are never taken seriously or credibly because, for crying out loud, the politicians know whatís best.  Yet, it's not realism that the film has going for it, but rather its using an established scientific possibility and bending and exaggerating it for the purposes of blowing stuff up, flooding cities, and destroying the earth and humanity as we know it.  What else do we expect in a disaster film? 

Climatologist Jack Hall (the always resourceful and underrated Dennis Quaid) has come to the brilliant conclusion in the filmís first thirty minutes that the world is fast approaching a new ice age. He conservatively estimates that the event will occur in 50 to 100 years.  That is, of course, until he meets up with a British scientist named Terry Rapson (the equally reliable Ian Holm).  His measurements of plummeting ocean temperatures in the North Atlantic advance and accelerate Hallís timetable incredibly.  Yet, when Hall makes a desperately plea to the US Vice President Becker (Kenneth Walsh), he of course fills the need for ignorant movie politicians in ignoring Jack's warnings.  I mean, who could really blame him anyway?  Unfortunately, Beckerís crude stubbornness leaves the US without a contingency plan of defense when disaster happens.   

To make matters worse, Jackís nearly estranged son (played well by Jake Gyllenhaal) goes on a field trip with a potential girlfriend to New York.  His character facilitates the obligatory melodramatic subplots of these disaster pictures, in which family members of the ones who are trying to tell the world its about to be destroyed end up in the thick of it all.  This is also true of Jackís wife (Sela Ward) who works in a hospital and feels the need to not abandon and young cancer patient (whom is used almost unforgivably as a source of emotional resonance in a film that is already very silly).  I wonder if Jackís son and wife will make it out alive?   

The middle section of the film, in which all weather hell breaks loose, is its saving grace, and fans of this genre and of Emmerichís past work will not in any way be disappointed.  Hail the size of soccer balls rip through Tokyo.  Multiple gigantic tornadoes completely destroy L.A., taking with it the Capital Records building and the Hollywood sign (nooooooo!).  The most impressive of the lot is the very convincing flooding of New York City (the Statue of Liberty always takes a hit in these films) and its subsequent freezing over (all in all, New York is reduced to a bad Saskatchewan winter on steroids).  The effects are so grand, so epic, and so completely engaging and convincing that I left the theatre not only with a reflective sense of awe, but with a sly grin of admiration on my face.  They are worth the price of admission alone.

A considerable amount of THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW is entertaining, enjoyable, and exciting to watch.  Watching big US cities being destroyed in science fiction films is a guilty viewing pleasure of mine, I guess.  However, a lot of the film is also just plain silly and moronic.  At one point in the film Jack draws a slash across a map of the United States, and writes off everybody north of it. He also issues a warning that super-cooled air will kill anybody exposed to it and advises those in its path to stay inside.  This warning is made all the more incredible considering that he later sets off to walk from Washington to New York to save his son.  Huh?  What about the super cooled air that can kill instantly? 

There is also a preposterous scene involving a group of kids outrunning the super cooled air (when are filmmakers going to realize that human beings do not have the endurance and physical capacity to outrun explosions, radiation, and super cooled air?)  There is also a predictable set up involving escaped wolves from a zoo that eventually turn up and cause chaos.  I also found the Vice Presidentís speech at the end of the film as laced with cheesy sentimentality as Bill Pullmanís was in INDEPENDENCE DAY.  I did love the irony, however, of the scene showing thousands of US citizens trying to cross the Mexican border to safer climates as illegal immigrants.

THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW nevertheless works on its intended levels.  Its an action sci-fi film that goes to great lengths to explain and later show the destruction of the world as we know it, and it does so with craft, skill, and creativeness.  The film is all surface and no substance, but it still fulfills the basic formula of the genre of disaster pictures.  I feel that if one were to look for themes the terms ďcautionary taleĒ would emerge, but even that is overshadowed by the filmís awesome pageantry of special effects and action.  Despite its very silliness, I think that serious students of film will look at THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW and understand exactly what it is trying to be and leave it with small amount of admiration for it and also with a goofy grin.  The film may be absolutely ridiculous, but at least it revels in it and does not try to hide.  

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