The traditional elements of all disaster films consist of two parts action, two parts effects and varying parts of cheesiness. The Day After Tomorrow features all of these things, with a bit of preachy environmentalism to spice things up a bit.
Decades of polluting the environment catches up to the human race when the next great ice age is triggered by changing weather patterns. As a result, three massive snow storms develop in the North Pole and grow bigger and bigger as they make their way towards the equator. Raining massive hail stones and dropping several dozen feet of snow on the ground, the entire climate of the planet begins to change.
Scientist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) repeatedly attempts to warn the Vice President of the United States that things are going to get worse, but he is repeatedly ignored. As New York suffers a massive flood – followed by a deep freeze – Hall learns that his son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is trapped in the city that never sleeps. He then decides to fight the freezing temperatures and journey to NYC from Washington, D.C. to retrieve his son, who holds up in the New York Public Library with a few friends.
Of course, there are a few subplots, such as a love story featuring Sam and the girl he longs for (Emmy Rossum), but for the most part this film basically consists of one action/disaster scene after another.
For me, the most disturbing portion of the film is the flooding of New York City. Not just because I live in that great city, but because it mirrored a nightmare I’ve had on several occasions. Watching the massive, ten to fifteen story wave move between buildings and fill the streets made me sit a little straighter in my seat. The effects are really outstanding, as cars are swept away by the rushing water.
Quaid does a great job as the over-the-top heroic scientist, and Gyllenhaal is fine as his jilted son. But, these kinds of films are not about the performances. It’s about the effects. There is no character development to get in the way of the pseudo science and environmentalism.
It’s just a good old fashioned popcorn movie.
The only real issue I had with the effects was when Quaid and his companion pass the snowed in Statue of Liberty. Now, I’ve never actually been to the statue, but the size ratio between the people and the statue itself seemed completely off. The statue is made out to be much smaller than it actually is, at least that’s the way it looked.
Roland Emmerich has offered up yet another slam-bam disaster flick that is all about the disaster and very little about the characters. He clearly has a thing for making scientists his chief heroes, who are always these larger than life types who are perfect in almost every sense: smart, handsome and daring. Yet, at the same time, they always put their work before their life.
In Independence Day, Jeff Goldblum’s character let his work interfere with his marriage. In Stargate, it’s James Spader who is the single-minded geek who dedicates himself to his work with no interest in having a real life. Godzilla plays differently on this trend, but has the same result. Matthew Brodrick is the dedicated scientist, but the woman he loves leaves him in favor of her career, instead of him leaving her for the same reason.
Lastly, the movie also delivers a rather transparent punchline on the Bush administration. The Vice President clearly looks like our real VP, Dick Cheney. Also, be on the look out for one particular moment between the movie’s Vice President and the President. The audience laughed for almost a full minute, but I don’t want to reveal it here. It’s a precious moment that you could almost see happening between Bush and Cheney.
Don’t worry so much about the science of The Day After Tomorrow. Whether or not it could really happen, it’s still fun to watch.