The Day After Tomorrow


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Day After Tomorrow
"If it is accepted as a science fantasy adventure rather than a serious piece of speculative fiction, this film stands up surprisingly well."

Over the course of eight days, the effects of global warming come together to create a storm which plunges the planet Earth into a new Ice Age. Its politics may be well-intentioned, its science is abominable, its grasp of political realities all the more so, but if it is accepted as a science fantasy adventure rather than a serious piece of speculative fiction, this film stands up surprisingly well. It is far more than the string of effects-heavy set pieces which anyone might have expected. It's well cast, well edited and intelligently storyboarded; it's not nearly as slow as the average disaster movie; and there's a vein of humour running throughout which makes it easier to forgive its various inconsistencies.

The film opens with the camera panning across an Antarctic landscape rendered in painfully bad CGI, set against a painted sky which recalls the end of The Terminator. We are introduced to three allegedly seasoned scientists who seem to have no idea how to make practical use of their equipment, let alone how to respond to dangerous situations; yet we know that at least one of them is going to make it, because he's played by Dennis Quaid. What the producers seem to have looked for in Quaid is a standard gruff masculine hero, forging bravely (and exploitatively) onward against all the odds, but what they've got is a little more complicated. Now that he's finally getting the chance to play men his own age, Quaid is proving to be a capable character actor, and, though the script permits him little room to manouver, he nevertheless manages to bring some depth to his role, especially in his scenes opposite Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays his son, the film's secondary hero Sam. Unfortunately, the usually reliable Gyllenhaal fails to make a similar effort, and largely sleepwalks through the story, though he certainly handles it better than most US actors of his generation would have done. These two are supported by a solid, if unspectacular, supporting cast. It's interesting that, in a disaster movie which might more usually have focused on the physical, our teenaged heroes are a bunch of geeks for whom knowledge proves at least as important as muscular ability, even if the heroine still manages to do something really stupid apparently just as a plot device. One or two characters are developed and then dropped; similarly, an empty Russian ship drifts into flooded New York with no explanation provided as to what happened to its crew; and the impression is given that several further bits of story have been crudely excised; but by and large the film gets away with this. It is refreshing in that it does not linger overmuch on sentimental connections, nor on reminding us of what we already know.

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Whilst some of the disaster scenes in this film are as poor as those opening credits, others work very well, and there are lots of them, well paced and all consistent with the film's internal logic. The tornadoes in Los Angeles are lots of fun, and aerial views enliven the tidal wave destruction of New York. Particularly entertaining are the snippets of Fox News broadcasts; clearly the channel got a good promotional deal with the filmmakers, yet they're not afraid to parody and ridicule its reporters with gleeful slapstick and black humour. This satisfying violence inclines the viewer to be more patient with periods of exposition, which are mercifully few, and which contain some similar jokes at the expense of US politicians, though here the subtler ones are the best.

One or two of the action sequences in The Day After Tomorrow are silly beyond the possibility of redemption. The scene with helicopters freezing over Scotland, made all the more ludicrous by its use of plummy fake English accents, breaks so many fundamental natural laws that it's hard for anyone to watch it without laughing. The later scene with the wolves is completely pointless, unless we accept it on a purely metaphorical level, with the canines symbolising the terrors of a past age and mankind's eternal struggle against the forces of nature, but this just makes it funnier, and it's hard to be the least bit scared. Such scenes rudely interrupt attempts at building tension and developing characters, reminding us not to take anything seriously. They play rather oddly against character deaths and meditations on the fate of the human race. This philosophising is itself awkward as no apparent thought is given to the long term consequences of large-scale migration and population pressure. The focus is on getting our heroes safely south, where, we are told, those angelic third world types have offered everyone support. Aye, for a few weeks maybe, until supplies run short and they realise these strangers might take their jobs. Then people will be wishing they'd held out in the north and lived an easy life with all that frozen food.

The Day After Tomorrow is by no means a great movie, but, as a representative of its genre, it's not at all bad, and it can provide a passable evening's entertainment.

Reviewed on: 11 Jul 2007
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Dennis Quaid is a climatologist, trying to save his son, as the country is taken over by a freak ice age.
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David Stanners **1/2

Director: Roland Emmerich

Writer: Roland Emmerich

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum, Dash Mihok, Jay O. Sanders, Sela Ward, Austin Nichols, Arjay Smith, Tamlyn Tomita, Sasha Roiz, Ian Holm

Year: 2004

Runtime: 124 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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