The Day After Tomorrow
Imagined the "To Do" list on action film director Roland Emmerich’s desk: "1. Have aliens destroy White House – check, 2. Terrorize NYC with oversized reptile – check, 3. Freeze the earth’s northern hemisphere." The latest big-budget, big effects disaster film from the makers of "Independence Day" and "Godzilla" is now on DVD, and although it’s not good, it’s actually not a complete disaster.
Nature, along with modern industry and conveniences like air conditioning that have ravaged it, is the enemy this time around. Climatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) discovers that global warming has caused massive changes in ocean currents that will bring the next ice age a wee bit sooner than anyone expected, like, ummm, over the next two days. Naturally the puppet president (bland Perry King) and Dick Cheney look-alike vice president (Kenneth Walsh) believe him until it’s too late, the northern half of the U.S. is abandoned to the impending deep freeze and folks are fleeing across the border to Mexico. So it’s up to the determined Hall to save his son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his friends who are trapped in New York City!
Since Sam and his friends are all geeks and lucky enough to hook up with a practical homeless man (Glenn Plummer who played the unlucky Jaguar owned in "Speed") who knows how to use newspaper as insulation, they’re all resourceful enough to hole up in the New York Public Library, burn books to stay warm (don’t worry, thanks to vigilant librarians, the Gutenberg Bible is saved, volumes of tax code are the first items torched), and raid a freighter conveniently parked outside the building for penicillin to save Sam’s love interest. Oh, did I forget to mention that the freighter is stranded outside the library courtesy of a massive tidal wave that swaps Manhattan and then freezes over solid?
As you might begin to suspect, "The Day After Tomorrow" is a bit over the top, putting the emphasis on the "disaster" in "disaster movie". There’s an extended sequence early on of freak tornadoes leveling Los Angeles that’s cool to watch but not much more than a minor detour from the main action. There’s countless scenes of climatologists and government officials murmuring "Oh my God" while watching radar images of a trio of gigantic ice storms enveloping the planet. There’s a pack of wolves escaped from the zoo chasing after Sam and his pals.
It’s silly fun, but just barely fun. Lacking the jingoistic irreverence of "Independence Day" yet not as dreadfully boring as "Godzilla", "The Day After Tomorrow" strives beyond it’s summer blockbuster roots and staggers under the weight of its own importance. Everything’s play dead serious and ends up being dead ponderous. The U.S. government ignores warnings of global warming, Jack and Sam’s father-son relationship suffers from Jack’s dedication to his work, Sam’s mother is a dedicated doctor who stays with a dying child rather than escape to the south. Instead of embracing it’s special effects and cheesy heroics (Jack walks from Philadelphia to NYC in a raging ice storm/blizzard to save his son, most of the way dragging the unconscious body of a colleague!) and becoming a great rollercoaster ride like "Twister" or "Titanic", the film tries to be about saving the planet and relationships.
Instead of smart alecks like Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum or B-listers like Bill Pullman, we get real actors. Along with Quaid and Gyllenhaal (you’ll both be big stars someday, but not because of this movie), there’s also Ian Holm and Adrian Lester ("Primary Colors") as fellow scientists, all acting up a storm (pun intended). But put Oscar-caliber actors in a Burger King commercial and it’s still just a Burger King commercial, albeit a pretentious one.
The special effects are really stunning, but only in a meteorology course way. Without a real physical enemy to fight against outside the hungry wolves, and with too slender a stalk of a real plot and characters to hang its hat on, "The Day After Tomorrow" is only marginally entertaining at best.
Includes one pointless deleted scene, one older version of another scene (semi-interesting because you can appreciate how the redone scene does enhance the pacing and urgency of the movie).
The interactive DVD-ROM features install a bunch of software on your computer but aren’t terribly gripping. You can see little dots on a tiny rotating globes indicating the current presence of floods and other disasters around the world (snore), see how the ice age would affect major cities (the amazing fact that there’d be a lot of snow – astounding!), and view behind-the-scenes footage (which refused to play on my pretty up-to-date computer).
There’s also commentary tracks, one from director Emmerich and producer Mark Gordon, the other from a quarter of the film’s co-writer, directory of photography, editor, and production designer. Stick with the latter for a mildly interesting description of the various effects or head to the former if you’d like to be incensed by the casual ethnic and political intolerance of Gordon. After he and Emmerich pat themselves on the back for having Adrian Lester black scientist kiss his half-Caucasian baby goodbye rather than bow to studio pressures to cut the shot, Gordon proceeds to make horribly stereotypical comments about Hispanics and degrading references to women. Whenever the film’s president appears on the screen, Gordon mocks his lines in a cartoonish Dopey Dawg manner. Now, I don’t mind good political satire, but if you’re going to poke fun at the president or other political figures, take a page from John Stewart, "South Park", and "Saturday Night Live" and actually attempt to be funny rather than stupidly repetitive. I’m a liberal Democrat and I was offended on Bush and Cheney’s behalf!
The coolest DVD extra is the interactive sound demo feature. You get to play various sound tracks of scene in which helicopters crash because the storm freezes their fuel lines. Hearing the layers of dialogue, sound effects, foley work, music, and more that go into the final mix is really fun. A comparable shot selection feature with a chance to see your final edited scene would have also been a treat.