But while watching the film, it’s not really all that bad. More than a cubic zirconia but far from a diamond, the film should find as many supporters as it does detractors as it spends at least one week leveling the competition.
As typical of Emmerich’s last big hit film for distributor Fox, 1996’s “Independence Day,” there are several storylines that are followed concurrently throughout the film. Like “Independence Day,” we get a massive number of shots of destruction of major cities around the world, with special focus on Los Angeles and New York City. Like Jeff Goldblum’s character in “Independence Day,” Dennis Quaid’s climatologist Jack Hall is a divorced man of science who still has a thing for his professional ex-wife. And in a flip from “Independence Day,” the hero needs to get from Washington D.C. to New York to save the ones he loves. In fact, so much of “The Day After Tomorrow” is a slightly altered copy of “Independence Day,” it’s somewhat a surprise that Emmerich’s former writing and producing partner Dean Devlin didn’t get a shared “Story by” credit.
This time around, instead of pesky aliens hell-bent on taking over our planet, the bad guys are ourselves. Us consumers, who use too much fossil fuels and don’t take care of our environment. The first hint at the impending disaster happens when Jack and his crew are drilling on an Antarctic Ice Shelf, when a piece of iceberg the size of Rhode Island breaks off. Soon, more seemingly isolated meteorological events happen around the globe, including orange-sized hail falling in Tokyo and unprecedented hurricane winds smashing into Hawaii. New Dehli, where Jack has arrived to give a demonstration to a consortium of world leaders including the American Vice-President about what could happen to the planet in just a couple lifetimes if humans continue to consume at the same rates we do now, is suffering from continual snowstorms. Despite some persuasive graphics, only another visiting scientist, Professor Rapson (Ian Holm), believes Jack may be on to something.
Even after a series of super tornadoes pulverizes Los Angeles, no one wants to listen to or believe what Jack has been predicting could be coming true. With the reluctant approval of his boss, Jack and his team analyze the data they have received through their department’s mainframe computer, coming up with a scenario that shows the Northern Hemisphere could be plunged into a new ice age as early as six to eight weeks. Mother Nature, however, has other plans, and throttles the destruction into high gear, creating a series of super storms over major parts of the hemisphere.
While all of this is going on, Jack allows his teen son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) to travel to New York City to compete in an academic competition. When the storms hit New York, Sam and his friends are forced to take refuge in the Manhattan Public Library as the streets around them flood from the massive swells coming in from the Atlantic. And just in case that wasn’t enough, several vortexes form over North American and Europe, sucking freezing air out of the upper atmosphere and turning the upper half of the hemisphere into one gigantic sheet of ice. After briefing the President and his staff about the need to evacuate the southern half of the country, Jack and his team choose to make their way to New York to rescue Sam, who was able to get a phone call to his dad in the moments between the flooding and the freezing.
The remainder of the film is split between Jack’s rescue mission, the survival of Sam and his friends, the dedication of Jack’s ex-wife (Sela Ward) dealing with a terminal cancer patient and the government trying to set up a new base of operation in Mexico. And, sadly, it is at this halfway point where the film loses much of its steam. Where the previous film had a tangible foe in the invading aliens, who could be analyzed and be dealt with effectively, you simply cannot fight the weather. You can examine its patterns and try to find ways to deal with the eventual consequences, but you can’t strap a nuke onto a rocket and blow the weather to smithereens. There is no catharsis with triumphing over the enemy, since this enemy cannot be stopped. Most people will either have to flee, wait it out or die. Slowly but surely, Jack works his way on foot, from Philadelphia to Lower Manhattan, to save his kid, who continues to brave the elements, starvation and a pack of ravenous wolves to stay alive.
If one were to look at “The Day After Tomorrow” as this generation’s mega-budgeted successor to the disaster films of the 1970s, like “The Poseidon Adventure,” “The Towering Inferno” and “Earthquake,” albeit with a less famous cast, there is a lot to enjoy. The devastation of Los Angeles and especially New York City are effectual to the point of distress, especially for this writer, a native of the former city and current resident of the latter. And why is it these disaster flicks always have the most absurd linesr Even the most innocuous statements can and will illicit wondering thoughts of who exactly speaks that way.
As the hero, Dennis Quaid does the best he can with what little character he has been given, as does Holm, Gyllenhall, Ward, Emmy Rossum (the Anne Hathaway meets Julia Roberts beauty from “Mystic River” who plays Sam’s would-be crush) and the other players, but should one really expect characters in an sci-fi action disaster movie to resemble a realistic human anywayr This isn’t “All About Eve” or “In America,” after all. It’s all about the action, and for at least the first half of the film, Emmerich does deliver. The big set pieces arrive quickly, and the expository dialogue is thankfully kept to a minimum, utilizing action and motion to keep the story informed.
And it’s because I was, for the most part, entertained while I watching the film, that I cannot bring myself to not recommend the film. Whatever problems I had with “The Day After Tomorrow” came after the film was over. It might not become the cable perennial that “Independence Day” has become, but one viewing won’t be all that harmful.Rating: B-