The Day After Tomorrow [DVD]
Director : Roland Emmerich
Screenplay : Roland Emmerich & Jeffrey Nachmanoff (story by Roland Emmerich)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2004
Stars : Dennis Quaid (Jack Hall), Jake Gyllenhaal (Sam Hall), Emmy Rossum (Laura Chapman), Dash Mihok (Jason Evans), Jay O. Sanders (Frank Harris), Sela Ward (Lucy Hall), Austin Nichols (J.D.), Arjay Smith (Brian Parks), Tamlyn Tomita (Janet Tokada), Sasha Roiz (Parker), Ian Holm (Terry Rapson)
Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow is most interesting when viewed as the final entry in a loose trilogy of blockbusters about … well, destruction.
The first film was Emmerich’s big breakthrough, Independence Day (1996), in which most of Earth’s population was wiped out by a marauding alien force. The cataclysmic destruction in that film was on a global scale, but it was an outside force for which we could not be blamed that was inflicting the damage
The large-scale mayhem in his next film, a big-budget remake of Godzilla (1998), was mostly relegated to the boroughs of New York City, but this time the onus of destruction was squarely ours. Godzilla, after all, didn’t just emerge from the sea for no reason; he’s the mutated bastard son of nuclear testing. Thus, while Independence Day was grander in the scope of its destruction, Godzilla took a more didactic approach by pointing fingers: You mess with nature, this is what you get.
That train of thought then brings us to The Day After Tomorrow, which combines worldwide destruction with a finger-wagging “It’s our fault” ethos. This time, it is literally nature itself that is the monster, turning on humankind in a sudden wave of fury after being assaulting by accumulating greenhouse gases. Inspired by Art Bell and Whitley Strieber’s book The Coming Global Superstorm, The Day After Tomorrow is a wild-eyed environmentalist “I told you so” scaled to blockbuster proportions. It’s not likely to make anyone think seriously about the damage their gas-guzzling SUV is doing to the environment as they drive home after the movie (despite the noble, if somewhat goofy, attempts by environmentalists to co-opt the movie as a political platform), but it is a greatly effective disaster extravaganza that’s never boring and never too silly.
The movie suggests that global warming has caused a shift in weather patterns that essentially throws the entire planet out of whack, resulting in a new ice age. I have no idea how sound the science is behind this conception, but it works fantastically well for the movie’s purpose of shock and awe. Witness Tokyo barraged by a hailstorm with ice chunks the size of bowling balls! Marvel at Los Angeles being torn apart by half a dozen tornadoes! Cringe as New York is flooded by a massive tidal wave! And then be astonished as temperatures drop so fast that anything caught outside, including unlucky helicopter pilots, freezes instantaneously!
All of this is rendered with digital special effects of amazing effectiveness. Roland Emmerich will never go down as a particularly great director, but he is a solid craftsman—a “meat and potatoes” kind of a guy, as a friend of mine put it. He doesn’t do anything outstanding, but what he does he does quite well with no pretensions of reinventing the wheel. Unlike attention-deficit-addled directors like Stephen Sommers, Emmerich understands that the real awe in great special effects derives from the audience’s ability to soak in the spectacle, whether that be a massive alien spaceship hovering over San Francisco or an image of New York City buried under ice and snow. Emmerich doesn’t hack and cut every scene to ribbons in a frenzied attempt to maintain his audience’s attention; rather, he lavishes the effects with long takes, sweeping camera movements, and extreme long shots that let our eyes move about the digital landscape, marveling at the details.
Of course, within all those effects is a story, one that is better than most disaster movie melodrama, but nothing to write home about. Unlike the 1970s disaster movies that insisted on two dozen main characters all played by recognizable actors, Emmerich goes with a more focused approach, concentrating on a handful of characters. The central dynamic is between a father and son. Dennis Quaid plays Jack Hall, a paleoclimatologist who correctly forecasts the impending doom, only to find that his dire warnings fall on deaf ears. Jake Gyllenhaal plays his 17-year-old son, Sam, who is trapped in New York City when the disastrous weather strikes.
