Fox // 2004 // 123 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Mitchell Hattaway (Retired) // November 1st, 2004
Whoever said, "Tomorrow is another day"...didn't check the weather.
Ah, yes, it's The Day After Tomorrow, another big budget effects flick from director Roland Emmerich, the man who gave us Independence Day and Godzilla. So, what does he have in store for the world this time?
As a result of global warming, the polar ice caps are melting; the runoff rushes into the North Atlantic Current, bringing about a catastrophic climate shift. Ocean temperatures drop rapidly. A hurricane causes massive destruction in Australia. A blizzard hits New Delhi. Ice storms cripple Tokyo. Tornadoes touch down in Los Angeles. Tidal waves threaten New York. Climatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid, The Rookie) warns world leaders of the coming of a second Ice Age, but he is summarily ignored. By the time Hall's predictions come true, it could be too late to save the majority of the world's population. For Hall, though, the situation is even graver. His teenage son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhall, Donnie Darko), is trapped in New York, ground zero for one of three superstorms spreading across the northern hemisphere. Jack vows to cross the frozen wasteland of New England and rescue his son.
Okay, here's what's good about The Day After Tomorrow:
* The visual effects are outstanding. The opening shot is of an Antarctic ice shelf. The entire shot, from the water to the glaciers, was created digitally, and it looks incredible. I never would have guessed it wasn't filmed on location. The Capitol Records Building is eaten by a tornado. Sure, it got wobbled around some in Earthquake, but what happens here is way cooler. A freighter drifts down the flooded streets of Manhattan and comes to rest outside the New York Public Library. The Chrysler Building freezes, from the top of its spire down to the ground floor, which is possibly even cooler than watching it break in half in Armageddon. An America flag freezes solid just as Quaid realizes the storm is about to land right on top of him. The Statue of Liberty rises from the frozen Upper Bay; it is surrounded by grounded ships, one of which was in the process of sinking when the freeze hit. Quaid and his companion stand on the outskirts of Manhattan, the city's frozen skyline stretching out as far as the eye can see. The last shot, a view of Earth from the International Space Station, with much of North America covered in ice, is pretty sweet, too.
* Dennis Quaid, who once again rises above a weak script and dialogue.
* Ian Holm (Naked Lunch), who's given very little to do here but still brings the only shred of real emotion to the film.
* Sela Ward (The Fugitive), who appears as Quaid's estranged wife. She's saddled with the film's goofiest subplot, but she sorta suckered me in. Oh, yeah, she's still gorgeous.
* Perry King as the president. We got any Riptide people in the house tonight?
* The transfer is perfect; there's not a single flaw in the picture. Saturation is great, blacks are incredibly deep, and there's no edge enhancement or artifacting. The audio is just as good. The Dolby Digital track is incredibly immersive, and the DTS track is even better. The surrounds are almost always active, conveying both subtle ambience and smashing directional effects, and there's a massive amount of deep, deep bass. We're talking reference quality here, possibly the best demo disc to come along since Master and Commander. Fox continues to deliver the goods.
Okay, so here's the bad:
* The story pretty much blows. Quaid goes around warning everyone about the dangers of global warming, and of course he's ignored until it's too late. There's a stupid romantic subplot involving Sam and Laura (Emmy Rossum, Mystic River), his high school crush. There's a homeless guy (Glenn Plummer, Showgirls), who serves no purpose other than to tell everyone else how to keep warm. Ward's character is a doctor, and she nobly chooses to remain in a deserted hospital to care for a young cancer patient. Gyllenhall risks death by boarding the freighter landlocked outside the library in order to look for antibiotics for Rossum. Several wolves, having escaped from a zoo, board the ship at the exact same moment and, in a sequence recalling both Jurassic Park and Wolfen, attack Gyllenhall and his companions. Wolves! It's also a good thing that ship decided to stop right outside the library; imagine what would have happened had it instead washed up outside the Virgin Megastore. (Emmerich is a serviceable director, but he's no great shakes as a writer. He's also starting to repeat himself, as an awful lot of this film is reminiscent of Independence Day.)
* There's a scene in which Laura and another of the survivors holed up in the library are throwing books on a fire. They start arguing over the merits of Nietzsche, and later get into it over religion and the beginnings of the Age of Reason. Yeah, okay. (There's an overabundance of bad dialogue in the film, but for some reason this scene sticks out in my mind.)
* Man, talk about lapses in logic. At the beginning of the film, Quaid says the next Ice Age is a thousand years down the road, but it actually begins fifteen minutes later. Even the people at the Weather Channel miss the tornadoes in Los Angeles until they've already touched down. The freakin' Chrysler Building freezes, but nothing happens to Gyllenhall while he's running around New York City, not even a mild case of frostbite. It also appears these massive storms have absolutely no effect on the weather south of the United States; I guess the border patrol wouldn't let them through.
* Quaid walks from Philadelphia to New York in order to find his son, and two of his coworkers even volunteer to make the journey with him. This is after Quaid has already advised the president to evacuate the lower half of the country, stating there's no hope for anyone trapped in the north. (By the way, this journey seems to take them about as much time as it takes most people to brush their teeth.)
* The environmental and political messages are a little hard to swallow. Even if you happen to agree with the ideas behind them, you can't help but notice the heavy-handed manner in which they're presented.
* Ian Holm and his team simply drop out of the film, and the Sela Ward subplot is never wrapped up. C'mon, you use the old sick little kid bit and don't even bother to take it all the way?
* The extras aren't much. The inclusion of two deleted scenes, which are in fact alternate scenes, serves no purpose. Both commentaries are boring. Director Emmerich and producer Mark Gordon don't seem to be too happy with the finished film, and the participants in the technical commentary spend too much time describing what's onscreen. The only truly interesting extra is a deconstruction of the sound design for a scene involving the crash of three Royal Air Force helicopters. You also get some upfront ads and the trailer for the remake of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Whoopee. (From what I understand, a much more extensive extras package is included in the Region 2 release. I think it's safe to say we'll see a double-dip of this title down the road.)
This film has everything money can buy, as well as everything it can't. Going in I wasn't expecting a great film, but I was hoping it would be a great DVD (as is the case with Roland Emmerich's previous film, The Patriot). Unfortunately, The Day After Tomorrow doesn't quite cut it. Visually and sonically, it's something to behold, but in this case that's just not enough. You might want to rent it, but it's definitely not worth purchasing.
Guilty artistically, not guilty technically. The court would like to ask Mr. Emmerich to refrain from any further attempts at screenwriting. Court is adjourned.
Review content copyright © 2004 Mitchell Hattaway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Golden Gavel 2004 Nominee
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 123 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Commentary by Director Roland Emmerich and Producer Mark Gordon
* Commentary by Co-Writer Jeffrey Nachmanoff, Director of Photography Ueli Steiger, Editor David Brenner and production Designer Barry Chusid
* "Audio Anatomy" Interactive Sound Demo
* Deleted Scenes
* DVD-ROM Content
* Official Site