The Day After Tomrrow

Robin Clifford
Robin Clifford 
The Day After Tomorrow

  The Day After Tomorrow
Laura Clifford
Laura Clifford 

Climatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) declares at a world conference that mankind’s wasteful ways will plunge the earth into a new Ice Age. His warnings are ignored at the highest government levels until drastic events like enormous hurricanes, fast dropping temperatures and hail the size of boulders begin happening around the world. As Jack predicted, the end is near but nobody guessed that it would be “The Day After Tomorrow.”

Roland Emmerich, as we all know, has a penchant for the big special F/X extravaganza. “Independence Day,” “Godzilla” and “The Patriot” are all bombastic, large-scale adventure flicks that deal with larger-than-life issues like alien invasion, a big green monster and nasty British soldiers. Now, Emmerich takes on man’s stupidity and egotism and turns Mother Nature against us in a huge way.

“The Day After Tomorrow starts off in suitable fashion as the camera descends across a vast ice field in Antarctica to a tiny American science station literally in the middle of nowhere. Jack, with his partners Jason (Dash Mihok) and Frank (Jay O. Sanders) are burrowing for ice core samples that may give us information about the Ice Age that gripped the earth 10,000 years ago. As Jason drills into the ice an enormous crack appears and a chunk of the field, the size of Rhode Island, breaks off, almost killing the scientists. Jack takes his findings and fears to a conference on global warming in New Delhi, India where the head of the conference, American Vice-President Becker (Kenneth Walsh), disregards the scientist, with his unbelievable facts and figures, as a doom and gloom crackpot.

But, Jack may be on to something when reports come in from around the world of bizarre weather-related events. Snow falls for the first time in memory in New Delhi; a monster hurricane the size of which has never been seen forms near Australia; giant cyclones devastate Los Angeles; massive bird migrations flee south; huge temperature drops are recorded in the North Atlantic; and, New York City is being inundated by the sea.

As is the norm for Emmerich’s epics, there is a human story mixed in with this tale of global devastation. Jack is estranged from his wife, Lucy (Sela Ward), and their son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), due to his workaholic ways. Sam is heading to Manhattan for a scholastic competition and Jack, due to his meteorological concerns, almost forgets to pick up his son to take him to the airport. There is a rift between the two that you know will be resolved in a big way by the end of the movie. When Jack’s dire predictions come true, Sam is marooned in New York with floods, tidal waves and plummeting temperatures that brings the city to its knees. Jack, schooled in dealing with harsh elements, vows to Sam that he will come and rescue him.

This portion of “The Day After Tomorrow” smacks of being derived from “Finding Nemo.” Sam, standing in for Nemo, gets himself into a pickle as he and a small band of survivors barricade themselves from the elements in the New York Public Library. (There is a bit of political correctness as the survivors debate the moral dilemma of burning books to keep warm. That the real estate law books go first is one of the little jokes interspersed through the drama.) As the shivering troop struggles to stay alive, Jack and his partners, Jason and Frank, load up their truck with frigid weather gear and head off on their rescue mission. They must traverse hundreds of miles in the foulest weather, facing obstacles and death along the way. Jack and Marlin (the dad in “Nemo” voiced by Albert Brooks) have a lot in common.

The human-interest portion of “The Day After Tomorrow,” as you’d expect, takes a back seat to the near seamless computer-generated effects. Massive tornadoes ripping LA apart and tidal waves inundating New York are just some of the realistic looking F/X utilized to show what could be the end of the world. Marry these with solid production design, by Barry Chusid, and the result is a good-looking and believable to watch adventure yarn.

The cast, of course, must play second banana to the F/X monster, but, led by Dennis Quaid, they do a yeoman’s job of putting a human face on the proceeds. Little plot devises used to make a heartfelt “story” abound through “The Day After Tomorrow.” A homeless man and his loyal dog lend the their survival instincts to the group huddling in the NY Library. Sam and his friends must risk life and limb, with timber wolves chasing them, to board an abandoned Russian freighter (floating on the street of Manhattan, no less) to find penicillin to save Sam’s love interest, Laura (Emmy Rossum). Laura is responsible for this dangerous trek when she gashed her leg days before, got infected and didn’t tell anyone until they are obliged to save her. Jack’s ex, Lucy, a doctor in Washington, DC, has a young cancer patient she must care for against the odds. The president must decide on whom to save and whom to let die. All the while, an enormous assembly of storms plunges the northern hemisphere into a frigid wilderness. There is the usual happy ending.

