The Day After Tomorrow

UK release date: Sep 8 2009

cast list

Dennis Quaid
Ian Holm
Jake Gyllenhaal
Adrian Lester

directed by
Roland Emmerich
Roland Emmerich’s CGI melange Independence Day, telling of an invasion of Earth by hostile aliens, was a worldwide hit. Not content with blasting the world to tiny atoms, the director returns to recount the dawn of a new ice age – in just the manner he did the invasion of aliens.

Climatologist Dennis Quaid (where’s he been lately?) tries to convince the United Nations’ collection of cardboard characters – and his sceptical cinema audience – that the recent breaking-off of the Larsen B ice shelf from the Antarctic ice sheet is an event warning of impending doom. Essentially, such a freshwater dump into the Atlantic would affect the climate that controls “the North Atlantic current” – by which we mean the Gulf Stream, the weather system that heats up northern Europe and the northern regions of north America. Unless we act now, we’re all doomed. So far, so predicatable.

Predicatably, the politicians (represented chiefly here by a predictably recalcitrant US Vice President) have self interest and economic greed, rather than the environment, at heart. The good climatologist’s warnings are ignored, the ice age commences and a collection of cinematic set-pieces destroy Los Angeles (hooray!), New York (hoorah!) and, bizarrely, Balmoral Castle and its unseen occupants.

As the disaster movies of the 1970s showed, it is possible to give actors something interesting to do even if your film is special effects driven. A recent poll lauded The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno – because Saturday night cinema audiences actually cared about the characters caught up in the disaster. Roland Emmerich’s approach, getting clever with CGI-generated wolves, frost effects, tornadoes and a tidal wave, are visual candy, yet they don’t leave us caring what happens to any of his characters.

Scarcely helping is his own yet more improbable central human interest story. Quaid dons snow shoes (bless) and walks to New York to get to his son (Jake Gyllenhaal), despite the storm, for reasons not entirely clear. After all, said teenager is busy schmoozing up to a girl in a library, as you do when the world’s going to end. It leaves one laughing in the aisles rather than inspired.

Amongst the neglected acting talent we find Shakespearean actors Ian Holm and Adrian Lester holed up in a weather station in Scotland, to no particular effect. Holm gets scarcely three lines to establish his character, but he’s not alone. Other minor characters come and go, peer longingly at each other and vanish. And we just don’t care. Even Mexico manages to exist without Mexicans. The bumbling Brits of course die (predictably) and the all-conquering Yanks triumph over adversity. Ya-boo. If this is humanity, roll on Armageddon.

The Day After Tomorrow is intellectually vacant, and even the weather effects we’ve seen before in Twister, The Abyss and innumerable other “blockbusters”. The blatant plugs for various Fox News channels by the studio concerned (20th Century Fox) grates. But we’d seen Independence Day – and we knew it to be ludicrous Saturday night popcorn fluff. If that’s your thing, fine. That The Day After Tomorrow is more of the same should scarcely come as a surprise.

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