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The International Writers Magazine
: Film Review

The Day After Tomorrow
Director Roland Emmerich
Starring Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ian Holm, Perry King...

Review by Sam North

'You won’t see a better disaster movie this year'

On one level this is a pretty exciting eco-disaster movie with spectacular special effects.
Dennis Quaid plays the American scientist who believes climate change is a hundred years away. Ian Holm plays the British weather scientist who believes the world is in for an immediate catastrophe. The ocean temperature in the gulf stream is falling drastically. The Gulf stream is what keeps us warm in the west. The American Vice-President, a Cheney figure thinks all science is hooey and SUV’s are here to stay. Kyoto procol go hang.
Conveniently the weather begins to get colder, a lot colder, with helicopters literally freezing in the sky and hailstones as big as cats falling out of it. Turns out Ian Holm is right, the ocean is cooling real fast and he persuades Dennis Quaid to tell the VP that they have to evacuate everyone south of New York to Mexico or face mass extinction. You just know the VP and the President isn’t going to buy it and sure enough the mother nature has the last laugh.

The reason we go to disaster movies isn’t for the plot or the acting, it’s to see New York and LA get it and get it they do, big time.

First LA gets battered by twisters and that is pretty damn state of the art special effects you’re getting. OK it is a bit short on character development at this point, but the shots of newsmen being swept away and whole buildings being ripped apart makes you real glad you don't sell insurance out there. Thrilling stuff for openers - I'd say.

When the big wave takes New York though, you can feel that wave as it just moves in and over the whole of Manhattan. It's done in slow motion and for once it is quite subtle and all the better for it. Manhattan is overwhelmed in the most beautifully horrific way. Emmerich really knows how to trash New York.

By chance Deep Impact was on TV the other night and here again New York was swamped, but this was cheap and cheesy by comparison. The Day After Tomorrow has spent big on the effects and it shows. They are real and compelling.

A little less was spent on the script, but it was better than average, it is never mawkish. Dennis Quaid gives a career rescuing performance and Jake Gyllenhall, as his son, downplays his Donnie Darco personna (a tad.) I think he will always be Donnie Darco for me.

There is a bit of a story, Jake is in New York with his school for a interschool knowledge quiz when the big wave hits. Quaid, being the father he is and after failing to convince anyone in time to prepare for the big freeze that will follow the wave, decides to go get his son. Come what may. You know this isn’t wise as there are these giant hurricanes over the whole of the USA and they are sucking down freezing air from the upper atmosphere that can freeze marble in seconds. (That’s cold, OK.)
‘Son, I’ll come for you’ being the line. Naturally his loyal team want to help and they set off to drive, then after crashing in a blizzard, walk in sub-zero temperatures to New York - sledding over buried shopping malls and whole buildings.

Jake meanwhile is in the New York Public library burning the books to keep warm, along with some other chums who have survived the flooding and first freezing. Touchingly he knows his father will come. Must be great to have a father like that. Just to keep you on your toes some wolves escape from the zoo as well...
There’s another sub-plot with the wife and a bald kid and the British weather men freezing to death whilst having a last drop of 12 year old whisky, but that’s it for plots.
The rest is bad weather and it’s worth watching for that alone. It’s so realistic you really want to be there and walk those frozen canyons in Manhattan yourself.

As America runs from the cold, (noting on the way that all of Canada is instantly lost) they head to Mexico. At first Mexico says no. Then they open the border (once their debts are forgiven.)

I rather think some big punches were pulled here. By all means crush North America under ice, but to not show Americans driving into Mexico guns blazing to take it over is just not facing reality. We know they’d just crush all opposition and the only refugee camp there would be full of Mexicans inside of a week. If we had seen that story unfolding, it would have made all the rest of the film that much more persuasive and real.

The climate is changing. I severely doubt it would change in 48 hours, but just like the movie Troy where a ten year siege became just three weeks, who knows, huh. Who knows, you’d trust a scientist or a politician to tell you if we had just 48 hours to go?

Go for the thrill of it all. You won’t see a better disaster movie this year and I rather like the lack of heroes. No one saves the world, everyone is mostly out for themselves, even Dennis’ foolish quest in going back for his son, and that’s the way it should be.
© SN June 1st 2004

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