Home > Action, Adventure, Disaster, Drama > The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)


People tend to be very visually oriented. With all the recent talk about impending global climate change due to human activity, naturally people wanted to see for themselves what the possible consequences would be. You could trot out all the graphs, charts, and theoretical projections you wanted, but none of those seem really concrete. Then a director came along who decided to show people what disastrous global climate change might look like.

Naturally, it was Roland Emmerich. And lots of shit gets broken along the way.

The Day After Tomorrow is a sci fi disaster movie directed by the reigning king of disaster movies himself, portraying the Earth thrown into a second Ice Age as a result of global warming. (Stay with us, here.) It starts Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jay O. Sanders, Dash Mihok, Emmy Rossum, Ian Holm, Sela Ward, and Sasha Roiz.

Jack Hall (Quaid) is a paleoclimatologist whose job often keeps him away from his wife Lucy (Ward), a physician, and his teenage son Sam (Gyllenhaall). While collecting core samples for the NOAA, the ice shelf he and his colleagues Frank (Sanders) and Jason (Mihok) are working on suddenly breaks off and slides into the sea, taking half the camp with it. The core samples they have collected point to a possible second ice age approaching, and Jack presents his findings at a United Nations conference in New Delhi, but he is blown off. I mean, if his models are accurate, nothing will happen for the next 100 to 1000 years, so what’s the rush. However, Jack’s findings get the attention of Professor Terry Rapson from the Hedland Climate Research Center in Scotland. Two buoys in the North Atlantic have simultaneously shown a drastic drop in temperature there, and Rapson concludes that the melting of the ice caps from global warming are disrupting the North Atlantic current, which keeps the Northern Hemisphere temperate. Rapson contacts Jack, and the two put their heads together to figure out what is likely to happen. They soon figure out that a Roland Emmerich movie is about to happen, as violent changes in weather begin to cause worldwide destruction, from a snowstorm in New Delhi to a series of Tornadoes shredding Los Angeles, including the laser-guided tornado that takes out the Hollywood sign. Just because, that’s why. And all evidence points to things getting a hell of a lot worse before they get better, with the predicted Ice Age coming in a week rather than years down the road.

Meanwhile, Sam Hall is in New York City for an academic competition, after a really hairy plane ride. During the competition, violent weather bears down on the area, halting trains, closing the roads, and shutting down airports. When a massive tidal wave floods the streets and the temperature starts plummeting, Sam and his fellow competitors take shelter in the New York Public Library to ride out the storm. When the President of the United States order the evacuation of the southern U.S. to escape the storm, Jack embarks on a desperate journey north, into the same storm that he just told the President would instantly kill anyone out in it, to search for his son. He has experience travelling in Arctic conditions, but can he reach his son in time?

The Day After Tomorrow follows closely in the footsteps of Emmerich’s other disaster movies, namely in the tradition of destroying or defacing recognizeable landmarks in the most spectacular ways possible. The Hollywood sign is obliterated. The Statue of Liberty is covered in ice. Manhattan gets turned into a winter wonderland an icy hell. And along the way, lots of slightly dodgy science is used to justify it, though not on the same scale of audacity as demonstrated in 2012. While much of the mayhem demonstrated here isn’t quite possible by the current climate patterns, if those patterns were to change… Well, you know. The sequence with Sam & Co. outrunning an oncoming flash-freeze in the eye of the storm did stretch even the willing suspension of disbelief necessary for watching a disaster movie, though, and the wolves escaping from the New York zoo seemed to only be there to give the Manhattan subplot one more avenue of danger for its own sake. And the Kyoto hailstorm seems to only confirm my belief that filmmakers do not know how to simulate realistic hail, ever.

The acting was surprisingly good here, with A-Lister Dennis Quaid playing the estranged family man and frustrated scientist trying desperately to prove that Bad Things are on the way, but Vice President Dick Cheney Raymond Becker blowing off his findings out of hand seemed a bit clunky, like Emmerich just felt the movie needed a naysayer in the same vein as Secretary of Defense Nimzicki in Independence Day. He did remedy this trend in 2012, I’m happy to say. My only complaint was the number of times Jack’s subarctic expedition to Manhattan took their gloves off in supposedly deadly cold. Jake Gyllenhaal as Sam also did well, trying to get the situation under pseudo-control and keep his friends alive, and volunteering to go out to the icebound ship outside the library for penicillin did feel like warranted desperation rather than, “I’m one of the heroes, I must go outside to scout around because that’s just what I do! *dramatic pose*”. The guy who wanted to hang on the the Gutenberg Bible in order to preserve that element of civilization needed a good shake, though. I mean, seriously – civilization might be on the verge of collapse. Let it go. Seriously.

While the science is tilted slightly to the left to make the story work and the lesson of GLOBAL WARMING BAD is pretty much beaten into our heads at awkward intervals, overall The Day After Tomorrow works as a climatological disaster movie. Roland Emmerich takes the usual frame work of OMG TORNADO or OMG SNOWSTORM and scales it up into a hemisphere-wide disaster. If you like your disasters huge and your destruction spectacular, The Day After Tomorrow won’t disappoint.

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