By Steve Biodrowski
Producer-director Roland Emmerich reveals heretofore hidden signs of gravitas with this ecological science-fiction disaster story. Although obviously designed as a crowd-pleasing blockbuster, the film eschews the jokey, “aint-it-cool” tone that ruined GODZILLA (1998). Presumably, the events of September 11, 2001 have had an effect, and Emmerich now realizes it’s not funny to watch buildings crumble into dust, killing thousands of people.
As in INDEPENDENCE DAY, the scenario uses the multi-character structure of a disaster film, weaving together the stories of several different characters struggling to survive when climate changes turn most of the Northern hemisphere into a frozen wasteland. Typical for a Hollywood film, the loss of millions of lives takes back seat to whether or not our hero (Dennis Quaid) can re-unite with his son (Jake Gyllenhaal).
Fortunately, this obvious pandering to family values is off-set by other elements that strike the right satirical or melancholy tone, as when a librarian (a non-believer, ironically) insists on preserving a lavishly printed Bible, while other books are (out of necessity) being burned to provide heat; it’s his own personal line-in-the-sand that he will not cross, an effort to show that not all traces of culture and tradition will be sacrificed for the expediency of staying alive. Even better is a hysterically funny moment when U.S. citizens seek to escape the advancing cold by immigrating to Mexico: turned back by border guards, they illegally cross over the Rio Grand river!
The ecological theme is not advanced with any subtlety, but so what? The film works with the broad brushstrokes appropriate to a popular entertainment. Most of the action set pieces are handled with a reasonable level of excitement, and the film remains mostly entertaining even while it hits all the obvious notes. There are even one or two moments that approach visual poetry (e.g., the New York skyline filled with flocks of birds fleeing before disaster strikes).
Also worthy of note, early in the movie Emmerich tosses in a devastating tornado assault on Los Angeles, in which many of the highlights of TWISTER are condensed into a single sequence—possibly as a nod to TWISTER-director Jan DeBont, who was scheduled to helm GODZILLA before Emmerich came onto the project. (For those of you keeping score at home, TWISTER opened in 1996, the same summer as Emmerich’s INDEPENDENCE DAY; the two films fought it out for box office supremacy before ID4 emerged as the winner.)
THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2004). Directed by Roland Emmerich. Written by Emmerich & Jeffrey Nachmanoff. Cast: Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emy Rossum, Dash Mihok, Jay O. Sanders, Sela Ward, Tamlyn Tomita, Ian Holm