Should I Watch..? 'The Day After Tomorrow'
What's the big deal?
The Day After Tomorrow is a sci-fi disaster movie released in 2004 and is loosely based on the book The Coming Global Superstorm by Art Bell & Whitley Strieber. Directed by Roland Emmerich, the film depicts the world suffering a catastrophic change in climate which plunges humanity into a sudden and deadly ice age. The film stars Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Sela Ward, Ian Holm and Emmy Rossum. The film is one of many directed by Emmerich that deals with apocalyptic themes such as Independence Day, the 1998 version of Godzilla and 2012. Despite a mixed reception from critics, the film proved a massive hit at the box office with global takings in excess of $544 million which made it one of the most successful movies in 2004. However, the film did receive criticism for its scientific inaccuracies as well as its poor writing.
What's it about?
American paleoclimatologist Jack Hall narrowly survives a collapsing ice shelf in the Antarctic where he is conducting research into his own theory on climate change. Convinced that the world is heading for a new ice age similar to one which struck the planet around 10'000 years ago, Jack presents his case to the United Nations at a conference in Delhi but his claims are dismissed by US Vice President Raymond Becker. However, his ideas mirror that of oceanographer Professor Terry Rapson and the two of them agree that the world is heading for a sudden change in climate due to the amount of polar ice caps that have already melted.
After several bouys in the Atlantic register severe drops in temperature, Jack and Terry believe that Jack's predictions are correct. While Terry works with his colleagues to create a model for predicting what exactly will happen, the world begins to experience several extreme weather events such as Tokyo being hit by a deadly hail storm and Los Angeles being effectively destroyed by several powerful tornadoes. As the devastation spreads all over the north of the US, Jack realises that he must rescue his son Sam from New York while Jack's wife Lucy is among those rescued by the military and made to head south towards Mexico in a desperate attempt to survive.
Professor Jack Hall
Professor Terry Rapson
Dr. Lucy Hall
Jay O. Sanders
Vice President Raymond Becker
Roland Emmerich & Jeffrey Nachmanoff*
Release Date (UK)
27th May, 2004
Action, Disaster, Sci-Fi
What's to like?
Nobody could accuse The Day After Tomorrow of subtlety. The film bombards the viewer with a literal avalanche of apocalyptic imagery from the site of helicopters literally freezing solid mid-flight and crashing to the Statue Of Liberty becoming engulfed in waves and snow. Despite the film's attempts to make this a genuine and scary prospect, it never really convinces us that such devastation could happen in a matter of hours. Still, given the film's silly set-up, it's actually not too bad. Gyllenhaal defies his rosy-cheeked image to actually be the film's central character who has to help lead a group of survivors to safety against a backdrop of impossibly deep snow, a plunging temperature and hungry wolves (don't ask where they came from). Quaid is the film's moral centre, sermonising us at the start about the inherent dangers of neglecting the environment before turning into a noble hero on a quest to reunite with his son.
Neither, however, are as good as the effects which might carry a heavy stench of CG but there is a degree of thought behind them. The snow levels, for example, completely change the landscape to allow characters to clamber through windows or trek past landmarks partially obscured by the white stuff. The same can be said for the flooding scenes in New York which bore an uncomfortable resemblance to the scenes of terrified citizens fleeing the scene of 9/11. I suppose, if one approached the film with a certain care-free mind-set then the film becomes a deliciously hammy disaster picture but unfortunately, that wasn't the tone they went for. The hype at the time was very much focused on this being a serious picture with a serious message while the film itself has next to nothing to alleviate the grim reality of this new world we might find ourselves in. But they're not fooling anyone.
- 20th Century Fox asked a group of experts and NASA scientists to provide an assessment of the film's scientific accuracy. NASA stated that the events in the movie were too ridiculous to occur in real-life and refused to cooperate. Other scientists who attended a test screening agreed the film was enjoyable nonsense but unlikely to ever happen as depicted for real.