I have never been a fan of Roland Emmerich films but “The Day After Tomorrow” reps the best he has done to date. It could have been shorter and less time spent on some of the “human” elements, but it is a well-crafted film that uses its F/X budget to good advantage. Tent pole films like this may have big, even wasteful budgets, but the money is up on the screen here. Oh, yeah, the dog lives in this one. I give it a B.

After watching the Larsen B ice shelf break away into the ocean in Antarctica, climatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid, "The Alamo") begins to warn of a potential dramatic climate shift which could result in a new Ice Age.  When his theory is verified by Professor Terry Rapson (Ian Holm, "Lord of the Rings: Return of the Kings") of Scotland's Hedland Center, it is already too late and the world must prepare for massive storms that will change the face of the earth "The Day After Tomorrow."

Writer (with Jeffrey Nachmanoff)/director Roland Emmerich ("Independence Day") is back to destroying landmarks (this time the Hollywood sign and the Capitol Records building) in a 'green' plea to stop abusing Mother Nature.  Emmerich builds his global disaster invigoratingly and the special effects team are to be commended, but the screenplay is a holey assemblage of cliche and borrowings.  Still, "The Day After Tomorrow" works as relatively mindless popcorn entertainment.

The three member Hall family is suffering the classic strain of a father immersed in his work. High school senior Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal, "Moonlight Mile") reconnects with dad on the way to the airport to travel to New York City for an academic competition.  As dad tries to convince Vice President Becker (Kenneth Welsh, "Miracle") that he has a potential disaster on his hands, Sam suffers severe turbulence in the air, Tokyo is hit with hail the size of grapefruits and a record shattering hurricane hits Hawaii.  Mom, Dr. Lucy Hall (Sela Ward, "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights"), tends to a cancer-stricken little boy, seemingly her only patient.

Working with the doomed Scottish weather experts (the trio, which also includes Simon (Adrian Lester, "Love's Labour's Lost") and Dennis (Richard McMillan), are reminiscent of the Australian satellite guys of "The Dish"), Jack works out a model that predicts the Northern Hemisphere will be encased in ice within 48 hours.  After getting the President to agree to evacuate Southern states, Jack, along with his team of Frank (Jay O. Sanders, "Along Came a Spider") and Jason (Dash Mihok, "Connie and Carla"), decides to head to New York to save his son.  Sam is holed up in the NYC Public Library with a small group who listened to his passed-on advice to stay inside while most New Yorkers attempt to flee.

Emmerich knows how to deliver scenes of mass destruction and his leveling of L.A. by tornados is impressive, just as a more intimate scene of three helicopters plummeting with frozen fuel lines on their way to rescue the Queen from Balmoral Castle is affecting.  The space station is featured for a real bird's eye view of the global weather system. Manhattan's massive flooding is also visually spectacular, but once the snow begins to fall, one can't but help recall "A.I.," not to mention "Planet of the Apes'" first submersion of the Statue of Liberty.  Sam's dramatic phone call from a pay phone on the ground floor of the library also plays like a repeat of multiple scenes from "Titanic."

Once the weather pyrotechnics have had their crescendo "The Day After Tomorrow" loses a lot of its punch. This is mostly due to flimsy writing.  Sam's love interest Laura (Emmy Rossum, "Mystic River") hides an injury for no apparent reason other than to become ill enough to require Sam to leave safety to procure penicillin.  A Russian tanker floats down a Manhattan street - quite logistically impossible - just as it makes no sense that it has become a ghost ship.  A pack of wolves escape a zoo in order to be in the right place to attack the few humans who have ventured outside.  Typically, the team on a rescue mission loses one in saving another (and Jack's journey, on foot from Phillie to NYC, is just too fantastic).  An attempt to use the burning of books as a sign of the end of civilization is clumsily handled.  The Vice President is a heedless man who is humbled into giving a really cloying televised speech, which, unfortunately, is Emmerich's idea of a sendoff.

The cast are mostly overshadowed by the special effects with none of the stars making much of an impression.  Gyllenhaal does a nice job portraying the awkwardness of unspoken attraction, but the real grace notes come from supporting players like Glenn Plummer ("Showgirls"), whose homeless Luther has more smarts than most and Mimi Kuzyk ("The Human Stain") who portrays a likable Secretary of State.  The Scottish trio conjure up a melancholy camaraderie that make us rue their fate.

According to the press notes, the Larsen B ice shelf really did plummet into the sea back in March 2002, months after Emmerich had written the scene.  Let's hope this is no "The China Syndrome."

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