Saturday 13 August 2022

Movie Review: The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

A disaster epic, The Day After Tomorrow shortchanges character depth but compensates with genuinely spectacular special effects.

Paleoclimatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) and his team uncover evidence in Antarctica supporting the theory that climate change could trigger an ice age by disrupting North Atlantic currents. At a subsequent conference, his warnings are unheeded by Vice President Becker (Kenneth Walsh), but Scottish oceanographer Terry Rapson (Ian Holm) is intrigued and starts to share data with Hall. Soon thereafter ocean temperatures start plummeting, and extreme weather events strike without warning, including a hailstorm in Tokyo and multiple tornadoes in Los Angeles. 

Three massive storms then form over the northern hemisphere. Hall's son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his college friends including classmate Laura (Emmy Rossum) are in New York when the city is submerged by a massive tsunami. They take refuge in the public library and have to keep warm as temperatures plummet to extreme freezing levels. Jack has to provide advice to the President by developing new climate models, while also planning a rescue for Sam.

A throwback to the large-scale disaster movies of the 1970s, The Day After Tomorrow deploys the latest CGI technology with impressive results. Director and co-writer Roland Emmerich crafts an often stunning vision of nature flipping upon itself and establishing a new normal in short order, the northern hemisphere plunging into a new ice age within days. The science is dubious and the speed of transition questionable, but the magnificence of the screen spectacle is not in doubt.

Emmerich and the army of computer wizards enjoy destroying both Los Angeles and New York in separate catastrophes. Numerous mammoth tornadoes leave Los Angeles in ruins, before the film's coup de grĂ¢ce: a humongous tsunami crashes into Manhattan, the visuals creating a terrifying wall of water forcefully invading the great metropolis. The hailstorm in Tokyo, a triple helicopter crash, and the quick-freeze visuals add a never-a-moment-to-rest gloss.

Amidst the high quality artistry, the humans are understandably short-changed, and the plot points are often groan-inducing. A sick kid in the care of Hall's wife (Sela Ward) is the most nauseating attempt at smarmy manipulation, but another unnecessary interlude involves an inconvenient infection necessitating a medication search interrupted by wolves-on-the-loose. The father-son tension between Jack and Sam is haphazard, and Jack's entire icewalking trek from Washington DC to New York City is just loony. Other than taking potshots at inept politicians, the government response subplot is elemental, leading to a tepid denouement.

The performances are generally as plastic as the characters, although Jake Gyllenhaal does make an impact as a young man starting to find his voice. Regardless, The Day After Tomorrow does not need good acting nor perceptive character motivations to impress: this is a joyride vision of global disaster, masterfully rendered.

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