May 29, 2004 -- “The Day After Tomorrow” is a typical disaster film, but with outstanding special effects. It also has exceptional art and production design. The acting is good, too, but the script is weak. This is part of the disaster film package. You expect great spectacle, you don't expect smart dialogue and believability. In that sense, the film doesn't disappoint. The movie reminds me of another recent disaster film, “The Core,” better effects, but not as entertainingly goofy.
The story has a disastrously fast onset of an ice age as the result of global warming interrupting ocean currents. The scientist, climatologist Jack Hall (played by Dennis Quaid of “The Rookie”) is ignored by the politicians until it is too late (the “mayor of Amity” denial of reality cliché). Hall, and fellow climatologist Terry Rapson (Ian Holm of “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”) discover a change in ocean currents shortly before a swarm of super tornadoes hit Los Angeles, causing massive destruction and loss of life. I about fell out of my chair when Hall tries to get time on a super computer to verify his climate model (based on similar weather patterns which happened thousands of years ago) and his boss says, “You've got 48 hours!” This is exactly the kind of cliché you expect in a cornball film like this. This same line has been uttered by countless short-tempered bosses in movies for years. Hall and his cohorts Jason Evans (Dash Mihok) and Frank Harris (Jay O. Sanders) all work feverishly to come up with a climate model to explain the weird weather. Sanders, who looks a bit like Will Farrell, injects a nice sense of wry, ironic humor into his character and situation, which is exactly what is needed in this kind of film.
Meanwhile, in New York, Hall's son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal of “Moonlight Mile”) and his teammates are in a scholastic competition, including his girlfriend, Laura Chapman (Emmy Rossum of “Mystic River”). Hall's divorced wife, Lucy, (Sela Ward of “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights”) is working in a hospital, taking care of a young boy with a severe illness, probably cancer. There is also a homeless man with a dog who plays a significant role in the story. If you are wondering if the boy and dog survive, you obviously haven't seen enough disaster movies. Kids and dogs in jeopardy are just more clichés thrown into a script already packed with them. In addition to super tornadoes, you've got giant, cold hurricanes that form over land and suck down super-cold air from the upper atmosphere. Other weather threats include giant killer hail, lots of rain and lots of snow.
While the politicians continue to deny the impending threat, Hall and his cohorts quickly whip up a computer model that explains everything, and accurately predicts, down to the hour, what the weather future holds. Hey, if they can do this, how come weather forecasters can't do a better job with ordinary weather predictions? You may read reviews which indicate the science behind this movie are solid. The science here is no more solid than the science behind “Independence Day,” another movie, like this one, written and directed by Roland Emmerich. Global climate models are notoriously inaccurate because there are simply too many variables to deal with. For one thing, the models have a lot of trouble predicting how much of the earth is going to be covered by clouds under certain scenarios. Cloud cover is important because increased cloud cover can affect global warming, or global cooling, for that matter. The idea that a small group of climatologists could quickly cobble together a climate model, based on ancient ice core samples, that could accurately predict weather a few days in advance both locally and globally, is absurd. While you can certainly find scientists who will support certain elements of this story (except, maybe, the part about an ice age that happens in two weeks), you can find others who will call it baloney. It seems like politically-correct science fiction to me.
The story has other problems. It is very formulaic. If you've seen any modern disaster movie, including the made-for-tv pics like that recent one about the big earthquake, you know what's going to happen here. Despite all that, this is an entertaining film if you don't take the story or the questionable science seriously. There are some funny scenes, some unintentionally so. I personally liked the scene were the TV news guy gets wiped out by a large piece of flying debris, sort of like a bug being hit by a fly swatter. Mostly, however, the film takes itself, and its environmental message, way too seriously. The spectacle is great. The sets, most of which are computer-generated, are amazing. There are some great shots of tidal waves, and ice formed on the Statue of Liberty. The special effects are amazing, among the best I've ever seen. Kudos to production designer Barry Chusid, visual effects supervisor Karen Goulekas and Academy Award®-winning special effects supervisor Neil Corbould and their crews. This is a spectacular-looking film.
While this movie provides the kind of dumb fun one expects from a summer movie, it would have been more fun if it wasn't quite so serious about its sky-is-falling message. I about gagged when I saw the scene where Hall picks up his son for a ride to the airport driving a hybrid gas-electric car. The movie is also overstuffed with product placement shots of The Weather Channel and Fox News. Despite all that, I am going to marginally recommend this film for its great spectacle and because the story develops characters and drama that are interesting enough to follow. One of the actors who caught my eye, in addition to Sanders, is Emmy Rossum, who has a very captivating screen presence. Dash Mihok is also effective as one of Hall's comic sidekicks in the film. The great Ian Holm is largely wasted in this film, but he makes the most of his few short scenes. This film rates a C+.
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