Yeah, yeah, Roland Emmerich can pretend “The Day After Tomorrow” is more than a movie but also an attempt to show the government what may happen and all that jazz, but in the end it’s really just a creepy science fiction tale with a lot of special effects and that’s all, not to mention it’s really good popcorn cinema. If one went to the theaters during its run for a good time, they may have gotten just that, because I had a good time. In “The Day After Tomorrow”, Emmerich this time focuses on the apocalypse through an array of characters as is always the formula with him. Jake Gyllenhaal takes a leap into the mainstream as Sam Hall, a high school student coming to New York with his two friends to compete in a school competition; Sam isn’t close with his father Jack because he’s barely ever around due to his scientific work, but Jack, while in the Antarctic discovers a massive decrease in polar ice caps melting and discovers that the worlds temperatures are dropping thus causing cataclysmic results and will bring the world to a new ice age.
He isn’t listened to despite his frantic warnings, and before he can instill sense into people, it’s already too late and a series of storms quickly make its way through the world as well as sheer chaos. Now as the new ice age is upon the world, Sam, his friends, and a small group of survivors hold up in the public library for shelter while Jack, intent on getting Sam home alive makes his away across the now sub-zero blizzards and decides to walk to rescue Sam and take him back to safety, but is all hope lost? Now, I’m not a fan Emmerich’s films in the past, Godzilla and Independence Day were cheesy and dumb, and “Stargate” was just mediocre, so “The Day After Tomorrow” was simply satisfying.
The film focuses, obviously on a new ice age rapidly taking place as the weather and temperature go haywire, but do not confuse this with the book “Childhood’s End”, this is a little less of a complex allegory and more of an action based story arc. Now, “The Day After Tomorrow” is a lot like that dog in the pet shop looking for your attention. It’s trying to come off as intelligent and smart by performing tricks that it just can’t pull off, and you feel sorry for it, and that’s how this film is. At risk of repetition, again I say, despite director Emmerich’s interviews boasting he thought the movie would come off more as a wake up call to the government about global warming, but, much like my hopes of ever having a chance with Christina Aguilera, it just ain’t gonna happen.
This is a popcorn film with a fact based concept, and that’s all it is. Do you honestly think there’s an intern at the Oval Office watching this movie saying “Wow, that’s really disturbing, we should focus on the environment more and try to save mankind, get me Dennis Quaid!” No, this is summer popcorn fare with a great premise and despite all of its qualities that make it a very entertaining two hours, it’s also pretty stupid. While the images of the coming of the ice age (or apocalypse, I was never sure) are horrifying, they’d be even more so, if they were actually portrayed as such with the bleak concept and the coming of the ice age that is never dealt with true severity, but instead by the second half of the film it just becomes adventure fodder and less about the end of civilization, because, after all, it is the end of the civilization.
Yes, I’ll keep saying it, because I think the writers missed the point. Films like “On the Beach” focused on the end of civilization with radioactive gas making its way all over the world thus ending mankind, here, we never really get the sense of dread and we never feel depressed at what is being presented here, so it becomes a more padded vision of the end of mankind, and boy do the writers cop out here by barely showing the lasting effects of the new ice age, no one seemingly suffers, and people do die, lots of them, but Emmerich goes for the safe happy ending. The ending cops out, with millions dead, mankind basically extinct, but should there even be a happy ending? Everyone’s dead, life, and our way of life as we know it is over, but at least the main characters are alive to see another day, however we would have been happy for them, and perhaps a bit touched had we seen or learned more of them.
There are some great actors aboard here including Dennis Quaid who plays Jack the intelligent and very determined Paleoclimatologist who decides to trek from Washington to New York to rescue his son from the lethal sub-zero blizzards, Quaid is very good here and a great hero to watch fight the incredibly horrible weather of the new ice age, not to mention, one of my favorite actors, Jake Gyllenhaal as the likable Sam who is forced to lead the small band of survivors and they take up home at the local library where they burn books to stay alive, and there’s the inevitable love interest in the form of Emmy Rossum, the adorable Sarah who manages to become a prime motivation for staying alive, the two have good chemistry on screen and their sub-plot is pretty small which keeps it from becoming boring. There are also some pretty good performances from Jay O. Sanders. Sir Ian Holm has a small role here but barely much of a character and his character’s welfare is left to the imagination of the audience, not to mention all of the main characters are so broadly sketched out.
Jack is never there for Sam because he’s always in the lab, Sam has a bad relationship with his father, now had the writers focused more on this, it would have affected us with the “Finding Nemo”- esque plotline of father searching for his son, but their relationship is so thin, we can do nothing but watch. There’s also Sela Ward whose given very little to do here except cry a lot and take care of a young ailing cancer patient who doesn’t get a lot of focus and, oddly enough, never notices the apocalypse happening, nor does he ask about the welfare of his parents. So, we have characters like Frank (Jay O. Sanders), Jack’s friend who bites it but we don’t care because we barely know him in the end, and there’s a lot of situations that are never resolved including Sam’s struggle to find medicine for the ailing Laura, the eventual reunion between Sam, Jack, and mother Lucy, and many more of which that are left to assumption and never resolved on-screen.
The story and concept presented here make for some truly horrific scenes including the basic coming of the ice age with hail storms, and blizzards in countries with warm climates not to mention humongous tornadoes in the middle of Hollywood, there is a very well done sequence in which a tornado takes down the Hollywood sign, plus, my favorite, when the oceans begin toppling New York and flooding the entire city. The films a very bleak vision of what would happen should the ice age ever come, and while there are many liberties taken as far as the accuracy of tornadoes and the exact time it would take for an actual coming of the ice, it’s nonetheless a horrific thought to contemplate in the end, and of course, in a very tasty slice of irony, the ice age forces American citizens to become refugees and sneak into Mexican borders, one of the only countries without the horrible effects of the ice age, it was a poetic twist such as this that just won me over in the end.