Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 2:04 - Released 5/28/04

The fact that The Day After Tomorrow, Roland Emmerich’s high-budget disaster film about the ironically freezing effects of global warming, makes no logical or scientific sense doesn’t take away from the sweeping majesty of its computer-generated special effects, which are, as usual with summer blockbuster movies, the real star of the picture. Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Emmy Rossum certainly aren’t; they’re more like guinea pigs in another Hollywood experiment, a test designed to find how computers can be used to draw the most money into the producers’ pockets. They’re the bait, you see, and we are the subjects. I am deeply opposed to this sort of animal testing, but I suppose in the interest of science, these things must be done. Written and directed by German-born Emmerich, whose previous exploits include equally dubious but admittedly successful experiments such as Stargate, Independence Day, and the 1998 remake of Godzilla, the film gleefully dispenses with anything of interest to actual scientists or weather enthusiasts (or movie critics) and plunges headlong into the realm of awe-inspiring pixels, that realm with which American moviegoers are becoming increasingly comfortable.

Quaid plays Jack Hall, a paleoclimatologist who has fought tirelessly to persuade the American government to stop relying so heavily on fossil fuels so that we may slow (or ideally, stop) the process of global warming. But no one really listens to him until his predictions begin coming true—large-scale melting of the polar icecaps begin affecting the weather around the world and wreaking havoc among its peoples. After bouts of snow in New Dehli and softball-sized hail in Tokyo cause newscasters to muse about the crazy weather we’re having, the big stuff starts happening: multiple tornadoes in Los Angeles, an immense tidal wave that swamps Manhattan, and finally, three gigantic superstorms that form throughout the entire northern hemisphere. These storms, which look like hurricanes the size of continents, draw supercooled stratospheric air down into their centers, so anyone caught in the eye of the storm is quick-frozen, kind of like in the cartoons when Sylvester grows icicles and grinds to a halt in mid-stride, complete with a surprised look frozen onto his face, because Tweety poured liquid nitrogen on him or something. Jack finally starts getting some respect from the White House, and suggests that they evacuate everyone to Mexico. The trouble is, his son Sam (Gyllenhaal) and his hot new girlfriend (Rossum) are trapped in New York where the storm’s eye is about to pass over.

You know, I’ve seen people running from a lot of things in summer action movies, from fireballs to huge monsters, from alien spaceships to Japanese warplanes. This is the first time I’ve seen people trying desperately to outrun creeping frost. While weather-related disaster movies have never been terribly believable, this one really pushes the envelope. Hey, I’m all for conservation and the phasing out of fossil fuels, but the way this film presents the message, it’s no wonder environmentalists are never taken seriously. I guess Emmerich felt that a disaster that takes hundreds or thousands of years is not scary enough, so he’d ratchet it up to a few hours. The effect is fun but not believable. One must not only suspend one’s disbelief to accept this movie, but one’s entire knowledge of physics, and only those who can do that (or who have no knowledge of physics) can really enjoy it. For the record, a few reasonably good performances by Ian Holm and Sela Ward tend to counterbalance the schlock, but since the schlock is what most people are going to see, the majority of moviegoers will probably think their parts are boring an unnecessary. After all, they really just interrupt the visuals.

Animal testing is wrong, and I resent being used in such an experiment, like a rat forced to make its way through a maze to find the cheese. But you have to admit, that cheese is pretty dang tasty. **½

Copyright 2004 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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