The Day After Tomorrow
For a rational filmgoer the idea of a catastrophic shift in the Earth’s delicate climate seems far more probable and worrisome than aliens invading the planet or Godzilla being reawakened (and reoriented) to attack New York City. Even the possibility of galactic asteroids or space debris colliding with the Earth feels more far fetched than the new Ice Age that threatens the world in The Day After Tomorrow
. For those among us who know diddlely squat about astronomy the likelihood of a astro-collision seems one of random mathematical chance and thus far fetched; even the nagging idea of terrorism is one that generally resides in the area of unexpectedness that helps obscure any logical cause-and-effect foresight. But with serious environmental issues plaguing the mass media since the Industrial Revolution, what occurs in Roland Emmerich’s FX-laden weather catastrophe extravaganza almost feels resignedly, and more importantly realistically, fatalistic in the likelihood of events taking such a chilly turn.
Of course, when charting the imminent doom of the globe Hollywood always needs to get in a personal story or two, but it is relieving considering Emmerich’s past of Godzilla
and Independence Day
that the hackneyed relationships and character arcs imbedded in the film are kept brief and undeveloped. Relieving in the sense that an element that could make a mediocre film awful is simply generally dismissible. One would think casting a resigned Ian Holm, a smoldering Jake Gyllenhaal and a stern Dennis Quaid would at least help personalize a story about a storm freezing half the world, but the script, written by Emmerich and Jeffrey Nachmanoff, feels like a barebones synopsis of a (thankfully) undeveloped and longer screenplay. There is a thing about the father (Quaid) being more devoted to science than his son (Gyllenhall) and having to come through to him in this, the most terrible moment of our times, and Gyllenhaal has a thing about coming out of his nerdish shell and opening up to some girl (Emmy Rossum), but on the whole that’s all the movie attempts in terms of character depth.
Instead of a human story The Day After Tomorrow
is more often than not a two hour long example of the power of the industry’s computer effects work, and yet another reminder, along with the recent Van Helsing
and the two Star Wars
prequels, that there is a definite trend in Hollywood mega-productions to rely on visual (read: computer generated) bravura rather than rich character dynamics. This actually is not much of a problem in Emmerich’s film, which in its pacing feels like it plans to spend its opening moments wrecking the Earth with climate-shifted storms and live out the remaining running time watching the humans either problem-solve the salvation of civilization on a national scale or more likely on a personal one (there is a remarkable similarity to the personal burdens of inaccessible Ice Age victims and the isolated and panicky stragglers in zombie films). Surprisingly, the film ends along with the storm and it speaks well of Emmerich’s highly potent concept that while the personal stories of The Day After Tomorrow
leave a whole lot to be desired, the film itself feels like a knock-out pilot for a highly conceptual mini-series tracking the various effects and manifestations of such a change in the planet’s habitability. The script just barely touches on the potential, but the moments are delicious-the effects of the often disturbingly credible environmental evolution are rivaled by the film’s vision of American citizens illegally flooding the Mexican border as refugees.
To be sure, Emmerich’s political jabs are few and the few are broad, but their combination with the laymen believability of the film’s catastrophe concept makes The Day After Tomorrow
one of the very rare recent blockbusters that could actually inspire, if not action, at least the vague semblance of political thought in its audience, however general. To be sure the film is taken to hyperbolic heights-though New York City is the film’s main focus there is unexplained, very lengthy non-narrative sequence that observes the destruction of Los Angeles in a digression so pointless it almost comes off as subversive-but what it proposes amongst its mega-production effects are worthy of some thought. That is high praise indeed, especially coming from the man responsible for The Patriot