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The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Director: Roland Emmerich

review by Christopher Geary

Global warming is melting the polar icecap, dumping so much freshwater into the oceans that the sea level is raised alarmingly. Temperatures plummet from tropical to arctic, devastating super-storms rage across northern continents, and the world's climate is well and truly screwed. A new Ice Age is forecast and mankind (or America, anyway) has only days to prepare for the worst...
   Jack (Dennis Quaid, struggling to express anxious misery and fierce determination in one take) is a palaeo-climatologist, who guesses something really bad is going to happen after British researchers (led by Ian Holm) provide raw data to be processed by clever Jack's absurdly useful catastrophe simulation program. The results are extremely unnerving (well, to our heroes if not the audience), and Jack attempts to issue an urgent warning. He's hindered by an unsympathetic, and practically stupid, Vice President (Kenneth Welsh), but helped by concerned fellow-scientist Janet (Tamlyn Tomita, remember her from the early days of Babylon 5?). By the time the message gets through to the President, it's too late and the cataclysm is already being televised. A forest of tornados strikes at the heart of Los Angeles, amusingly tearing down the famous Hollywood sign and then wrecking other landmarks across the city. While US military forces mobilise at the double, in a belated effort to evacuate southern states, a gigantic wall of water sweeps into central New York, submerging city streets and the lower storeys of buildings, before heavy snowfall blankets Manhattan.
the Atlantic visits New York
Worried about his student son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal, from Donnie Darko), who's stranded in the N.Y. Library, with potential girlfriend Laura (Emmy Rossum) and other survivors of the flood, Jack leaves wife Dr Lucy Hall (Sela Ward) to dote on her youngest patient, and treks north against the flow of frightened refugees escaping the approaching big freeze. Can Jack reach his son before the ice storm's lethal cold snap hits New York? Will Sam live to see his parents again? Does Laura like Sam as much as he obviously fancies her? Would you dare bet against this poor example of 'standard plot number one' having a happy ending?
   Since the mildly promising SF action dramas of Moon 44 (1990), Universal Soldier, and the bigger-budgeted Stargate (1994), blockbuster disaster movies have become German-born Roland Emmerich's stock in trade. However, as with Independence Day (1998) and Godzilla (1998), this latest work is lazily scripted, fatally dependent on clichés (when Sam and Laura kiss, there's even romantic firelight in the background), and has little more to offer SF fans than any of Hollywood's other genre spectaculars released since the millennium. It's not as imaginative or entertaining as The Core, and instead of the world-smashing threats from space of Armageddon and Deep Impact (both 1998), where humanity at least had some measure of advance notice, The Day After Tomorrow brings western civilisation down in the same way that Volcano (1997) blasted L.A. and Jan de Bont's Twister (1996) cut a swathe through the American heartland. It's not enough to say 'the end is nigh', now it's happening within 48 hours to suit the modern audience's limited attention span. This means that Emmerich's film is hardly any different to TV serials like Asteroid.
Manhattan is frozen
There's one almost surreal moment when a huge ship drifts into the middle of New York, grinding to a halt outside the library when its keel starts crushing overturned vehicles underwater. A fissure in the arctic ice-shelf, seen during the opening scenes, is mirrored by a later sequence when Jack and his sled crew unwittingly walk across the snow-covered top of a glass-domed shopping mall. It's to the filmmaker's credit that he freely admits this is a wholly bloodless movie, showing the massive destruction of property without any horrific death scenes (though it's clear that many tens of millions have doubtlessly perished off-screen), as this anticipates and pre-empts some critical flak. But in keeping its distance from genuinely scary moments or even a moving tragedy of one sort or another, the film reduces its emotional impact to simple abstraction. And even within the context of the film's story, there seems hardly any difference between Jack's computer simulations of gigantic hurricanes and the actual footage of freak storms, also computer generated (albeit in the ILM manner, rather than IBM style), so one is no more affecting than the other. The film's digital effects are too numerous for a consistent standard to be maintained (lens flare doesn't make it 'real' guys!), and one early sequence of three helicopters crashing in Scotland is not very convincing at all. Elsewhere in the film, wide shots (where landscape and 'action' elements are presumably all CGI) don't have the same plausibility as the smaller scale set pieces that frequently combine live-action, stunt work, physical effects and pixel magic. As with many other recent fantasy movies, the greater the scope of this disaster epic becomes, the less believable it is.
The Day After Tomorrow

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