Sam and a handful of survivors, including Laura (Emmy Rossum), a girl on whom he has an enormous crush, hole up inside the public library where they keep warm by burning books (this leads to a number of funny jokes about book burning and the relative merits and burnability of tomes by Nietzsche versus volumes about tax law, although no one ever thinks to burn the wooden furniture first). Jack ends up hiking most of the way from Washington, DC, to New York to save Sam, which neatly fits the narrative’s thematic bookends regarding his less-than-stellar fatherliness (you see, he’s always too busy working …). However, from a strictly logical point of view, it’s the silliest aspect of the story because it literally serves no purpose other than providing redemption for Jack via his arduous journey.
The screenplay, penned by Emmerich and first-time scribe Jeffrey Nachmanoff, has an obvious, but effective structure, in which small events gradually accumulate into larger and larger catastrophes. The mayhem is punctuated throughout with amusing bits of humor, including a role reversal in which Americans are illegally crossing the Rio Grande into Mexico and a pack of wolves escaped from the New York Zoo that begin hunting human survivors (well, at least I think the wolves were intended to be humorous). Emmerich takes more than a few clear swipes at the Bush Administration. The snide Vice President, a dead ringer for Dick Cheney, willfully dismisses even the most obvious impending doom while harping about the economy, while the President, who looks not unlike Bush, appears to be constantly confused (he’s a far cry from ID4’s heroic Gulf War veteran President).
Emmerich does a fairly good job of not letting humanity get buried in the onslaught of digital disaster, although he reaches a little too far with the child cancer patient being dutifully watched over by Jack’s estranged wife (Sela Ward). The delayed romance between Sam and Laura is actually surprisingly sweet and works quite nicely, and the casting of Jake Gyllenhaal, known primarily for dark performances in edgy independent films like Donnie Darko (2001) and The Good Girl (2002), was a good casting choice, akin to James Cameron tapping Leonardo DiCaprio for the lead in Titanic (1997).
There’s something vaguely sublime about The Day After Tomorrow’s inherent silliness that is intensified by the fact that some people want to take it and its eerie prophecy about impending natural doom so seriously. Emmerich himself takes the movie’s environmental message quite seriously, although it’s hard to see that in the movie. But, then again, that’s probably a good thing, at least from a profit perspective. After all, if there’s one thing we can be sure about when it comes to American movie audiences, it’s that they’re much more interested in paying money to see fantasy mayhem than to be preached to.
|The Day After Tomorrow DVD|
|Distributor||20th Century Fox Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||October 12, 2004|
|The Day After Tomorrow is presented in an excellent anamorphic widescreen transfer (there is also a separately available pan-and-scan version, but please don’t bother). The sharp, clear image shows off the details of the film’s impressive digital effects very well. Given the look of the film, there is a lot of contrast, especially in the snowy scenes, and the transfer holds up extremely well throughout.|
|Both the Dolby Digital 5.1 and the DTS 5.1 surround tracks are as impressive as the image transfer. Not surprisingly, The Day After Tomorrow, with all its scenes of weather gone bad, has an exceptionally active soundtrack, with many directional effects and a thundering low end. The surround speakers are well used to envelop you in the midst of the destruction, and the sound effects are nicely balanced with Harald Kloser’s orchestral score.|
|Given the technical nature of a blockbuster film like The Day After Tomorrow, it is somewhat surprising that this DVD release has so few supplements, which leads one to the conclusion that a special edition is somewhere down the road (fans of the film should be prepared to double-dip, especially since Region 2 is already getting a full-out, two-disc special edition). |
Granted, this disc does feature two feature-length, screen-specific audio commentaries, one by director Roland Emmerich and producer Mark Gordon and one by cowriter Jeffrey Nachmanoff, cinematographer Ueli Steiger, editor David Brenner, and production designer Barry Chusid. Both are worth listening to for those interested in the details of the film’s production. Audiophiles will enjoy the “Audio Anatomy” supplement, which allows you to view the freezing helicopter sequence with each of eight different sound layers isolated. Two deleted scenes are not so much deleted as they are different versions of two scenes already present in the film. For those who want to see behind-the-scenes footage, the disc boasts “over an hour of exclusive ‘making-of’ footage” … the only catch is that it’s only available as DVD-ROM content and only on PCs running Windows 98 or higher. So, for those who don’t have a computer with a DVD drive or those (like me) who prefer Macs, you’re out of luck.
Copyright ©2004 James Kendrick
All images copyright ©2004 Twentieth Century Fox