CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT # 3: THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2004)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
MICHAEL ARRUDA: Welcome to CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. I’m Michael Arruda and this is L.L. Soares.
L.L. SOARES: Yep, that’s me.
MA: Today we look at THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2004), the much hyped disaster movie that is taking the nation by storm.
And storm is what THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW is all about. Scientist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) warns a group of world leaders that unless serious measures are taken to stop global warming, there will be changes in the ocean currents that will lead to a second ice age. When severe storms break out across the entire northern hemisphere, and temperatures drop dramatically, Hall realizes his predictions are happening right now.
We see tornadoes in Los Angeles, a huge tidal wave in New York City, and ice and snow that covers just about everything in its path. The movie follows small groups of survivors who fight against the elements, including Hall’s teenage son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), and Hall himself, who travels from Washington D.C. to New York City to rescue his son.
As you would expect, the true star of THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW is the special effects. To this end, I was disappointed. When creating fantasy worlds, such as Middle Earth in the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, CGI effects are close to flawless, but in real life settings, there’s just something missing. The look is almost animated and as a result the anticipated sense of awe and terror you expect when seeing scenes of great destruction, it’s just not there.
This is not to say I didn’t like THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. As a fan of the disaster flicks from the 1970s, I enjoyed watching this movie, though I wish somewhere Charlton Heston would have shown up to say with his ’70s cynicism, “Oh my God.”
LS (doing a Charlton Heston imitation): ”Damn Dirty Apes!”
Ahem…..This movie wants to be a new generation’s EARTHQUAKE (1974) or THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972), but those movies had interesting characters, and storylines that kept you wanting to see more. I’d take Gene Hackman or Ernest Borgnine over Dennis Quaid any day of the week.
MA (pulls out ice pick.) (Hums).
LS: I think I liked the effects a little better than you did, although I didn’t find them realistic as much as just fun….what are you doing?
MA (waving pick): Just listening to what you have to say. That’s all.
LS: OK….Director Roland Emmerich provides us with a few good images, but when it comes to engaging characters, he consistently comes up short, as anyone who has seen his god-awful GODZILLA remake (from 1998) already knows. The movie starts off fast with a lot of potential. By the time giant tornadoes are ripping Los Angeles apart, I was actually digging it. But all the really good stuff happens early on and the second half of the movie just didn’t do much for me.
MA: I agree the characters weren’t all that interesting, but I did enjoy Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance as Sam. He reminded me of a cross between Tobey Maguire and a very young Oliver Reed- I guess that’s the horror film fan in me!
LS: Jake Gyllenhaal is okay, until you realize this is the same guy who was the lead in DONNIE DARKO (2001), and in comparison, his DAY AFTER TOMORROW character is one-dimensional and inconsequential. He’s just some smart kid without much personality. So what?
And Dennis Quaid looks like he’d make a good leading man, but his acting is pretty wooden. I didn’t feel much empathy for his character because he seems like someone going through the motions, rather than someone who has genuine emotions. We’re expected to believe that he desperately wants to connect with his son again, even though most of his son’s life he’s been an absentee father by choice, choosing his career over his family. His goal to reach New York and his son doesn’t seem to have any emotional investment. It’s just a plot device to provide motivation for the second half.
I’d even go so far as to say that not one of the characters in this movie convinces us they are worth saving. There isn’t anything about them that makes them special compared to the millions who presumably die. They’re just dots on a line from Point A to Point B.
MA (slams ice pick into wall): I completely disagree. I thought Sam and his friends were likeable, and I bought into their plight in the library.
(PuLS out ice pick) For me, the biggest disappointment, especially in terms of this column, was that I didn’t find the film very frightening. It’s rated PG-13 for “intense situations of peril” and to be honest, I didn’t find the situations very intense. As much as I like to lump all sorts of movies into the horror category, I can’t do that with THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. It’s just not horror.
LS: Actually, nature striking back at humanity has a long history in horror. Done right, this could have been an effective movie. But as is, it’s just a mediocre and often implausible story with some nice visuals.
I also had a problem with a few times where things got preachy – it was like a big budget public service announcement for global warming. That kind of stuff really bugs me in a movie. Just tell the damn story!
MA: Lucky for you, I agree. (tosses pick aside) I was also bugged that everyone in the movie watched “Fox News.” That was the scariest part of the movie!
LS: I went into THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW expecting to absolutely hate it. I didn’t. But it’s only a so-so movie. And so-so movies just don’t justify a $10 ticket price.
MA: No they don’t. But Jake Gyllenhaal is good, and I hope one day he plays a werewolf!
(Originally published in the Hellnotes Newsletter on June 17, 2004)
© Copyright 2004 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares