Last of the Monster Kids

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Monday, May 28, 2018

DISASTER MOVIES MONTH: The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

After two years of dueling volcano and asteroid stories, the nineties revival of interest in disaster movies burned out. 1999 would not see two rival movies about, I don't know, sinkholes. However, one man's undying interest in the genre has made sure we get a new mass catastrophe-themed movie every couple of years. Roland Emmerich's “Independence Day” was one of the films that started up the nineties disaster resurgence. Emmerich would return with 2004's “The Day After Tomorrow.” I recall the movie being widely dismissed as a cheesy throwback at the time. However, “The Day After Tomorrow” would still become a massive money-maker, proving that the public had not totally turned their back on this style of blockbuster.

In Antarctica, climatologist Jack Hall is drilling for ice core sample in the Larsen Ice Shelf. He nearly looses his research and his life when the shelf breaks apart. Hall begins to believe that global warming will trigger a massive storm and severe weather conditions, with debilitating effects on society. The government laughs him off. Hall's son, Sam, is traveling with some friends (including the girl he likes) to New York City. That's when the prophesied storm begins. Massive tornadoes destroy Los Angeles. An enormous flood brings Manhattan to its knees. Afterwards, a massive blizzard blows through. Hall begins marching towards NYC, in hopes that his son has survived the apocalyptic conditions.

Unlike Michael Bay, who has only atrophied into a more deprived filmmaker over the years, I genuinely believe Roland Emmerich is getting better. “Independence Day” paired grotesque white trash humor with cruel destruction. Emmerich's “Godzilla” was a deeply dumb remake with no respect for the original. “The Day After Tomorrow” is, at the very least, overwhelmingly earnest. For example, the movie features conversations about philosophy and the value of books in-between scenes of mayhem. The film was loosely based on Art Bell and Whitney Strieber's conspiracy theory/pseudo-non-fiction book “The Coming Global Superstorm.” I'm also certain that Emmerich got the green-light due to the success of “An Inconvenient Truth.” The film is deeply, deeply silly but seems motivated by a sincere desire to draw attention to the threat of climate change.

So the filmmaker's heart is ultimately in a good place. However, I suspect Roland Emmerich was also drawn to the material because it allowed him to make practically every type of disaster movie all at once. “The Day After Tomorrow” is the “Destroy All Monsters” of disaster movies. Emmerich gets to create the biggest tornado sequence of all time, as L.A. is literally blown off the map. New York is sunk beneath the waves by a huge flood. People are frozen to death in an instant by an extremely powerful flash-frost. The Hollywood sign is sucked up into a cyclone and the Statue of Liberty is both flooded and frozen. Emmerich engineers some striking visual in the middle of all this chaos. A janitor completely misses the huge tornado just to step outside a door and see the rest of the building torn away. A wall of water sweeping through a busy New York street generates some decent tension. There's some creativity and novelty to the mayhem.

Once the superstorm subsides a bit, New York being buried in skyscraper levels of snow, “The Day After Tomorrow” shifts focus slightly. It becomes a survival thriller. Sam, his friends, and the handful of people who chose to stay in the library try to survive the harsh conditions. The film slows down a lot at this point, turning its attention to burning books for warmth or stealing food from a vending machine. However, there are still a couple of decent sequences during this half. Sam uses a landline to contact his dad, located in a tunnel quickly filling with water. After Dr. Hall makes it to the library, a partner of his falls through the glass ceiling of the building, a solidly suspenseful moment. After Sam's crush gets sick, he sneaks aboard a wayward boat to located medicine. At that point, the heroes are pursued by CGI wolves. It's a pretty silly sequence but Emmerich executes it with enough tension to justify its inclusion.

“The Day After Tomorrow” does not quite have the level of star-studded cast I've come to expect from disaster movies. Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal are pretty big stars but Ian Holm and Emmy Rossem were better known as character actors by this point. Quaid gets to play a squeaky-clean good guy, who heroically marches across a barren city to rescue his kid. It's a fairly bland part but Quaid works well with it. Gyllenhaal has more personality as the son, who does well while nearly panicking. Holm's subplot is pretty irrelevant, though Holm still easily makes his part charming. Rossem has decent chemistry with Gyllenhaal, even though her part is fairly thinly written.

The science behind “The Day After Tomorrow” is, of course, completely ridiculous. Even if the extreme weather patterns shown in the film were possible, they wouldn't happen so immediately. Amusingly, the super storm is over in just a few days. It's sort of fun to see a movie based on a book by conspiracy theorists all about what a huge threat global warming is. The conspiracy theorists these day are more likely to believe climate change isn't even real. The film's politics are pretty left in general, as a Dick Cheney stand-in is a bad guy and the day is saved by opening the borders. “The Day After Tomorrow” is an easily forgotten snack but one I found entertaining. [7/10]

[] Awards Bait Ballad
[X] Corrupt or Incompetent Authority Figures
[X] Destruction of Famous Landmarks
[X] Grim Predictions
[X] Group In-Fighting
[X] Heroic Sacrifices
[X] Massive Collateral Damage or Explosions
[X] Pets or Kids are Imperiled but Survive
[X] Romantic Couple Resolves Problems
[] Star-Studded Cast

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