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The Day After Tomorrow (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 4, 2021

The Day After Tomorrow

The Day After Tomorrow


Starring Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum, Dash Mihok, Jay O. Sanders, Sela Ward, Austin Nichols, Arjay Smith, Tamlyn Tomita, Sasha Roiz, Ian Holm, Nassim Sharara, Carl Alacchi, Kenneth Welch, Glenn Plummer, Adrian Lester, Nestor Serrano and Perry King.

Screenplay by Jeffrey Nachmanoff and Roland Emmerich.

Directed by Roland Emmerich.

Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox.  124 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

Roland Emmerich sure believes in his formula.  In Independence Day, Emmerich had aliens blow up most of the US, particularly in the money shot… the White House.  In Godzilla, he had a giant lizard trashing Manhattan. 

Now, in The Day After Tomorrow, giant twisters destroy Los Angeles, laying waste to the Hollywood sign, the Capitol Records building and an Angelyne billboard.  Hail the size of basketballs rain down on Tokyo (hitting people and cars, no national monuments, though.)  A tidal wave and snow washes over Manhattan, covering the Statue of Liberty and freezing the Chrysler building solid.  No landmark is safe in Roland Emmerich’s world.

The Day After Tomorrow is in many ways dumb.  It often doesn’t make any sense.  At least, it is a better film than Emmerich’s previous two cinematic apocalypses.  (Granted, it would be hard to be worse than Independence Day and Godzilla were.)  In fact, I have to admit as big, stupid spectacles go, I actually pretty much enjoyed the movie as long as I didn’t think about it too much, but just let the majestic spectacle of destruction wash over me.

Back in the 70s, the first big boom of disaster films, the danger was finite.  A cruise ship is capsized by a tidal wave.  A hole is blown into the shell of a 747.  A skyscraper catches fire.  A volcano blows over a tiny island resort.  Even a massive earthquake was limited to just one city.

It isn’t this way in Emmerich world, though.  It is not good enough to put some people in harm’s way.  Emmerich is more into the hellfire and brimstone, wrath of God school of destruction.  He doesn’t believe in killing off some people, he’s going for the whole race.

The Day After Tomorrow is the world’s first global-warming thriller (at least I believe it is…)  Dennis Quaid plays a brilliant scientist who is at the Arctic Circle when a great section of the Arctic Shelf breaks free.  His computations make him realize that the gulf stream air has gotten off track because of pollution.  It will quite possibly provoke a new ice age.

Now I believe in most of these ecological arguments, and even I realize that these explanations are crap, they are just an excuse to lay waste to the Earth.  Emmerich does use the opportunity to make a few political speeches. 

The Vice President (any resemblance to Dick Cheney appears to be totally intended) of course scoffs at them, saying the economy is important as the ecology.  The President is just ineffectual, at one point blankly asking the VP what he is supposed to do.  (The political jibes aren’t very subtle in this film, even if many people believe they are accurate.)

At first it is believed that the ice age is well in the future.  Then the climate takes a series of insane turns.  A series of twisters lay waste to Los Angeles.  Tokyo is battered by hail the size of boulders.  Scotland is turned into an arctic wasteland.  Floodwaters reach several stories high in New York, which then is fast frozen.  (Some of the New York destruction scenes did remind me uncomfortably of the World Trade Center disaster, even though they obviously were trying to avoid those comparisons.)

Professor Quaid, who was so dedicated to his work that his saintly cancer doctor wife (Sela Ward) was constantly chiding him about it, suddenly decides to go to the frozen wasteland of New York to save his son (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his pretty crush (Emmy Rossum of Mystic River). This is even though as far as he knows they may be dead and if they weren’t they likely will be in the days it would take to get there. 

Even though he could be helping the rest of the survivors in the world (he told the President to write off anyone north of the Mason/Dixon line) he decided to drive into the eye of the storm in the blinding snow from Washington to New York.  When his group crashes their SUV in Philadelphia, they decide to walk the rest of the way… which would take days in normal conditions, in this kind of extreme weather it could take weeks.

Fantastic actors like Dennis Quaid, Ian Holm, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum and Sela Ward are probably too talented to be playing the one dimensional characters they have been given.  This is not an actor’s movie, though, and I suppose that if you do have to have actors reacting to CGI effects while looking at a blue screen, you might as well hire good ones.

The Day After Tomorrow is a pretty dumb film, but I have to admit if you buy into its fractured logic, it’s a pretty scary vision of nature gone wild.  (5/04)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2004 All rights reserved. Posted May 30, 2004.

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