Forget the aliens, watch the weather

Roland Emmerich, the director of The Day After Tomorrow,
doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to making a political
statement. The most iconic scene in his earlier hit, Independence
Day, involved the White House and its occupants being obliterated
by a UFO. This time round, he’s devoted an entire movie to
condemning the Bush administration and, in particular, their
laissez-faire attitude to environmental issues. In The Day After Tomorrow’s world, the main culprit is
the US Vice-President who (as well as happening to bear more than
a passing resemblance to a certain Dick Cheney) stubbornly
ignores the warnings of hot-shot climatologist Jack Hall (Dennis
Quaid) that global warming is spiralling out of control and
threatening to trigger a new ice age. As he tells Jack, in words
which couldn’t be more clearly linked to the Kyoto
agreement, “Our economy is every bit as fragile as the
environment”. So, right on cue, the world’s weather begins to go
haywire. Hailstones the size of footballs batter Japan, birds
migrate south in their millions and the oceans everywhere begin
to rise ominously. As an exercise in building suspense, this
first hour is masterful as Emmerich creates a powerful sense of
impending apocalypse. A little later, when catastrophe really
kicks in, it’s dazzlingly done but all too brief. In truly
spectacular scenes, LA is devastated by eerily convincing monster
tornados and a 100ft tsunami drowns New York in seconds. For some unfortunate reason, though, this halfway point marks
the film’s dramatic peak and it settles down into a state of
near inertia once the new ice age descends. The remainder focuses
on Jack’s efforts to trek cross-country through the
blizzards to save his estranged son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal),
who’s trapped in ice-bound Manhattan. The biggest flaw of
all is the casting of Dennis Quaid. Usually fairly watchable, he
here exudes about as much screen charisma as Richard Whitely in
an average episode of Countdown. Gyllenhaal’s presence is
even more inexplicable. Reprising the brooding adolescent angst
that made his name in Donnie Darko, his talent is wasted in
cumbersome dialogue. The Day After Tomorrow does deserve some credit for attempting
to raise awareness to an urgent environmental issue but, for all
its Bush-bashing and anger at US insularity, it doesn’t
quite ring true as a protest. You can’t shake the impression
that it’s just a disaster movie which stumbled across a
politically relevant central theme, since Emmerich’s true
priority clearly lies in his cutting-edge CGI. In the end, for
all its delusions of grandeur, The Day After Tomorrow proves to
be just another forgettable summer blockbuster. The day after you
see it, you wont remember a thing.ARCHIVE: 5th week TT 2004