The Day After Tomorrow

Exactly like the trailer, only longer.

Released in 2004, certified UK-12A. Reviewed on 29 May 2004 by Scott Morris
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Roland Emmerich directs event films, normally an event where the world gets trashed in some form or another. While films like Independence Day were no doubt hugely successful and enjoyable at the time, it's difficult to watch them these days without feeling that the now dated CG set pieces were concentrated on more than the actual story. With his latest $120 million renderfarm effort Emmerich harnesses the power of psuedoscience to freeze the Northern hemisphere in a tale that's not so much a harrowing tale of the consequences of global warming as it is a harrowing tale of the consequences of boring an audience with a 3D rendered show reel with only the barest scraping of a plot soldered on.

It's another capsule reviewers dream. Paleoclimatogist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) ties his research on prehistoric sudden climate change with data collated by Prof. Rapson (Ian Holm), predicting the mother of all storms is about to cause some serious ruckuses (ruckii, perhaps?). No-one believes him until hailstones the size of basketballs batter downtown Tokyo, dozens of twisters demolish L.A. and alien spaceships blow up the Whitehouse. Well, perhaps not the last one, but the pre-release hype that The Day After Tomorrow was Independence Day with weather turns out to have been more of a slur on the earlier films character than t'other way around. At least ID had some characters to latch on to, a plan to stop this alien inconvenience and some mildly reasonable excuse for the inevitable happy ending.

The Day After Tomorrow doesn't bother with any of this. The only semblance of an actual narrative involving the characters that Emmerich has so sparsely defined comes in the final third of the movie, with Jack trekking arduously north from a chilly Philly to a Noo Yawk City now buried under snow and ice to rescue his stranded son Sam (Jake Gyllenhall), while the southern states of the U.S. run away to Mexico where there's a little less danger of being turned into a corpsicle. There are other characters kicking around, but their utility is limited strictly to being linking devices for the CG weather effects, or to cynically tug at heartstrings in the case of a cancer stricken kid being cared for by Jack's wife Lucy (Sela Ward).

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Emmerich banks on filmgoers being dazzled by the novelty of CG versions of their favourite cities being ruined by extreme weather rather than anything as mundane as a plot, and were this film released even a couple of years earlier he'd probably have been right to do so. Sadly, audiences have been rather spoiled of late with movies that are not only jaw dropping spectaculars but damn fine stories to boot, and I'm sure everyone's thinking of The Lord of the Rings trilogy already without my prompting. It's not just jaded, cynical, grumpy critics like my own self that are finding this eye candy at the expense of all else approach inadequate. One has only to look at the dollar drop off The Matrix Revolutions experienced after everyone and their dog saw just how reliant Reloaded was on soulless graphics and flimsy, largely redundant storylines. Still successful of course, but that's more due to people wishing a conclusion having invested so much time in the series than anything else, I'd wager.

So, why should John Q. Moviegoer invest five quid odd of their cash and two-ish hours of their time in The Day After Tomorrow? It's a difficult question for any reviewer to answer, because there's precious little to recommend in the film. I've seen deeper, more well defined characters in Sonic the Hedgehog videogames and if you want to take it as an attempt to shock the world into doing something about greenhouse gas emissions then it's far, far too sanitised to mean anything to anyone. In a film where the death toll would conceivably reach into the low billions, all bar perhaps four occur off screen. The actual human cost of the allegedly man made catastrophe is hardly mentioned as more than a passing comment, and the need for a happy ending undermines any buried message. Want to make the film truly affecting? Have Jack open up the library Sam and his mates are holed up in to find them encased in ice, all hope abandoned.

It won't surprise anyone to know that they're in perfect health, some of them having made surprisingly swift recoveries from septicaemia and maulings from poorly realised CG timberwolves. It wimps out of making something that might force anyone to think about the consequences of such unimaginable (and improbable) events, serving up the hope that of course you could survive were the world to become so weather-addled, don't worry about it, drive back home in your SUV safe in the knowledge that everything's just dandy. And we didn't even need Bruce Willis to nuke anything.

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More so than any film in recent times, The Day After Tomorrow does absolutely nothing more than was divulged over the course of the four minute trailer. It plays out more like a DVD extra rather than a movie in itself, the making of The Day After Tomorrow where any distracting acting nonsense is stripped out and replaced with a bearded geek droning on about particle effects and non-uniform rational B-splines.

I'm not going to deny that some of said set pieces look quite effective, just that you could probably interpolate them yourselves from what you've seen in the trailer that's been so ubiquitous over the last two months. It could be chopped down into a tremendous hour long show reel for the CG technicians. However, quite why I'm supposed to care about any of their soulless renders in anything more than a detached sense is something of a mystery. I can appreciate that it's state of the art weather effect shenanigans in a technical sense but as an actual story, which is sort of critical in a film, it's not so much weak as absent.

With this and the similarly humdrum reception given to other big budget graphics laden buster of blocks Troy, audiences seem to finally be demanding more from movies than something that looks pretty. We can't blame them for demanding something more from this movie, as despite the bluster it delivers something so shallow and detached from humanity that it's in danger of vanishing completely. Speaking of which, look for the incredible disappearing trailer / shack thing in the movies early zoom out over that ice shelves. When an effects based movie screws up one of the first effects shots, it doesn't exactly fill us full of hope. Appropriate, given how it played out.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks, tending to zero as time increases and the graphics shots look comparatively ropey. The problem with state-of-the-art is that it's a rapidly moving target, and perhaps now Emmerich will realise that.

Roland Emmerich
Cast list:
Dennis Quaid (Jack Hall)
Jake Gyllenhaal (Sam Hall)
Emmy Rossum (Laura Chapman)
Dash Mihok (Jason Evans)
Jay O. Sanders (Frank Harris)
Sela Ward (Dr. Lucy Hall)
Austin Nichols (J.D.)
Ian Holm (Terry Rapson)