THE DAY AFTER
I'm going to share a secret with you. Promise not to tell? Ok, here it is. I liked INDEPENDENCE DAY. I know, it was stupid and cheesy and utterly implausible and the only thing bigger than the alien mothership was the plot holes. But it was fun and the effects were cool and the characters were well played by good actors and as long as I don't think about it too much, I really enjoy watching it. It had (for lack of a better term) balance.
Why am I telling you this? Because Roland Emmerich (EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS) directed (and co-wrote) INDEPENDENCE DAY, which I liked. He also directed (and co-wrote) GODZILLA (1998), which was an absolute piece of crap. And more to the point, he produced, directed and co-wrote THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. Where does it fall in Mr. Emmerich's range?
The movie opens in Antarctica. Paleoclimatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid: JAWS 3-D, FLESH AND BONE, PANDORUM) is out on the ice gathering ice cores for study. Ice cores from glaciers can contain trapped gasses, giving a snapshot of ancient climate conditions.
Suddenly (a word you can use in almost every scene in this movie) a huge crevasse opens up, nearly swallowing Jack and his two assistants. Jack risks his life to save a few ice cores, which is meant to show how dedicated he is.
This crevasse is actually a huge ice shelf breaking off. The polar caps are melting thanks to global warming (more on that later) and at a UN conference soon after Jack explains his fear that the increased fresh water pouring into the oceans from the melting ice could alter the ocean currents that bring warm water into the northern hemisphere (and that keep Europe from having a climate like Canada), which could, in turn, trigger an ice age.
Also present at the conference is Vice President Becker (Kenneth Welsh: THE CASE OF THE WHITECHAPEL VAMPIRE [TV], TIMECOP). The Vice President is skeptical of this global warming nonsense and sees no need to implement the Kyoto Accords, which would reduce carbon dioxide output but cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
After the meeting Jack is approached by fellow scientist Terry Rapson (Ian Holm: ALIEN, THE FIFTH ELEMENT, THE LORD OF THE RINGS). Rapson runs a monitoring station in Scotland, which has been seeing some strange temperature drops in the ocean.
Speaking of strange, very strange weather pops up all over the world (snow in India, giant hail in Tokyo, etc). It quickly goes from strange to catastrophic as a series of huge tornados devastate Los Angeles. Jack suspects that all the weird weather is connected but of course no one in the administration will listen.
Meanwhile Jack's son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal: DONNIE DARKO) flies off to New York to participate in an academic quiz competition, something he's doing mostly to be close to a girl he likes. We learn that Jack and Sam's mother Lucy (Sela Ward: THE FUGITIVE) are divorced and Jack has let his work take precedence over being a father to Sam. Wouldn't it be great if there was some way Jack could make up for his phoned-in parenting and reconcile with Sam? Or have I said too much?
If you've seen the ads you know that New York is hit hardest by the special effects. I've heard that some New Yorkers are still pretty 9/11 sensitive and aren't very entertained by watching their city face more destruction. A huge storm surge caused by a global super storm floods the city and traps Sam and his friends. This storm is followed by intense cold that freezes the flood and heralds the beginning of a new ice age. In fact, within days the entire northern hemisphere is buried in snow and ice.
Ok, the time has come. But before I discuss the scientific basis for the disaster being portrayed, I have to make a distinction. If this had been what it looks like, a special-effects heavy popcorn disaster flick, I would have spent a paragraph or so discussing how there's no basis at all for a climate flip happening in anything less than a decade, much less a couple of days, and left it at that. But Mr. Emmerich has been trying to promote this movie as an "important film" that people need to take seriously. Okay, pal. You asked for it.
That's why it's time for a SERIOUS
1. Is the Earth getting warmer?
2. If so, why is it getting warmer?
The problem is most people assume that if the answer is yes to the first question then the only possible answer to the second question is "we are causing the warming by pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere." This is what is technically known as "jumping to conclusions."
You might be surprised to learn that there are many scientists who don't believe global warming is happening at all. I'm not in that category - I think the climate is getting warmer - but there is legitimate debate on the topic. Let me stress that point: there is legitimate scientific debate as to whether or not global warming is happening at all (For a good overview read "The Satanic Gases" by Patrick J. Michaels and Robert C. Balling).
But for the sake of argument let's answer "yes" to our first question and assume that the Earth is getting warmer. Are we causing this warming, as the movie implies? (And by "implies" I mean "beats you over the head with"). Before I answer that, let's consider a few things:
Continued at SCIENCE MOMENT: The Day After Tomorrow
Ok, enough with the science. I've convinced you (or at least planted a seed of doubt) that the global warming issue isn't as simple as you thought it was. But what you really want to know is this: does THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW suck?
Yes, it does. Going back to my comparison with INDEPENDENCE DAY, all the things that made that a fun movie are missing here. The characters are flat, lifeless clichés who say predictable things on the rare occasions when they speak at all. You never get really invested or involved with any of them. I know Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal^ and especially Ian Holm are good actors so it's not their fault. I point the finger of blame squarely at producer/writer/director Roland Emmerich.
I also really didn't like the perverse, self-righteous glee the movie takes in the destruction of the United States. Americans are forced to flee south to Mexico and at first Mexico won't let us in.* They change their mind when we agree to forgive all Latin American debt. Of course if this disaster actually happened the first Americans over the border would be the U.S. Army, to tell Mexico, "Congratulations! You just became the 51st state!". So on top of everything else, this movie is preachy, and who needs that? I give it two shriek girls.
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