From: Subject: Date: April 21, 2005 3:53:51 PM CDT Hankblog

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Movie Review: The Day After Tomorrow
The Day After Tomorrow
Director - Roland Emmerich; Starring - Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ian Holm, Emmy Rossum, Sela Ward; Screenplay - Roland Emmerich and Jeffrey Nachmanoff; Rated PG13 for "intense situations of peril" (I don't write this stuff folks, the MPAA does).

A sort of disclaimer is in order. I am, for reasons I myself can not fully understand or explain, something of a fan of disaster flicks. I don't know why, but movies that make a spectacle of mass carnage appeal to me on some visceral level. I remember as a kid surfing cable channels and if one of the Airport movies was on, or Towering Inferno, or Poseidon Adventure, I had to stop and watch. I'm not the kind who rubbernecks at traffic accidents, so I don't know where this fascination with FMD came from.

I say this to advise that I was predisposed to liking this movie from the get go, or at least of a mind to be more forgiving of this feature than I might have been of other movies of similar quality. I found The Day After Tomorrow to be neither truly awful, nor an exceptionally good film, but some decent popcorn fare for a summer release.

What (or When?) is The Day After Tomorrow?
In what appears to be the present day, paleo-climatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) is doing studies on global warming and its affects on the polar ice cap. He theorizes to leaders of the world at an environmental conference that global warming could contribute to the coming of a second ice age at some indeterminate time in the future. He is immediately lambasted by the Vice President (TV Veteran Kenneth Walsh), who sounds conveniently like Dick Cheney without looking like Dick Cheney. This will hopefully keep Roland Emmerich from being detained as an enemy combatant.

Anyway, Pseudo-Cheney thinks that Hall is full of it for his cockamamie theories, and he might have had a bit of a case. Except that "extreme" weather occurrences all over the world have everyone on the planet BUT pseudo-Cheney aware of just what kind of bad mojo is being unleashed on the world. The net result of all kinds of wonky science is the coming of the next ice age, one that turns most of the northern hemisphere into an ice sheet in the space of a few weeks. This leaves us the opportunity for Quaid's Hall to play hero on a quest to see if his son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) who was in New York for an academic competition is still alive. Naturally there's a parallel story going on where Sam gets to show he is Jack's son, demonstrating his amazing intellect and pluck in helping he and his friends survive the calamity.

So does the story shine, or does all hail break loose?

I suppose that depends on what level your expectations are set for. As far as disaster movies go, this one isn't too bad. Dennis Quaid is an actor who I always felt wasn't an all-timer but had more talent than he's shown of late. Here he isn't awful, isn't great, but is adequate for what's called for. I mean, it's hard to make an action hero out of a climatologist (visions of a sort of Willard Scott, Man of Action elicit chortles as I write this). Harrison Ford made an academic a great hero with Indiana Jones, but he had far more script to work with and wasn't playing second fiddle to some good effects work.

Gyllenhall is also adequate as Sam. There are a few moments where you can almost buy a relationship between the two, because of the way they conduct themselves. But realistically, neither character is there to give the story a lot of depth. They're pretty much secondary to showing a lot of stuff get destroyed in all manner of weather possible.

So you're saying this particular storm blows?
Not entirely. The effects work is really spectacular in the opening third to half of the movie. There's so truly neat stuff going on, if you can mire past some mediocre green-screen work in the opening sequence on a glacier that's part of the arctic ice shelf (cue ominous music BUT NOT FOR LONG). The tornadoes that are a prominent part of the trailer really did impress me. And there's some nicely framed shots that really make you feel the desolation of New York as frozen wasteland. One wonders if they did test screenings for New Yorkers who weathered the blizzards of the last couple of years for pointers on making it look more believable.

But the effects work isn't quite enough to save the movie from the some really clunky, awful dialog that just slows the pacing to an absolute crawl in the second half. The movie feels like it's going to last as long as an ice age in the second half. By the end of it you're supposed to be pulling for a heroic finish and all the principles to be home safe and sound. The practical reality of what they give you is that it's really hard to care. The stunning Sela Ward is totally wasted in a subplot as Hall's estranged wife who is ostensibly in almost as precarious a position as her son Sam. She has a poor waif stricken with cancer in her care as well, to make sure the heartstrings get a few extra tugs along the way. When their situation is resolved in an almost deus ex machina sort of way I really didn't give a damn one way or the other. I had in fact completely forgotten about them until my attention was forced there. Considering that they're supposed to be one of the other big emotional pulls, that doesn't speak well for what Emmerich is trying to do with the movie.

Sounds like a less than perfect storm.

It is, but to be honest, anyone expecting anything more is deluding themselves. This was a summer event movie, being released at a time to try and maximize its potential box office draw before the other heavy hitters had a chance to step up to the multiplex. It's a decent slice of eye candy for the effects geeks, it has a few good action sequences, and it really does try to give you a fair amount of bang for your buck. It may not succeed on every level. But if you have a matinee feature you're trying to catch, and it's one of the options, you could do a lot worse. Especially if you can catch it at discounted prices. A lot of the appeal that still exists for this movie is going to fall flat on video except for those with the grandest of home theater setups. So if you can swing it, catch it while you still can on the big screen. You'll get the most out of this you can.