After aliens and giant, atomically mutated lizards, master of world destruction Roland Emmerich turned to mother nature herself as his next agent of chaos. Global warming to be more exact. With “The Day After Tomorrow” the director anticipated a return to form with a formula he had perfected with his 1996 mega-blockbuster “Independence Day,” an equation that that certainly balanced itself at the box-office. Indeed, in the days before Al Gore’s awareness crusade received widespread exposure, this film played its own part as a wake-up call: You can outsmart E.T. with Will Smith and a computer virus but when nature fights back, our prospects won’t be as rosy. Viewed as such, Emmerich takes a much more serious tone with this picture, eschewing most of the yippee-ki-yay patriotism of said previous work and substitutes a much more desperate struggle for survival. A gamble certainly, one that only pays off to a certain extent.
Despite repeatedly addressing his concerns, it seems nobody will pay attention to climatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) when he predicts dramatic shifts in world climate causing untold devastation to civilisation. Naturally, these events come about sooner than even he could have predicted. A sudden drop in sea temperatures trigger a series of gigantic storms that batter all of the northern hemisphere and plunge the world into its next ice-age. For all the characters involved, the truth quickly becomes very inconvenient indeed. Jack’s semi-estranged son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is in New York with his would-be girlfriend (Emmy Rossum) when a tidal-wave hits the city. After all lines of communication are cut, the pals along with the standard assorted character-types take shelter in the NY public library. Finally convinced the apocalypse has arrived, the U.S. government begins evacuating people southwards and against the odds, Jack sets out to rescue his son. All expected cliches are present and correct, down to Emmerich’s requisite pooch that is, of course, much smarter than any of the humans. As far as development and personal drama goes, “The Day After Tomorrow” is tepid at best and predictable in the extreme. And because the entertainment factor is cut down on, audiences will find the result quite stale and the tragedy difficult to latch on to, perhaps with the exception of an underused Ian Holm. Nobody expects Shakespeare from Emmerich but the emotional connection is very much a missing link and leaves the film at a significant disadvantage.
What we have come to expect however, Emmerich does deliver big time. Victimised landmarks include the Hollywood hills, the statue of liberty and downtown Manhattan, expertly wiped out by tornados and monster waves and then iced over. ILM continue to provide top notch visual effects, not a single shady CGI shot is to be seen. The New York scenes and news footage in particular feel real and coherent on screen, not suffering from the directionless mess of action that perpetrated “2012.” Visually, the film has a moody and almost depressed air about it, yet the aftermath of ice landscapes are eerily beautiful. Some of the events do defy both logic and science – the effects of global warming will more likely take decades rather than days – but overall, the images’ realistic nature drive the point home as effectively as Gore’s slideshows. “The Day After Tomorrow” is therefore Roland Emmerich’s most mature film to date and although it sometimes takes itself too seriously and doesn’t make for nicely packaged viewing as “Independence Day” does, it is about a serious issue and has more than done its job if people sit up and take notice.
“The Patriot” marked the end of Roland Emmerich’s collaboration with David Arnold and for this film, fellow german Harald Kloser steps in to compose the film’s original score. Like the general atmosphere, Kloser’s score is much more restrained than Arnold’s contributions. Curiously, the music remains quite upbeat throughout the film despite the impending doom. Horns and strings play to dignified patriotism that defies the onscreen events but is pleasing to listen to. The last three cues on album evoke this general spirit and also the main theme of the film. The very first cue also introduces a rather haunting female voice that should have been utilised more often. Action cues like “Blizzard” penetrate but will probably sound generic to the seasoned listener and certainly won’t rival any of Arnold’s work. That said, the album is easily listenable on its own as in the film and while not an outstanding score is Kloser’s best work for Emmerich.
The characters and their development are laid on thin ice in “The Day After Tomorrow” but it is important to remember that they are only side-shows for a visual spectacle which Emmerich continues to refine. It may not be the director’s best film but it tackles what may soon become an all-too-real reality and surely he must be commended for that.
Emmerich is a very polarising director. For many people it’s a love-him or hate-him situation. What about you? I want to know – please leave a comment if you liked the review. Thanks for reading and all the best!