The Day After Tomorrow

May, 2004, Thriller

The Day After Tomorrow

After an unsatisfying detour into American colonial history with "The Patriot", German-born director Roland Emmerich, (Godzilla, Independence Day) returns to the cataclysmic with this cartoon-ish examination of the potential effects of rapid global warming. Despite stunning special effects and a slick piece of under-developed irony in his storyline, this extravagantly produced piece of science fiction doesn't compare with "Stargate", the director's earlier exploration of this genre. Cheesy though it is, some of "Tomorrow's" inventive, computer-generated images suggesting what our world might look like in a freeze-dried ice age make this one a possible antidote to the somnambulant summer afternoons ahead.

Dennis Quaid, (possessed of the requisite confidence-building square jaw and winning smile required for this kind of silliness) plays anthropological climatologist Dr. Jack Hall, a PhD with a cantankerous persona and troubled family life. While he roams the globe taking core-samples of melting ice in Antarctica and lecturing to conferences on the dangers of our dependence on carbon-based fuels, it suddenly starts snowing in New Delhi, hailing in Tokyo and raining like hell in the Big Apple. Since Quaid's brusque manner hasn't won him any friends in Washington, (where members of the film's Administration have a none-too-subtle resemblance to Chaney & Company) a sudden drop in ocean temperatures triggers massive tornados in Los Angles and tidal waves in Manhattan. Our intrepid scientific prophet of doom and gloom suddenly finds himself separated from his estranged teenage son Sam, (Jake Gyllenhaal) now marooned in New York's Public Library, at the corner of 42nd and Fifth. Despite plunging temperatures and an Artic blizzard moving south faster than Superman's speeding bullet, Dr. Hall and two companions don polar gear and abandoning our nation's capital, set out for O'Henry's Baghdad-by-the- Hudson to save the intrepid Sam and an assortment of geeky high-schoolers carefully chosen from central casting in order to appeal to the teen-age audiences that will required to assure that "Tomorrow" recoups its massive production costs.

As the U.S. government begins to evacuate the southern half of the country, the movie's best idea gets short shrift; Mexico and it's southern neighbors find themselves suddenly faced with massive reverse immigration, closed borders now employed to keep Americans out. Sadly, the implications of this intriguing idea aren't developed, depriving the film of much of its potential interest.

Emmerich's screenplay is loaded with standard references to "we're all in this together" and "saving mankind's cultural heritage", (in this case, a Guttenberg bible) and he welds these clichés onto a plot that also includes (1) the inevitable, long-suffering wife--a doctor who stays behind at her hospital with a dying child-- (2) skeptical politicians who ignore critical warnings and (3) loyal professional colleagues who have to die to prove how serious the situation really is. Consequently, "Tomorrow's" storyline is as predictable as those schlock, B-grade black and white sci-fi flicks of the '50's. But the basic premise is an interesting and timely one, and the director's initial descriptions of the underlying science involved, (melting ice caps altering the oceans' temperatures) mirror the best current thinking on the subject. (See Bill McKibben's article "The Real Climate Crisis" in the June 10th issue of The New York Review of Books.) 

Despite cardboard characters, asinine plot twists and silly scientific conclusions drawn from plausible current facts, "The Day After Tomorrow" manages to be fitfully engaging because of its subject matter and the imaginative use of often stunning production elements. But be forewarned; if you're going to see it, do so in a theater with a big screen and Dolby-quality sound; this one won't be nearly as impressive on your television screen, however over-sized its dimensions.


Best set? The main reading room of the New York Public Library, buried in a snowdrift.

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