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The Inevitable "Day After Tomorrow" Review
Jamais Cascio, 28 May 04

We've talked about the movie enough, we should probably cough up the money to go see it. WorldChanging contributor reviews will be added to this entry. WC readers should offer up their own takes on the movie in the comments!

Jamais' Review: Two themes resonated throughout the pre-release reviews and previews of The Day After Tomorrow: the science is bad; the movie is bad. I had seen enough of these previews that I sat down in my seat this afternoon fully anticipating a very bad movie with borderline (at best) science -- sort of an Armageddon for the climate crowd. As a result, it's possible that my reaction is tainted by this preconception. I may have gone into the theater expecting to be not just disappointed, but annoyed.

But you know what? It's not that bad. It's more of a Deep Impact than an Armageddon -- I winced at the errors (and there are plenty), rolled by eyes at the Human Interest Stories (tm), and wished they'd spent more time on the aftermath than on the event itself.

Let me hasten to add that I'm not saying that the movie is plausible or realistic, although the presentations of the Actual Science parts of the movie were far better than I thought they'd be (the site Day After Tomorrow Facts does a good job separating out what in the movie is real science, and what is Hollywood -- the site is run by the Energy Future Coalition, a non-partisan but vaguely progressive group trying to come up with politically palatable solutions to global warming).

It's a typical disaster movie in most ways, so expect the usual inanities and melodrama substituting for plot. But it's a disaster movie which doesn't have a We Win! happy ending. We don't win. We've screwed up the planet, and now we have to deal with it. Although the recriminations are muddled, they don't require explanation -- the chagrined Vice President talks about overusing the planet's resources, not about disrupting its systems.

Inasmuch as the scientists are the closest thing to heroes in the movie, it's more about their being willing to accept new information and analysis, even if the knowledge is painful, than about one man trying to save his son. If there's a lesson to take away from the movie, it's that we can't wait until the real world disasters hit before taking action. For me, one of the most enjoyable moment came when the NOAA scientists brief the White House, and the VP snaps at Our Hero, "You just do your science, let us handle the policy," and the NOAA director fires back, "if you had listened to the scientists, you would have had a different policy to begin with!"

Jon's Review: The Day After Tomorrow is a summer blockbuster and a terrific example of Emmerich's goofy repurposing of various sci-fi/action genres of the past - not necessarily B-movies, as some reviewers say. Irwin Allen's films weren't B-movies, and Allen's films are the obvious precursors of this film. George Pal also comes to mind. Allen and Pal and others like them made popcorn films, entertainments that were loud, fast, and contingent on a strong-willed suspension of disbelief. The stories were formulaic and the characters lacked dimension but the acting was pretty good, and if you could forget reason for a while, you'd have a pretty good time. These films often depended on big special effects and rollercoaster plots. Emmerich's got this down, and a couple of his films, Stargate and Independence Day, are classics of the popcorn genre. The Day After Tomorrow is great popcorn. I felt the tension and I let myself believe for the whole couple of hours, even the schmaltz, even though Donnie Darko kept popping up in every other scene. However as a scare film about global warming, DAT doesn't cut it, because it trivializes a very real threat. I won't say more (it's kind of a spoiler). If you see the film, though, you'll get what I'm saying.

Emily's review: I have never been taken with Roland Emmerich's tone-deaf pastiches of past sci-fi flicks. Still, I can enjoy a good popcorn movie on its own terms (Mission to Mars! The Fifth Element! Troy!), and I was curious about how effective TDAT might be as an eco-parable. Movies like Silent Running had a profound effect on me as a kid. Would TDAT be that kind of movie for a new generation?

Well, I doubt it (but please, tell me otherwise in the comments). The movie's point of view about the climate disaster is muddled--humans are certainly pegged as the cause, but "nature's awesome destructive power" is mentioned as well, as if Nature is a villain in the supporting cast. Which it is, I suppose.

A late view of the Earth from space, the classic Apollo perspective, seems intended to leave us feeling reassured--look, it's all still there, and the air is clearer than ever! Even though the last two hours have depicted an artificially-induced Ice Age engulfing the northern hemisphere.

A few marginal characters we don't care about are predictably killed off, equivalents of Star Trek security guards: beaned by giant hailstones, flash-frozen, squashed by flying debris or swept away by tornados. With a prudery odd for this genre, characters we come to know marginally better all seem to die off-camera. (Compare this to one of Emmerich's source films, The War of the Worlds, in which we see central, sympathetic characters disintegrated by Martians, or attacked by rioters. The seeming randomness of the violence is more shocking, the potential End of Civilization more visceral, and the impact on other characters more fully felt. Emmerich himself managed to carry this through a little better in his WotW remake, Independence Day.)

