No Dawn.

For Men.
Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Point one: I do not like disaster movies. Recently, some poll decided that The Poseidon Adventure was the best disaster movie ever. Whatever. If I want to see people traipsing around upturned sets, I pick Windsor McKay's Li'l Nemo, not Ernest Borgnine and Shelley Winters. And besides, there's a dirty kind of a vicarious pleasure involved in the entire genre.

Point two: I do not like the Roland Emmerich films. I tend to side with those who consider them banal thrill rides that pander to the lowest common denominator, vapid spectaculars with an utterly hollow core. Godzilla. Independence Day. Duh.

Point three: With this caveat, The Day After Tomorrow is not only the best Emmerich movie ever, but the best disaster movie of all time. (Sorry, Ernest.)

How so? Well, it's not because I walked into the screening expecting to like it; I mean, seeing a movie in which New York gets thrashed is not the same thing nowadays as it was back in the day. I kinda thought Emmerich should know better after 9/11 and all. So, yeah, I sat down to watch vapid. And then...

See, this is the first Emmerich movie that gets its facts right (I'm looking at you, Patriot, too). The global warming can produce these kinds of effects; and, furthermore, Ice Age is a normal condition for this planet - off the top of my head, something like 160,000 out of the past 180,000 years have had Ice Age conditions. And science is just now figuring out the mechanisms that govern their occurrence - which is turning out to be sudden and catastrophic, and not slow and gradual. Combine that with mythology, and you have endless support for flood myths and the dozens of existing Atlantis-type legends; combine that with the environmental issues of today, and you have The Day After Tomorrow - a movie in which Roland Emmerich does what he does best and finally has it be plausible.

It's horrifying. It's engrossing. And it's spectacular. No, scratch that last one: it's OMG SO INCREDIBLE SQUEEEE *faint*. The work done by multiple effects houses here may not be entirely photoreal, but is never less than convincing - and what work it is. From concept to execution, this is what I call special effects. Big, bold, so grandiose that even the most jaded filmgoers will find themselves gasping in sheer astonishment. And, this time, there is an actual story.

No, not the Ice Age story. I mean, yes: the movie is about the Ice Age coming to the world in the space of a week, and naturally any script dealing with such things will have to balance the scenery-chewing performance of Mother Nature in the leading role with humans in the bit parts. And this usually leads to dollops of melodrama and ID-sized photos of Hollywood's Brightest on the poster. This time, though, Emmerich keeps the human stories small and relatively dross-free, and even while acknowledging the inevitability of melodrama, he makes it more than bite-sized. Most of the story is centered around Dennis Quaid and his family, consisting of Sela Ward (who is a doctor caring for a boy dying of cancer - yes, yes, I know), and Jake Gylenhaal (who is a shy, smart kid with no premonition of the impending doom, for once). And we do spend most of the time with them, and they don't do any stupid and/or overtly implausible things (except surviving, for the most part). And they're smart, intelligent people, like most every character here, so you don't spend time yelling at the screen, but rather sympathising with their plight. Which is just about as much as you can expect from the storyline of this kind of a movie. (Also: Watch out for Emmy Rossum. She glows here. And Ian Holm has a nice turn as a professor of meteorology or something, who spends most of his screen time at a weather station in Scotland. As he and his fellow scientists realise they'll probably end up frozen, one of them discovers a secretly stashed bottle of whiskey... and Holm says, wistfully, "12 year old Scotch." Oh, if he only added, "It was laid down by my father." Well, Cleo will fix that.)

One other thing. The politics of this film is utterly removed from the Clintonesque gung-ho of Independence Day: slyly, Emmerich has a Cheneyesque Vice President serving under a wise Commander in Chief who looks more like Al Gore than the man currently in charge. And the VP is very Cheneyesque - concerned more about big bucks than science, and very unwilling to listen to the facts, until it's too late. Well, in the view of the current administration being accused of being the most environmentally unfriendly in the history of the US, with petitions signed against it by America's leading scientists of all fields... all I can say is, I can't frankly believe that this film is coming from Fox. And that it features Fox News rather a lot. Weird.

In conclusion: The Day After Tomorrow is just about as good as it gets when it comes to megabudget disaster spectaculars. It took me completely by surprise, and I can't wait to see it again. Go figure.


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