“THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” (2004) Review
I have seen only four movies directed by Roland Emmerich. All of them were disaster films of some kind, whether they centered on an alien invasion or a natural catastrophe. Of the four movies, only one of them I had failed to see in the movie theaters. That movie happened to be Emmerich’s 2004 movie, “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW”.
The movie depicted the catastrophic effects of global warming in a series of extreme weather events that ushers in global cooling which leads to a new ice age. “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” began with a paleoclimatologist named Jack Hall on an expedition in Antarctica with his two colleagues, Frank and Jason. While drilling for ice core samples on an ice shelf for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Jack almost falls to his death, when the shelf breaks off. Later, Jack presents his findings on global warming at a United Nations conference in New Dehli. Unfortunately, many diplomats and Vice President of the United States Raymond Becker remain unconvinced by Jack’s findings. But Professor Terry Rapson of the Hedland Climate Research Centre in Scotland believes Jack’s theories. Two buoys in the North Atlantic simultaneously show a massive drop in the ocean temperature and Rapson concludes that melting polar ice is disrupting the North Atlantic current. He contacts Jack, whose paleoclimatological weather model shows how climate changes caused the first Ice Age, and can predict what will happen. Jack believes the events will take hundreds or thousands of years. But his team and NASA’s meteorologist Janet Tokada build a forecast model with their combined data.
Across the world, violent weather causes mass destruction, including a massive snowstorm in New Delhi, a hailstorm destroying Tokyo, and a series of devastating tornadoes in Los Angeles. President Blake authorizes the FAA to suspend all air traffic due to severe turbulence. Meanwhile, Jack’s son, Sam is in New York City for an academic competition with his friends Brian Parks (Arjay Smith) and Laura Chapman (Emmy Rossum). There, they befriend a student named J.D. (Austin Nichols). During the competition, birds migrating south suddenly fill the sky and the weather becomes increasingly violent with intense winds and rains. Sam calls his father, promising to be on the next train home. Unfortunately, the storm worsens, forcing the closure of the subways and Grand Central Terminal. As the storm worsens a massive tidal wave hits Manhattan, causing major flooding. Sam and his friends seek shelter in the New York Public Library.
When I first saw Emmerich’s 2009 film, “2012”, I came to a conclusion that the director likes to follow a pattern regarding his disaster films. One, most these films usually feature a dysfunctional family or divorced couple, a new romance, cheesy dialogue (especially from minor characters), questionable science, an annoying government official, a head of state – friendly or otherwise, a friendly foreign-born colleague and a noble scientist in one of the leads. Well, “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” certainly featured every one of those traits. Which goes to show that the movie is not exactly an epitome of originality. I also have one more complaint. In my recap of the movie’s first forty minutes, I failed to point out that Dr. Lucy Hall, Jack’s ex-wife and Sam’s mother, remained behind at a Washington D.C. to care for a very ill young patient, while the city’s remaining citizens are evacuated to Mexico with the rest of the country’s southern citizens. Northern citizens, along with Sam and his friends in New York, are forced to remain behind and wait for rescue. The movie made such a big deal about Lucy’s willingness to sacrifice her safety for the sake of her patient. Yet, very little time passed before an ambulance appeared to evacuate both doctor and patient to the south. Talk about a wasted storyline.
Despite my quibbles about the movie’s lack of originality and the Lucy Hall story line, I must admit that “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” has become one of my favorite disaster movies of all time. I really enjoyed it. I was surprised to discover that screenwriters Emmerich and Jeffrey Nachmanoff may have used the historic 1993 Storm of the Century as an inspiration for the film. The screenwriters also did an able job of setting up the story with a series of natural disasters – the breaking of the ice shelf in Antarctica, the hailstorm in Tokyo and the series of tornadoes in Los Angeles. Emmerich and Nachmanoff also did an admirable job in setting up the movie’s centerpiece – the tidal wave that hits New York City – with a series of events that began with Terry Rapson and his colleagues detecting the drop in oceanic temperatures and ended with a heavy rainstorm that threatened Manhattan. With the exception of the Lucy Hall storyline in Washington D.C., I feel that this movie was well-paced not only by the screenwriters, but also by Emmerich’s direction.
However, I cannot talk about “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” without discussing the film’s special and visual effects. And I must be honest that I found them mind blowing. The special effects teams supervised by the likes of Louis Craig, John Palmer and Christian Rivest did a superb job in depicting the film’s natural disasters. I also found Greg and Colin Strause, Greg Anderson, Remo Balcells and Eric Brevig’s visual effects featured in the movie equally stunning. And with the assistance of cinematographer Ueli Steiger, these two teams made the Manhattan tidal wave and Ice Age sequences two of the most memorable I have ever seen in a disaster film. I have not been a fan of the musical scores featured in Emmerich’s films such as 1996’s “INDEPENDENCE DAY” and 1998’s “GODZILLA”. But I was surprised to find myself impressed by Harald Kloser and Thomas Wanker’s score for this film. It had a haunting and smooth quality that seemed lacking in some of Emmerich’s other films.
Despite my love for this film, I must admit that I found it almost difficult to endure some of the cheesy dialogue and acting by many of the minor characters. In fact, one could find some of the worst acting by minor characters in the sequence featuring the New York City tidal wave. Thankfully, “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” featured a solid cast that proved to be more talented than many of the minor supporting actors. I think that Dr. Jack Hall might prove to be one of my favorite Dennis Quaid roles. I realize that the actor is more known for portraying sexy, roguish types in movies like “THE BIG EASY” and “THE RIGHT STUFF”. But I must admit that I found it refreshing to see him portray a no-nonsense and intense type like Jack Hall. He was ably supported by Jake Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of the character’s son, Sam Hall. Gyllenhaal must have been at least 22 or 23 years old at the time, but he skillfully projected a sardonic weariness, tinged with a little offspring resentment that strongly impressed me.
I also enjoyed the performances of Ian Holm as the intelligent and warm-hearted Terry Raspon; Sela Ward as Jack’s nearly frantic ex-wife Dr. Lucy Hall; and Emmy Russum as Laura, Sam’s tender-hearted, yet ambitious love interest. Perry King’s President of the United States may have come off as a little too noble, but he still gave a solid performance. Austin Nichols was also solid as the Washington D.C. visitors’ new friend, J.D. I was especially amused by Arjay Smith’s portrayal of Sam’s sardonic friend Brian; Glenn Plummer as the blunt, yet hilarious homeless man who decides to remain at the public library with Jack and his friends in order to survive; and Nestor Serrano as Jack’s no-nonsense boss at the NOAA. But the one performance that surprisingly impressed me came from Kenneth Walsh as the irritable Vice-President. The actor ably developed his character from a snide and bureaucratic politician to a man who had the grace and wisdom to realize that he had been wrong to doubt Jack.
I realize that “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” had received mixed reviews upon its release nearly seven years ago. Many critics had complained about the questionable science behind Roland Emmerich and Jeffrey Nachmanoff’s story and some of the film’s other flaws. I could care less about the questionable science, since the movie is basically science-fiction. But I believe that its virtues – a solid cast led by Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal, stunning special and visual effects, a well-paced script and solid direction Emmerich – outweighed the flaws. And this is why “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW” has remained a personal favorite of mine after so many years.