Film (2004). Twentieth Century Fox/Centropolis Entertainment/Lions Gate/Mark Gordon Company. Directed by Roland Emmerich. Written by Emmerich, Jeffrey Nachmanoff. Cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Ian Holm, Dash Mihok, Dennis Quaid, Emmy Rossum, Sela Ward and Kenneth Welsh. 124 minutes. Colour.
The third of Roland Emmerich's Disaster movies after Independence Day (1996) and Godzilla (1998), The Day After Tomorrow may have a different nemesis, in this case the weather, but it has a nearly identical structure: the story is told from multiple perspectives, it is nominally international but focuses on the United States, and it mixes personal issues with the larger threat of the disaster itself.
The plot is reminiscent of Kim Stanley Robinson's Forty Signs of Rain (2004), released the same year. Global warming (see Climate Change) triggers a thawing of the icecaps, which in turn desalinates the oceans and halts the Gulf Stream. As a result, a massive storm sweeps across the Northern Hemisphere, first devastating Los Angeles (see California) and then New York, and triggering a new Ice Age. A heroic climatologist (Quaid) treks across a frozen North America to rescue his son (Gyllenhaal) and in the end the refugees from Europe, Asia and the United States are welcomed by the still inhabitable Third World countries.
The film's mawkish sentiment makes it hard to take seriously: one of the characters is a young cancer sufferer who has no purpose in the plot except to look forlorn, and there are heavy-handed parallels between America's refusal to act on climate change and Quaid's inability to connect with his son until the disaster shakes him out of his stupor.
The syrupy script is ultimately sunk by its scientific illiteracy. The Day After Tomorrow is a populist treatment of global warming, and its preachy message is not well served by plot contrivances such as a cold snap that chases people through corridors or a collapse of the world's climate in a matter of days. While this sort of popcorn science is to be expected from Hollywood disaster films, it is less forgivable in a film that presents itself as a serious warning. Global warming is a much more real threat than Alien invasion or giant lizards, but Emmerich portrays it in the same flippant style as he did those dangers, if with fewer one-liners.
The film allegedly cost $125 million, and it put this budget to good use. Many of the weather effects are breathtaking, and the sweeping aerial shots of the New York skyline emerging from a desolate field of snow are unassumingly beautiful, as is the vision of the Statue of Liberty almost buried in snow. [JN]
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