Day After Tomorrow
In the seventies a new movie genre began to rise in popularity, the disaster flick. From crashing airplanes to earthquakes and twisters the American movie audience loves to watch a small band of people find romance while the world literally crashes down around them. As with most genres you really have to judge movies in this genre against other that share the same attributes. With that in mind I watched The Day After Tomorrow. One caveat must be applied here; movies of this ilk require a heavy dose of reality suspension and complete amnesia of almost every science class you ever attended. If you choose to ignore this advice your enjoyment of this flick will be greatly diminished.
Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid ) a paleo climatologist, comes up with a computer model that predicts global warming will start to melt the planetís ice caps resulting in a new global ice age. True to form he issues his dire warnings at a scientific conference only to find his presentation dismissed. In a world where the economy is so fragile no one wants to hear that Mother Nature is about to get even. The angst filled scientist finds little conform as his model begins to be realized. Huge hailstones begin to fall in India, airplanes are crashed by unusual turbulence and birds, listening to age old instincts fly south in droves far too early in the year. Movies of this genre has to contain a familiar connection supplied here by Jackís son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) who is in New York to participate in an academic decathlon team. Now to fulfill the casting requirements of the disaster movie we need a terminally ill person. It turns out that Jackís wife Lucy (Sela Ward) is a doctor caring for a cancer patient. The stage is finally set for the reason we attend these movies, the special effects of well known cities being destroyed in the most imaginative of ways.
The formula for disaster flicks was practically created by the late Irwin Allen. There is a virtual check list for casting and plot development that is perfectly met in this film. I was trained in the sciences and I admit that I occasionally flinched several times at how loose and fast science is treated here but then I remembered that I was watching something for the sake of entertainment. We donít go to films like this for a lecture in planetary dynamics; we go for the special effects. We get to see tidal waves crashing through downtown New York City, floating a Russian fishing vessel down the streets. The city of Hollywood is torn apart by tornados, Washington is covered with ice. To this end this film is successful. The use of CGI here is among the best to date.
True to form the casting of a disaster flick most contain fairly recognizable actors. This film not only provides us with the right faces but outside this venue the cast possesses talent. Dennis Quaid has always maintained his almost boyish good looks and devilish smile. He may play a cutting edge scientist but he is readily identifiable to the audience, always a plus. Some of his more emotional scenes may come off as a bit over the top but just take that as part of the fun of the movie. After all, such performances are as required in this genre as the heavy object crushing an extra. Jake Gyllenhaal is a young actor with incredible talent that is not afraid to take a risk with the parts he accepts. Veteran of the cult classic Donnie Darko as well as the lamented Bubble Boy, his performance here fits to a tee. Sela Ward seems to always garner roles that fail to fully realize her acting abilities. Here, she brings a presentation of the good doctor Hall with a compassion and sympathy that is needed to offset the destruction that abounds.
Director Roland Emmerich is no stranger to the mass destruction of major world cities. His 1996 Independence Day remains a new classic in the field of science fiction. He is also responsible for the Patriot and the 1998 Godzilla but is overall talent can buy him a pass for those flicks. Emmerich seems to love to have objects crashing into the lens of his camera and this vehicle affords ample opportunity for this effect. He has the ability to alternate between the glossy computer generated special effects and live action in a seamless easy fashion. He has a real eye for the composition of a frame. It is a shame that when this film comes to the small screen the pan and scan advocates will ruin the details that Emmerich managers to place in every scene of this film. His use of lighting and the way he plays shadows and light helps to create the required mood removing the burden from the actors hindered by Emmerichís own screen play. Although he both wrote and directed this film his real talent lies in the images he provides more than the words used.
The DVD is excellent and more than up to the challenge such CGI intensive films require. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video is stunning. The images are brilliant with not the slightest bit of motion induced artifacts. The color palette is often pushed to the more bluish tones to reinforce the bitter cold of the surroundings. The audio is provided in both Dolby 5.1 and DTS. While I found the Dolby track to be clear and powerful the DTS track blew me away. The use of the surround speakers and sub woofer in scenes where the frigid winds blow and large items crash is amazing. Disaster flicks tend to be the best showcase when demonstrating your home theater to your neighbors and this film should be the movie of choice in this role. In fact this film replaces two previous Emmerich flicks formerly used for this purpose, Stargate and ID4. There are two commentary tracks provided, the first for the director and producer that delve into the problems inherent in the creation of such a special effects drive movie as this one. The second commentary contains the recollections of the editor, cinematographer and co-author of the screen play that tends towards the more technical aspects of the film. While not as powerful as ID4 this film is a reasonable popcorn and beer movie to enjoy with friends and family.