The Day After Tomorrow
Where will you be?
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Starring: Dennis Quaid,
Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum, Dash Mihok, Sela Ward, Ian Holm, Austin
2004 Cosmique Movie Awards
A climatologist warning the U.S. government about an impending global warming disaster must rescue his son trapped in New York City when his predictions come true.
"The Day After Tomorrow" was savaged by many environmentalists and industrialists alike for being scientifically unrealistic, though some environmentalists took the film's premiere as an opportunity to draw press attention to the real threats coming from global warming.
Some friends even refused to see it on the grounds that the real dangers we face come from global warming, not an ice age. But the truth is that global warming can trigger an ice age, which the film carefully explains. Roland Emmerich was inspired to create the film based on the nonfiction book "The Coming Global Superstorm" by Art Bell and Whitley Streiber, and there's far more scientific realism in the film than many critics give it credit for.
For that reason, I personally don't consider this film to be part of the science fiction genre - the science here is exaggerated but not invented, and doesn't use technology beyond current capabilities. Still, for those who take the genre broadly to include all forms of speculative fiction in the "what if..." mold, this film could conceivably apply.
To be sure, there are many inaccuracies and scientific exaggerations, taken deliberately and consciously for dramatic effect. The most blatant of these, of course, is the timeframe - while extreme climactic changes can occur far faster than most people realize, they would not occur in the matter of weeks depicted in the film. Even Roland Emmerich concedes that point. In addition, the Statue of Liberty would have been pushed over by the tidal forces that swamped it, another point that Emmerich concedes but chose to ignore for dramatic purposes. And while it's true that pay phones (like most traditional plug-in home phones) do not need separate electrical lines to work (trust me on this - I grew up without electricity but we did have a telephone), water still would have shorted out the phone. (Not to mention a more glaring question: if the weather knocked out power lines, why wouldn't it have knocked out telephone lines as well? Don't tell me the library's pay phones used a satellite hookup.)
But ultimately, these are relatively minor points, even the timeframe exaggeration. "The Day After Tomorrow" can survive these inaccuracies, but ultimately must survive on its own as a drama and action/adventure. And it does so, at least to a degree. The most important reason for this is that once the film sets up the global catastrophe, it then goes personal. The protagonists are not trying to stop global warming, or rescue the entire world's population from its effects. Such an attempt would have stretched credibility well beyond the breaking point. Rather, the film portrays individuals trying to survive themselves and rescue their loved ones. Some succeed. Many do not. And it's nice to see a film in this genre that doesn't try to save all of the likeable people.
Jake Gyllenhaal makes his action/adventure debut in this film (unless you count "Donnie Darko" as an action/adventure). Like Tobey Maguire before his "Spider-Man" fame, Jake was previously best known for more nuanced dramatic roles in films like "Donny Darko" and "The Good Girl." He makes a convincing enough heroic figure, but this film probably won't be enough to catapult him into the genre full force, and that may be a good thing. His talents may be best served elsewhere with meatier fare.
One final note about the casting. Kenneth Welsh was controversially cast the Vice President because of his resemblance to Vice President Dick Cheney. And indeed, the characterizations of both the President and Vice President seem blatantly topical. In a year where political documentaries like "Fahrenheit 9/11" are so controversial and yet so popular, it's interesting to see how even action/adventure films can take their own deliberate jabs.
Ultimately, "The Day After Tomorrow" survives its scientific inaccuracies and rises to the challenge of presenting an engaging action film - not a stellar home-run, but an interesting and engaging film nonetheless.
My Rating: 6
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