Saturday, May 29, 2004

Reel To Reel:
The Day After Tomorrow

How It Rates: **
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Deadly Bad Weather, Mild Language

Preconceived Notions: Environmentalists (and Al Gore) are latching onto this disaster flick as some sort of a wake-up call.
The Bottom Line: It won't happen. It can't happen. And with director Roland Emmerich at the helm, that's a guarantee.

Disaster films live by a standard set of rules. So rather than take The Day After Tomorrow at face value, let's size it up by how it hits its marks.

1. One guy really understands what's going on, but nobody will listen to him. That guy is Jack Hall (Quaid), a paleoclimatologist who studies the weather, particularly disastrous weather, of the past. When temperatures in the seas shift suddenly and the storms roll in, only his climatology computer models have a chance of figuring out what's going on. Naturally, nobody in the government wants to listen, particularly the Vice President (who bears a nice resemblance to Dick Cheney by accident or design -- you make the call). The VP disses Hall's predictions of global climate change, and he just keeps on dissing. Fortunately, the President (passing resemblance for W.) gets a clue, but only because he got it in a direct briefing from Hall. But as usual, it's too late to do anything by this time but damage control.

2. Some strained relationship must be redeemed. That relationship is between Hall and his son (Gyllenhaal). When the film begins, Hall's marriage seems to be strained too. We're not really sure how strained, but we know Hall is an absentee parent. Dad and son part ways. But before the film is over, we know that the father and child reunion is only a blizzard away.

3. Rely on TV news to underscore the peril. 20th Century Fox flexes its synergistic muscle with scenes featuring live shots from Fox stations in L.A. and Washington. And for good measure, Fox News Channel makes a cameo. Obviously, nobody will be watching CNN when the world ends. Of course, we get the obligatory, hammed up stand-ups from reporters. None of these folks saw the now-famous tape of the KSNW crew who hid under a bridge when a twister tore through Kansas. I have yet to see a film (other than Broadcast News or Up Close And Personal) that gives TV crews something close to the common-sense street smarts of the people I have worked with for 10 years plus.

4. Somebody's gotta fall in love somewhere. That love interest, shallow and forgettable, is between Jake's son and a girl in his school's Academic Decathlon team (Rossum). Together, they're stranded in the New York Public Library amid the disaster after a competition (which we never know if they win or lose, by the way). But hey, at least they're stranded together. And there's a touching scene of them in front of the fire built to keep everybody warm. Why don't they just have sex already and get some serious body heat going? After all, if the world's really ending you might as well go out with a bang [insert rim shot sound effect here].

5. Logic is flexible. Rules can be bent. For Emmerich, we have to add and underline this one. He's the guy who gave us Independence Day, a movie rife with improbabilities right down to the notion that the world could be saved with a computer virus, assuming the killer aliens are running Windows.

Here, the one real annoyance is a serious injury to Rossum's character, which is conveniently ignored until the film needs more action. This leads to a sequence on board an huge empty Russian ship which amazingly steered its way up to the public library on its own, presumably breaking through whatever cars, buildings, debris, whatever is in the way. And that leads to more drama involving wild animals, which are conveniently inserted into the film for no other reason than boarding an empty ship and looking for supplies isn't perilous enough in a blizzard. And let's not forget, Jake warned his son to stay inside or freeze, and the son warned whoever else would listen (there's rule number one again). But both father and son go out again, without even anybody raising one question.

Great liberties are also taken with the science in this film, which we will discuss in a moment, and with the time-space continuum, which somehow is manipulated to get Dad to New York, by car and by foot, in a matter of days in the middle of this superstorm.

6. The effects are the real show. And baby, we've got 'em. Ice cracking. Killer hail. Twisters tearing through Hollywood. Floods ripping through Manhattan like the Red Sea falling on Pharaoh's chariots in The Ten Commandments. Characters chased by frost. Snow drifts three times higher than your roof. That's the part where you nudge Grandpa and say, "Is that what you walked through as a kid?"

7. Somewhere in this, there's a moral. It's preached to us at the end, albeit not in an overtly partisan manner worthy of a propaganda film, but it's there for us to deduce. Gotta stop driving those SUVs. Gotta stop burning those fossil fuels. Or one day, this all could happen.

The truth is, it won't. A paleoclimatologist who saw this film with us for KOLD-TV's Reel Life Movie Reviews told us that without hesitation. If you need more proof, check out The Weather Underground's excellent analysis by meteorologist Dr. Jeffrey M. Masters.

Al Gore and the environmental left are embracing this film because nothing else seems to be working to further their agenda. We love our SUV's. And try convincing somebody who went through record cold in New England this past winter that the planet is getting warmer. The left needs this film to get people talking about living cleaner and greener, which it will surely do. It will provide plenty of ammunition, despite its fictitious science, for critics of the Bush Administration's environmental policies.

But it will not make a dent in our laws any more than Michael Moore's Bowling For Columbine, which failed to toughen gun control policy. Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me will not run McDonald's out of business, even though it has discontinued Super Size Meals (which was a move to simply the menu, not caving in). Movies are meant to entertain us, not spur us to reform. This one widens our eyes with the storm of the millennium, but when the credits roll, it's just another disaster film.

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