The Day After Tomorrow

Starring:
  • Liberal Hysteria!
  • A Dick-ish VP?
  • Jake Not "Getting With" Old Chicks
Directed by the Only Patriot Hated by the Bush Administration
"Well, there goes the last place I could smoke in New York. Thanks, Bloomberg. Thanks for nothing!"

The Sum of All Fears

"Al, it's cold outside." House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), responding to Vice-president Al Gore's speech on global warming during the worst blizzard in New York City's recent memory. Clearly, Rep. Blunt was too busy protecting the tobacco lobby to learn about the true effects of climate shifts in Roland Emmerich's The Day After Tomorrow

Cinema is increasingly becoming a more important and accepted bully pulpit for ideologues. This year has given us smaller films from Mel Gibson and Michael Moore; two filmmakers who directly promote an agenda for a massive audience. Typically, larger Hollywood product is so subtle that message and meaning is passed off as the imagination of paranoid observers. While a liberal bias is clear in the movie making market, most directors or writers or actors use enough subtlety to keep any film from becoming a diatribe. Certainly, a film can contain details of a political agenda without depriving members of the "other side" from a good time at the movies. Of course, conservatives still bemoan about this dominance in mainstream works. With all that Republican money and conservative executives, this should be a slam-dunk endeavor. But every time it happens, the result is a not-so- entertaining exercise in bombastic propaganda. The classic benchmark is NRA board member John Milius' Red Dawn, where the Soviets invade America from Mexico and aim their tanks right at McDonald's. Why, guns of Americans literally have to be pulled "from their cold, dead hands!" The result should have been something like the contradiction of mindless conversation fodder. It turned out to be a mindless punch line for liberals. Recently, The Sum of All Fears morphed the conservative, Hollywood agenda into something more fitting for the overall purpose of the national identity. Masked as a popcorn thriller, Fears espoused a philosophy where the government is only a stumbling block to effectively protecting this country and a national tragedy is safely exploitable as long as the point comes across. How else could one explain Ben Affleck's Jack Ryan prancing around downtown Baltimore after nuclear winter without reducing the event to basic symbolism? I'm not saying there's anything wrong with a filmmaker getting all crazy with their politics, but there is a point where entertainment and enlightenment need to take the front seat.

I say all of this because director Roland Emmerich has effectively made a film so crazy that it remains hugely entertaining despite a political agenda so naked that it seems sparsely interested in covering it up. With the sci-fi weather adventure The Day After Tomorrow, he never allows his belief to get in the way of the sprawling blockbuster. There's no montage at the beginning of the film displaying the gross pollutants humans unleash upon the Earth to cause global warming. The film opens - after a trip to the deteriorating Arctic shelf - at the UN Environmental Conference in New Delhi, India. This should have been the Kyoto conference but this puts a shout-out to the environmental community AND the United Nations. Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) is a paleoclimatologist (Say that two time fast) for the NOAA describing some disturbing weather patterns occurring in the North Atlantic Ocean. I'm not going to pretend I knew what Dr. Hall was saying, but the argument seems convincing. Increasing climate change will cause a severe rift in storm systems and throw everything out of whack and will cause a new Ice Age. I suppose one would float the whole Ice Age argument as much as possible when your job is to study ancient weather patterns. Anyway, most of the conference is impressed...except for US Vice-president Becker (Kenneth Walsh) who bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain draft-dodging, gas-loving VP currently in office. "You say the environment is fragile," says Becker. "Do not forget how fragile our economy is." So, we'll take that as a "no" from the good ole US. But Jack is one of those crusading action heroes that won't put down a good fight. He may be the first lead in an action film to drive a lime-green Prius. It's almost like he's saying: "Yes, it is easy to talk like a liberal. But are you willing to drive this?" All of a sudden - and I mean suddenly - his predictions of a modern-day Ice Age begin to form. Hail with five-inch diameters fall from the sky in Tokyo. Scottish scientists (led by Ian Holm, granting automatic authority to the scenes) observe an increase in the ocean's temperature. NASA astronauts notice some crazy stuff happening to storm systems. Emmerich has acknowledged these events would not happen so suddenly, but the point is made: Something is going to start whoppin' ass here. And not before we get to see Jack at something that he handles a little worse than being a paleoclimatologist: Being a father. Jack and his ex-wife Dr. Lucy (Sela Ward)'s son Max (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a wreck on almost every level. He enters the Academic Decathlon in New York City only to spend time with Laura (Emmy Rossum), a girl he doesn't have the nerve to reveal his true feelings. He also resents his neglectful father for being late to drive him to the airport (in that lime green Prius no less) to board a plane he's afraid to fly. There's some turbulence along the way, but it's nothing compared to what's going on with the ground.

