The Day After Tomorrow (2004) — Part of the flood of forgettable disaster flicks

“Save as many as you can.”

Justin’s rating: Celsius? Bah!

Justin’s review: While I’ve exposed, shamefully, a lot of my life here on Mutant Reviewers, there are still things you don’t know about me. Scary, eerie, unholy things. For example, I’m a Weather Channel junkie. Maybe you wouldn’t have guessed that. But just ask my co-workers, who know that a “casual” conversation about the weather with me will always erupt into an enthusiastic foray into low pressure fronts, statistical highs and lows for that time of year, cloud formations, and many other geeky weather trivia. In another life, I might’ve been a meteorologist, who knows?

So while the Xtreme weather aspect of The Day After Tomorrow appeals to me for that, my film critic nature wasn’t able to ignore the vast legion of plot holes and nitpicks. It was one of those movies that I was able to put my mind on cruise control and more or less watch (with an INCREDIBLY full bladder, I might add) only until I left the theater and started thinking again. At this point I needed an interrogation room, two long feathers, one pair of steel tongs, Carrot Top’s biting wit, and whomever was responsible for making this movie.

The good news is that, for a standard Disaster Flick, the whole timeline gets bumped up so that we get our juicy disasters in the first half, without much of a wait. Less of the whole “Only one man knows what’s really going on and no one will listen to him and he has an estranged son who’s so estranged that he makes deep, cryptic movies like Donnie Darko” and faster getting to the freaky nature destruction derby.

This has to be the first movie where mere clouds are terrifying — particularly the point where the massive storm fronts are seen from the International Space Station, blanketing large portions of the world. The filmmakers use our innate fear of severe weather to best effect, and the scenes where tornadoes rip through Los Angeles and a tsunami hits New York City had me fidgeting nervously, to say the least. The special effects on all of these are well-done, even if we’ve mostly seen them before (Twister and Deep Impact are harrumphing from off stage).

Of course, yet again does the whole world in a disaster film boils down to just America, and America only ever has two cities: LA and NYC. Hello! We have other cities that need a little destruction attention! And what about poor Canada? During this film and it’s overly rapid ice age, I couldn’t help but notice that Canada was a goner in about the first ten minutes, but no one bothered to mention anything about it. Heck, maybe Canadians didn’t even notice the ice age, what with living in their igloos and whatnot.

Unfortunately, after the first half, a bulk of the great weather special effects are finished, and the filmmakers seem determined to just slog it out to the end in as uninteresting of a fashion as possible. Hey, the world as we knew it just ended — there’s about a billion questions I want answered, and none of those questions have to do with how a homeless guy and his dog survived the flooding of New York.

But since it’s some rule that in disaster flicks we have to ignore the massive deaths all around us to focus on the teary epic of a few top-billing souls, nobody spends too much time getting all mopey about millions of dead people. Instead, we have Dennis Quaid’s Grinchy grin and Jake Gyllenhaal holing up in a library as some sort of riveting plot point. The movie all but ignores anything larger than the micro story, content just to use throwaway comments like “Hey, let’s evacuate most of the United States into Mexico” without really showing it or addressing all of the ramifications of such an event.

That sort of fallible logic exists all over this film. There’s some sort of environmentalist martyr message going on, the “They’ll never listen to us until it’s too late and your living room has been flash-frozen into the next ice age,” but only in movie land would the most bizarre, horrendous weather storms hit us and the government would then just ignore the weather community and laugh at their pitiful “analysis.” If they want the audience to take the warning of global warming seriously from this movie, then their goofy plot progression all but shot that in the foot.

At first, the weather dude warns the world that global warming is going to eventually, within the next 100 to 1,000 years, trigger a disaster. One scene later, it’s 6 to 8 months. Then it’s just a few weeks. Then, what the heck, we might as well just have an ice age start tomorrow, if that works for you. Rapid doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Standard Disaster Flick dialogue abounds, the grueling lines about why we must survive, where is love in all of this, do you believe in God when a F5 tornado has relocated your house to the Grand Canyon, etc. I never really laughed or fell in love with any of the characters — except the Scottish guy with no chin, he was cool — and because the movie focused on just a boring few instead of the interesting many, it evolved into a bladder-expanding marathon of my patience. Fast-forward on rental for the special effects scenes, ignore all else.

Lissa’s rating: Since when do two 16-year old geeks know how to kiss so gracefully? And that’s only one of the utterly unbelievable things to happen in this movie.

Lissa’s review: 1. Take an economics class.

2. Take a weather class, so I actually understand the weather phenomena that they screwed up.

3. Convince Justin I’m really a Satanist that performs bizarre animal sacrifices.

4. Find every other Jake Gyllenhaal movie and watch it.

5. Read the dictionary so I can know every word Sue uses in her reviews.

6. A two-hour commute.

7. Translate my own handwriting.

8. Translate Chinese or ancient Arabic, which is probably easier than translating my own handwriting.

9. Eat eggplant.

10. Argue with Kyle over the use of capital letters on the forum (an exercise in futility if I ever saw one).

11. Read every novel by John Steinback. (I hate Steinback.)

12. Shovel six feet of snow in sub-zero weather.

13. Watch a full football game and actually pay attention, even if it’s not the Eagles or Penn State.

14. Read Shakespeare.

15. Watch the commercials in front of movies.

16. Insult Canada in front of Poolman and not run away before he can take his revenge.

17. Babysit all three of our nieces and our nephew for ten hours.

18. Read spam emails.

19. Visit Drew… in New Jersey.

20. Run. Right now. At eight months pregnant.

And there you have it. Twenty Things I Would Rather Do than Ever Watch Day After Tomorrow Again.