- The breath of the actors was done with CG instead of being a practical reality. It was both cheaper and easier to get it done this way instead of cooling the sets to the required temperature.
- Walsh's casting as the Vice President was controversial due to his resemblance to the real Vice President at the time, Dick Cheney. Emmerich insisted on this as he intended the film to be criticism of the George W Bush administration's opposition to the Kyoto Treaty to reduce greenhouse gases.
- Rossum, who was just 15 when she auditioned, won the role after Lindsay Lohan had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts. The very same thing happened when Rossum won Lohan's role in the 2006 disaster film Poseidon.
What's not to like?
Of course, it's good to see climate change addressed in films like this because it still needs to be firmly on the agenda of political discourse across the world - perhaps now more than ever. But when it is presented in a scientifically inaccurate and overly dramatic way as it is in The Day After Tomorrow, it makes it easier to dismiss such fears as Hollywood liberalism running wild. Nobody with a brain started worrying about the ancient Mayan calendar after watching 2012, did they? I can appreciate this movie's effort to get people trying to talk about climate change but the movie needed to be a lot less goofy about it. Plot-wise, the film constantly breaks its own rules - I loved Jack's assertion that he could walk from Washington DC to New York in temperatures so cold that it literally freezes people to death in seconds! I also couldn't understand how a storm surge that almost buried the Statue Of Liberty couldn't penetrate the doors of the New York Public Library.
There were other things I didn't like such as the female characters reduced to damsels-in-distress who have little bearing on the film itself. It also completely neglects to explain what happened to Holm's character and his team - they simply vanish into the fog and are never seen again! This is a film that is simply in awe of its own effects that it forgets to tell an enthralling narrative that makes any sort of sense (much like 2012, in fact). And for me, that's pretty much unforgivable - why should I care about any of these characters when the film can't be bothered to tell me? There are no shortage of films featuring actors running away from something on a green screen and despite it's good intentions, this is one of the dumbest films you're likely to see.
Should I watch it?
The Day After Tomorrow is a brave attempt at provoking discourse about the nature of climate change and our impact on it but ultimately, it's just another disaster movie with people running away from whatever it chasing them - snow, water, wolves, you name it. Despite the film's effects and message, its lost in a blizzard of half-baked science and uninvolving action sequences that amuse more than they excite. With such a ham-fisted grasp of the science involved, it's no surprise that the end result is a po-faced pantomime pretending to have something serious to say about global warming. Nice try but n'ah.
Great For: environmental conspiracy nuts, Emmerich aficionados, paleoclimatologists fed up of explaining what they actually do, Greenpeace
Not So Great For: Donald Trump, the Chinese, anyone confused as to why global warming would create a new ice age
What else should I watch?
Other than countless documentaries detailing with actual facts the impact and pace of climate change, Hollywood seems to be more interested in entertaining audiences rather than scaring people into recycling. The worst example is the recent disaster epic Geostorm which features Gerard Butler running away from tidal waves as only he can while the 2008 remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still features Keane Reeves as an alien threatening to wipe out humanity unless it deals with the environmental catastrophe mankind has created. And as for those aforementioned documentaries, the best by far is Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth which is a detailed presentation by the former Vice President about global warming and what the future holds for all of us unless the world implements radical changes. Sadly, so little had changed since the film's release that a sequel An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power was released in 2017.
Of course, Emmerich possibly isn't as serious about climate change as he is showing audiences the near-total destruction of a number of cities in America. But disaster movies have proved popular ever since their heyday in the Seventies when audiences were scared witless by the likes of The Towering Inferno or Airport. Since then, the likes of Alive, Titanic, The Road and San Andreas have ensured that disaster movies still have their place in modern cinema - whether they are special-effects exercises or grim post-apocalyptic dramas that serve as a chilling warning of what world we might be heading towards.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
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© 2019 Benjamin Cox