Before New York City, The Day After Tomorrow dispatches with La-La Land in stunning fashion. Tornadoes sweep through the City of Angels, demolishing the Hollywood sign and the Capitol Records building. Seeing the out-of-place cyclones - no tornado has ever touched the skyline of a major city - is a stunning series of images enhanced by an increasingly improved world of visual effects. But larger points are driven home. Not only is this shift in the world's climate affecting this city, but it's eating at the very basics of the American way of life. Climate shifts will destroy the records you love to sing along with. Climate shifts will end the production movies you love to watch. Like this one. While creating some true moments of terror, Emmerich can't seem to help but poke some fun at the very studio bankrolling his film. While many in L.A. perish, Emmerich lavishes attention on the mortal fates suffered by FOX News correspondents. The events unfolding in New York City attempts to tie this together with a tangible event. As Max, Laura, and the rest of the city brace a three-day rain storm, they remain severely unaware of a massive tidal wave headed for the city. Now, it's hard to believe that the glaciers would melt fast enough to cause such a wave. But the effect on the people on the street is not so hard to believe because we've seen it. The upward glances of shock, the frantic running through the streets, and the random acts of heroism in the shadows of the city's skyline harkens back to the 9-11 footage played over and over again. This isn't exploitation. This is merely helping the audience relate to something that seems so fantastic.

These events represent the first half of The Day After Tomorrow. Quite like the structure of Emmerich's Independence Day, the other half requires the characters to deal with the aftermath of catastrophe. Like that earlier film, Tomorrow seems to forget about the millions who died and focuses on the personal problems of the main characters. Max, Laura, and several survivors seek shelter in the Public Library as they burn books to keep from freezing upon the impending cold. Because, global warming drives people to burn books!!!!!! There's even some dopey character who holds on to a Guttenberg Bible because "this book represents human's entrance into the Age of Reason." Quite a bold statement from a film that wants the audience to believe that a tidal wave won't knock out windows in a skyscraper but some super-frost will. Remember, this global warming eventually causes disgustingly cold temperatures that freeze any life it touches. But while the audience is still trying to figure out how that tidal wave didn't knock out the Statue of Liberty, there's no way to begin comprehending how this deadly freeze functions like the rolling boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark. "Hurry, here comes that freezing ice!" Characters run as though the minus 150 degree temperature stays in a steady line, unable to penetrate simple things like doors. And this cold climate doesn't keep Jack from leading a team of scientist from DC to New York to be with his son. Can Jack save him? What is the purpose of this dangerous mission other than to show that Jack isn't such a dick of a father? There isn't one, other than the last half of the film would be a lot shorter. But the film would have spent more time with Lucy Hall's quest to save the Peter Pan-loving Cancer Child in her flooded hospital. And that would have been fine. The moments worth cherishing towards to end of the film involve "US refugees" fleeing to Mexico despite the fact that the borders were closed by the Mexican government. Pretty interestingly funny image. It could have been a lot funnier if Pat Buchanan's wall greeted the refugees as they tried to escape doom. But the priceless gem occurs when Vice-president has to address a world audience and apologize for his shortsighted policy work. Dick Cheney admits he's wrong about something? Boy, this really IS science-fiction.

So, I can't comment on the science of The Day After Tomorrow. And it's certainly a give-in that I loved the rhetoric of the film. But the entertainment factor is the deal-maker here. The visual effects are a long way from the days of cow-tossing in Twister. The film populates the backdrop with interesting characters like the Tyrone Biggums character who's constantly talking to his dog. (I may be speaking with Tyrone on my mind; Chappelle's Show booms in the background as I write this.) Or those WHACKY Scots more interested in futbol matches than the major scientific developments "bleeping' on the radar screen. But the film certainly shows that a political point of view can be preserved in Hollywood entertainment. I mean, this is science. This isn't some hypothetical bullshit about a foreign invasion that had no actual, empirical value or a film that suggests a nuclear explosion won't hurt a person. What the hell is that about anyway? Those are just lies peppered in disinterested propaganda. When was the last time anyone called gravity or evolution a political issues? Oh yeah, people do that all the time. Exactly what fucking apple has to fall on their goddammed, empty heads before they accept the consequences of their irresponsible behavior? When will... Wait a minute. Just see the movie, huh?

 



The Pitch:
2 Quintet
Plus
 
1 Independence Day
Equals
 
3 The Day After Tomorrow
See It For:

A Tidal Wave Takes Out Tom DeLay's Boat During the Republican National Convention.