At one point, we see two keepers at a New York zoo, concerned and perplexed because all their charges are freaking out. Animals, being Of Nature, feel these sudden catastrophic global climate shifts coming, doanchaknow. Ah, I thought, this is the set-up for a heart-tugging irony, in which these animals, sequestered in a zoo for safety and preservation, are nonetheless victims of humanity's destructive shortsightedness. Maybe they're even the stand-ins for what we can imagine happening to vulernable wilderness and wildlife--the Earth's vital biodiversity--as the ice and storm advance. But, no: it's a set-up for the escape of some CGI "timber wolves" (stand-ins for Nature's evil menace since the Brother Grimm, if not before), the better to menace the Leading Scientist's Son as He Fights for Survival later on in the film. Presumably they are all flash-frozen for their trouble.

On the plus side: A few jokes about First World/Third World relations hit their targets. A major motion picture pokes at the Bush administration. This movie probably doesn't make things any worse for the general state of science fiction films. The scientists are the good guys, and gals. TDAT has been the catalyst for great mainstream news reporting on the realities of climate change. Some good actors have presumably made enough money here to do a year or two of independent films.

No real continents were harmed during the making of this motion picture.

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Comments

So I just came back from The Day After Tomorrow, and I have to say...

IT WAS GREAT!

Wait, did we see the same film? Yeah, we did. Here's why I thought it was such a good movie.

1> 50% of people have IQs of less than 100. Almost nobody is making the environmental case for uneducated or below-average-intelligence people. If you struggled through highschool science class, exactly how much of global warming or the ozone hole or emissions trading did you understand? Probably not much.

This film actually makes the case so that even D students can understand it: really violent, crazy shit can happen to the weather.

Political implications? Well, this was a joke, but it hit a very, very sore point:
http://www.americanassembler.com/features/ did the rounds recently

2> It's a good disaster film. "Earthquake" or the series of movies about disasters on enormous ships, etc... a Lost Genre brought back to life in the service of ecology. Big boats and Earthquakes weren't like they were in those movies either: distortion of threats is part of the format.

3> It's blatantly, aggressively political. There's no bones about who various characters are supposed to represent, and there's no way of ducking the implications about who's at fault for the entire mess (even if they don't exactly describe how the CO2 fits into the picture).

And the science isn't really all that bad: sensible talk about climate modeling and core samples, previous climatic volatility etc. It's just that the respectable timescale of Global Warming or Weather Violence or whatever we should be calling it has been compressed into Hollywood Time, in which the Trojan War happens over a long weekend.

I think it's effective propoganda. It'll make money, and there'll be more where this came from, and hopefully the fine details can be clarified later.

A good start.


Posted by: Vinay on 29 May 04

(warning: some spoilers)

I thought the New York bit was a nice miniature parable of what is happening world-wide:
listen to your scientists, or you will all die. Or rather listen to your scientist's son.

Also some interesting reflection on "if our civilization is destroyed, what is worth keeping."


Posted by: Paul Harrison on 30 May 04

I also was pleasantly surprised. I particularly liked the idea that first-world nations would have to evacuate to the third world. Rather clever, that. But being a disaster flick, it of course didn't get into the interesting implications of that.

But oh, it did my little heart good to see the Donny Rumsfeld character apologize to the world for lack of foresight. ...As a friend pointed out, though, that was even more unrealistic than the weekend-long switch to ice age.


Posted by: Jer on 31 May 04

Pretty good movie. Not as hokey as I thought it would be. The science is not to bad either, just exaggerated. Shift in north atlantic current may put europe into an ice age, but would probably not effect N. America. Changes can and have occurred rapidly, on the scale of a few years, but not weeks. Collapse of Antarctic ice shelfs could happen, and would effect circulation and plankton-based food chain. Dayaftertomorrow facts was pretty good start. The jist is there are many unknowns and anything could happen.


Posted by: Spaceman Spiff on 1 Jun 04

TDAT was a really fun thriller, and it was fun watching the Dick Cheney character have to eat crow.

I had a really hard time with "superfreeze" I mean come on! It was a stand in for the traditional character stalking movie monster

gee my punctuation keys and cap settings have gone wrong> time to reset this machien!


Posted by: Stefan Jones on 1 Jun 04

The Day after Tomorrow is not original.
Read POLAR DAY 9 by kyle Donner (New York, Berkley Press, 1993) and you will know where director R. Emmerich got his ideas--all of them.


Posted by: Ubaldo DiBenedetto on 11 Jun 04

Re: Ubaldo DiBenedetto Comment:

1.) Ubaldo DiBenedetto= Kyle Donner
2.) It is not proven yet!


Posted by: Stephan Jones on 13 Jun 04

The similarities to "Polar Day 9" are clear, but the whole theme is hardly original. Since Emmerich is a German, he might well be familiar with the novel "Atlantis" of famous (at least in Germany) SF-writer Hans Dominik. There you have exactly the same story, only taking place in Europe (which is scientifically correct). By the way, the novel is from 1925!


Posted by: Toebbens on 17 Jun 04



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