© 2004 Ray Wong
Not since DEEP IMPACT and INDEPENDENCE DAY have we seen a disaster movie of such grand scale, especially in the days after 9/11. Last year’s THE CORE attempted, pitifully, to bring the genre back in the game. This year, we have THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, in which the world is nearly destroyed by an Ice Age brought on by global warming.
Professor Jack Hall, a climatologist based in Washington D.C., discovers a dramatic shift in the world’s climate while on an expedition in the Antarctica. As snow falls in New Delhi, he tries to warn the world leaders of a possible new Ice Age. The notion is promptly rejected and ridiculed by the US Vice President (who has an uncanny resemblance to Dick Cheney).
Meanwhile, Jack’s son Sam, an underachieving genius, heads out to New York for a science competition. Soon, as Jack has predicted, the global weather goes haywire, including grapefruit-sized hails that bludgeon Tokyo, multiple tornadoes that destroy Los Angeles, and a tsunami that buries New York City. When massive storm systems form over the northern hemisphere, Jack must convince the world to help save itself while he goes on a quest to rescue his son, who is now trapped in an ice-sealed Manhattan.
Writer-producer-director Emmerich (STARGATE, INDEPENDENCE DAY) has made a name for himself with his state of the art sci-fi spectacles. In this film, Emmerich sets out to make a first-rate disaster movie with an environmental message. As with many disaster movies, the script is the weakest link. Emmerich’s film asks for a massive dose of suspension of disbelief, and it’s hard to do, given its quasi-intellectual techno-babble and on-the-nose self-righteousness about global warming. The basic premise is ice-thin to sustain a two-hour long film. Many subplots either feel artificial (what’s with the wolves?) or do not add to the story (the scenes with Sela Ward are an unnecessary distraction). Jack’s motivation to rescue Sam is noble yet unsound, especially since he would have to go against his knowledge about the storms and the advice on surviving them. Then again, without this plot, the movie would have been over in an hour.
The film, however, excels in its special effects and entertainment value. The New York scenes, for example, are spectacular, sending us chills and taking our collective breath away. Never have we seen massive destructions and utter perils with such details and realism. The effects feel even more chilling as we observe the floods and tornadoes happening right now in our country. Emmerich’s direction is skillful and exciting. The production values are high.
The performances are, in general, adequate, considering the genre where actors usually take a backseat to the story and the special effects. Quaid (FAR FROM HEAVEN) continues to prove that he is a top leading man – his Jack Hall is heroic and sympathetic. Ward (DIRTY DANCING), as Jack’s wife Lucy, does not have much to do but act concerned – her role could have been eliminated without any impact to the story. Gyllenhaal (MOONLIGHT MILE) is fine as the brooding but resourceful Sam, who rises to the occasion when disaster strikes. Rossum (MYSTIC RIVER) is a refreshing face and talent, and her performance, as Sam’s love interest Laura, gives the film a genuine grace. It helps that she and Gyllenhaal have tremendous chemistry together. Rounding out the cast is the always-perfect Holm (LORD OF THE RINGS), whose doomed Professor Terry Rapson shows us real human dignity.
Despite the flaws common in the script of such genre – more outlandishly fictional than factual – THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW is a highly entertaining summer pop-corn movie with characters you can actually root for and care about. And if, in the process of entertaining the fickle movie-goers it helps raise our awareness of global warming issues and policies and prompt a few debates or two, then all the better. Maybe it is time for us to think about our tomorrows.
Stars: Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Sela Ward, Ian Holm, Emmy Rossum
Director: Roland Emmerich
Writers: Roland Emmerich, Jeffrey Nachmanoff
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, depiction of mass death and intense peril
Script – 4
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Editing – 8
Sound/Score – 7
Cinematography – 7
Production – 9
Total – 7.0 out of 10