Just trust me on this.

Sue’s rating: Oh come on Lissa, it wasn’t that bad. Although number four has a certain appeal and five done has me smilin’ wider than a polecat in a nest full ‘o yellowjackets!

Sue’s review: Okay, here’s Sue’s number one rule for crafting a story. While it is broadly correct that truth is stranger than fiction, this is because authors carry a far greater burden of achieving credibility with their audience than the man in the street. (You know, the one who went fishing and almost caught one this big.) In essence, the more you make something up, the more limited you are in what you can do. I know this seems backwards, but trust me. You have to give your audience something they can latch onto, and you have to vigilantly guard the fine line between just right and over the top. By the time they throw their hands in the air and shout “ENOUGH!” they’ve been politely disbelieving you for at least fifteen minutes.

Let me demonstrate, if I can.

Fact: A few months ago, a homeless man came into the store where I work and scared the SNOT out of me. He was about three inches shorter than I am, clean shaven, probably in his early seventies, and had a squeaky high pitched voice. He wore a jogging suit and a red jacket.

Fiction: A few months ago, a homeless man came into the store where I work and scared the SNOT out of me. He was about six feet tall, and had an unkempt beard and greasy dark hair that came down to his shoulders. He was probably in his early thirties, and his voice was deep and sort of gravelly with a faint southern accent. He wore oil stained jeans and an old leather jacket.

Over-The-Top: A few months ago, a homeless man came into the store where I work and scared the SNOT out of me. He was eight feet tall, with a glass eye and a metal hook where his left hand used to be. His hair was redder than a post-apocalyptic battlefield and he had the voice of a thousand screaming demons. He wore spandex hot pants, a plaid flannel shirt and a stunning feathered boa. And there was a parrot on his shoulder that could recite the Rime of the Ancient Mariner in its entirety.

The Day After Tomorrow has a touch of spandex and parrot.

Now I’m no scientist, but the premise sounds awfully real to me. Global warming, shifting Atlantic currents, killer storms, and a new ice age? Sure. I buy that. I don’t know enough not to. Blind me with science. That’s what I’m here for.

And okay, I don’t mind that a paleometeorolgistthingywhatsis guy figures out what’s going on before anyone else; or that his son — who has inherited some major geeky intellectual genes from both parents — is off in New York City for a brainiac tournament. And hey, if he entered the tournament because he had the hots for some chick, that’s practically a teenage rite of passage, isn’t it? That’s not over the top. Fair enough.

I think, in retrospect, it was the wolves. Especially when they boarded the Russian freighter. I mean, wasn’t there enough peril with the flooding and the freezing and the forty feet of snow? WOLVES???? For that matter, RUSSIAN FREIGHTER??????

Now Justin might be more interested in geo-political ramifications, but as for me, I did sort of care about whether Buddha the Border Collie got to help continue his species — assuming he wasn’t neutered. Just the fact that the homeless guy knew about using wadded up newspaper to create an insulating barrier between layers of clothing made his presence in the movie worthwhile. Details like that, I don’t mind. A bit of human interest, no problem.

But I’m still cracking up over the wolves. It’s those things — the things that make me incredulous and not awestruck — that ruin the moment. It’s that sort of thing that sabotages what could have been a really decent story. After the wolves, I just couldn’t take it seriously. And according to the voices behind the movie, it was meant to be taken seriously. Oops. Nice special effects though. Jolly good effort.

Wolves… sheesh.

Didja notice?

  • Explain how the NYC library managed to avoid being submerged completely, while entire skyscrapers were covered up to the 50th floor or so?
  • Roland Emmerich confided that the Statue of Liberty would be turned over by the force of the massive amount of water flowing around it but said he wanted to create a symbol of American values that stood up to the forces.
  • The footage of the plane that crashed in the Midwest before the FAA’s flight ban is actually a stock photo of a January 1990 Avianca Airlines plane crash on Long Island.
  • Gee, he doesn’t look like Dick Cheney at ALL!
  • The footage shown on TV of the blizzard storm in the UK is taken from an actual news report in January 2002.
  • Towards the end of the movie, when the President is giving his “Thanking the third world countries” speech, the channel he is giving the speech on is The Weather Channel.
  • When Sam calls his father to tell him the sewer has backed up into the school, Kirsten Dunst is standing at his elbow, her sweater pulled up over her nose and mouth. Dunst was on set visiting Jake Gyllenhaal, whom she was dating at the time.
  • In the final satellite shot, the coastline of Florida and the U.S. Gulf Coast is instantly recognizable, despite the fact that (as the movie tells us) large areas of Florida would have been flooded.
  • When Jack is briefing the President, the evacuation line that he initially draws across the US is clearly well to the south of Washington – suggesting that he’s writing off everyone in the room as being doomed. In later shots, the line has clearly been awkwardly redrawn so as to place Washington to its south.
  • Are you telling me that the wolves survived, but all the crunchy little house-pets and bazillions of snackable rats didn’t? Not to mention that there had to have been plenty of nice bloated corpses to satisfy the most finicky wolfish appetite.
  • When the librarian says that Sam said it was too dangerous to go outside, Sam replies “I know I did”, but his lips never move.
  • What Sue knows about bare hands, metal ladders and sub-zero temperatures, was not apparently known by those who wrote this script.

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