Film review: The Day After Tomorrow

8 July 2004


LA destroyed by tornadoes... NY flooded and frozen... Sadly nobody took out Florida.

OK, so the science is crap. But is it an enjoyable film? Well, mostly.

Roland Emmerich separates from his long-time writing partner Dean Devlin to produce this fairly basic homage to the disaster films of the 1970s. It's been quite amusing to watch the political types bashing this film; the right-wingers say "this 'science' is complete nonsense and entirely implausible" (which it is), and the left-wingers say "this will stop anyone from taking climate change seriously for years to come" (which it probably will - look at how the asteroid-deflection projects died after Deep Impact and Armageddon). Based on interviews he's given, Emmerich clearly thinks he's Making a Point about the fragility of the environment and the arrogance of Americans... but he got his inspiration from a book by Whitley Streiber, so you can draw your own conclusions about plausibility even before you hear the theories. (Don't sue me, Whitley, I'm poor.)

Anyway, there are huge storms, then thoroughly implausible descending cold air masses that freeze people where they stand. It's a shame actors are so expensive that you can't have a traditional Box Movie any more; this situation is made for it. As it is, we get Dennis Quaid looking as if he wants to be Pierce Brosnan playing a palaeoclimatologist/Arctic explorer (he's come a long way since Dreamscape) and Jake Gyllenhaal as his slightly-troubled son with whom he Hasn't Spent Enough Time. (Hold onto that anvil; you'll need it later.) Gyllenhaal's had much better parts than this, and he probably produces the most plausible acting in the film.

Moppet factor two: there's an Adorable Child (in hospital with a shaved head, so presumably he's meant to have cancer or something), but he doesn't get very much time on camera; he's mostly a prop to show how the hero's wife Cares About People. Oh, and we've got the Evil Vice President (we know he's evil because he looks a bit like Dick Cheney and doesn't immediately do everything the hero wants) who will have a Change of Mind.

Anyway, sonny boy is in New York when the storm hits, and daddy decides to go to him. This is where the real problem starts: why is he doing this? He's with the rest of his team, and the Evil Vice President has just admitted (after New York has been flooded then frozen) that he might have a point; he's almost certainly got a lot of knowledge to contribute that might help with the plan to evacuate half of the USA in a couple of days. (Something one might think would pose logistical challenges, but apparently not.) What's he going to do when he reaches his son? He doesn't have much gear with him even when he leaves, certainly no load of blankets and rations; how's he going to help?

But that doesn't matter: in this sort of film, emotion must always triumph over reason. (See also Jabootu's review of 10.5 at, where he makes a similar point.)

Hmm. Starving freezing people. Dog. Roaring fire. Hmm. Never mind...

Anyway, the Homeless Guy proves to know useful stuff and not in any way to be a criminal, drug addict, or otherwise undesirable; the couple who were planning to have sex get killed; most of the Good Guys live. Scotland gets turned into an ice cube, but the important question is: will sonny tell the girlie he's with that he (blush) kinda likes her?

Really this film's mainly worth seeing for the effects. Fortunately Emmerich realises this, and keeps the bits with actors in them relatively short and painless.