I was originally planning on posting this review in anticipation of San Andreas (what with both being silly disaster films), but as I reviewed San Andreas first, I’m releasing it now instead. Because yes, I really do care that little.
Before 2012, there was The Day After Tomorrow, and before that, there was hope for good disaster movies. In this particular movie, Roland Emmerich uses his, at best, limited understanding of how climate or even temperatures work in order to create a scenario where the world almost ends due to what seems to be an impending ice age. All scientific questionability aside, it still has all the hallmarks of Emmerich’s clichéd and stunningly stupid disaster adventures. We can start by looking at all the characters and subplots, very few of which warrant existing.
We meet Dennis Quaid, playing a man of science who predicts that the Earth is inching closer to a climactic disaster that’s going to end with a second ice age. What he could not predict, however, was that this sudden drop in temperature would occur earlier than he believed. While this is going on, the scientist’s son, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is on some sort of academic decathlon trip to New York with his kinda-sorta girlfriend (Emmy Rossum), his nerdy Tay Zonday-looking best friend (Arjay Smith), a generic douchebag rival (Austin Nichols), and a bunch of other high school kids who get themselves stuck in a local library when the disaster comes and New York is struck by first a tidal wave and then the temperature shift itself. While there, they burn books to keep warm, and no, not one person figures out that any of the wooden furniture is at least equally flammable.
Dennis Quaid, when all the hurricanes and snow storms have made all transportation and communication nearly impossible, takes it upon himself to go to New York and save his son, bringing along some colleagues on the mission, just so we can have someone to kill off later. One of them (Dash Mihok) has a crush on a Japanese NASA meteorologist (Tamlyn Tomita) by the way, so there’s that. Meanwhile, Quaid’s wife who’s a nurse (Sela Ward), is staying at a hospital to watch over a kid with cancer, even when all the other workers are getting evacuated. I’m only mentioning this subplot because the film thinks we should care.
Occasionally, we also cut to Ian Holm and his team of scientists in Scotland, one of which is portrayed by that guy from the second Cube sequel and whose defining character trait is that he cheers for Manchester United. Bravo, Roland.
And I haven’t yet mentioned even half the characters this movie throws at us. There’s also this homeless guy with a dog played by Glenn Plummer of “everybody got AIDS and shit” fame, Vice President totally-not-Dick-Chaney played by Kenneth Welsh, a librarian duo who try to stop Gyllenhaal and friends from burning more books, some business dude in China whom we focus on for literally just one scene, a Mexican cleaner who doesn’t notice a damn tornado tearing his building apart because he’s wearing headphones, a weather news team that gets killed off as soon as they’re introduced, a bunch of astronauts aboard the International Space Station, and the guys who watch over the wolves. Oh, and also the wolves. There are wolves in this movie. Wolves that chase around our heroes unprovoked because that’s apparently how wolves work. I guess the impending apocalypse wasn’t enough to make the film exciting.
Though on the other hand, I suppose there’s not much to be excited about when the disaster taking place in this movie is too out-there in its un-realism to seem like a genuine threat to the protagonists. You can’t make me feel worried for our main characters when I know that coldness doesn’t chase someone down a hallway like it’s some physical yet invisible entity that can be stopped by a wooden door. I don’t know how else to describe a scene in which Gyllenhaal is trying to outrun the cold, which is represented by a few sections of the hallway behind him getting frozen in ice one-by-one.
This is after they’ve been aboard a cargo freighter to find medicine for Emmy Rossum, who gets a gash in her leg at one point in the film. How the water is simultaneously shallow enough for the library they’re in to only be flooded on the bottom floor but also deep enough to allow a cargo freighter to make its way down the streets of Manhattan (somehow) is anyone’s guess.
But once again, let’s set the scientific and logical aspects aside. We all know that Emmerich can find ways to inspire excitement despite things in the story not making sense, but I’d argue that there’s still too much wrong with the rest of the film in order for me to excuse the nonsense science it’s based around. Like 2012, this movie has too many characters we don’t care about, and when they die, it feels less like we’re supposed to feel emotional and instead like the film is just killing characters off because it’s mandatory, or maybe fun (and yet of course the dog survives).
This isn’t exactly Game of Thrones, where the writing and the length allow for the characters to be fleshed out, enough so for their eventual demise to leave an actual impact. Instead this is, well, a Roland Emmerich flick. And it would definitely be a better one if the White Walkers were behind the climate change and all the pointless wolves were under Bran Stark’s control.
There are some moments in which the film achieves intensity. There are also some aesthetically pleasing shots of cities turned into winter landscape and a handful of good special effects. I just wouldn’t say The Day After Tomorrow delivers the right quantity of good stuff to be a particularly good film overall, and remember, not all of it is due to science and logic even a person who doesn’t “believe” in global warming would laugh at. And yes, people that intelligent do still exist.
On a final note, one scene in this movie depicts the International Space Station seen from outside and it appears to be spinning out of control. I don’t know if this is yet another goof or if it’s a prelude to Gravity.