The Day After Tomorrow
directed by Roland Emmerich
(20th Century Fox, 2004)

It's appropriate that my family and I bundled into the basement to watch The Day After Tomorrow during the year's only (so far) snowstorm of note.

The inevitable questions followed. Could this really happen? (Yes, but probably not for a very long time.) Would it happen so quickly? (Almost certainly not.) Would it really be the humans' fault? (Without question.)

Of course, we also told the children how big snowfalls were common when we were kids. Climatic change, while never so dramatic as it appeared on screen, is already occurring around us.

And that's probably why, despite its flaws, I enjoyed The Day After Tomorrow so much. Well, that and the fact that the special weather effects were unquestionably superb.

And let's face it -- the movie is visually spectacular but a trifle thin when it comes to plot, characterization and basic science.

Dennis Quaid is Jack Hall, the heroic D.C.-based climatologist who predicts the next ice age. It could start in 100 or 1,000 years, he said, but it's definitely on its way. Turns out he was wrong about the start date, however; it begins the day after tomorrow and sweeps across the northern hemisphere like a house on fire.

His son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), is a boy genius who travels with friends to Manhattan for a big-league brain quiz -- and is, of course, trapped there when the big storm hits. His dad, after single-handedly figuring out the weather patterns, bidding farewell (by phone) to a colleague trapped at a remote Scottish weather station and convincing the U.S. president to evacuate half the country and write off the rest, drives to Philadelphia and then walks to New York (in stylish Arctic gear) to find and save his son. A son in peril also manages to reignite the long-dead love between Jack and his ex-wife, Lucy (Sela Ward), a heroic doctor who stays behind in an evacuated hospital to tend to the last remaining patient, a terminally cute boy with cancer.

There are some frankly ludicrous scenes, like the one where several of our young heroes sprint through the New York Public Library racing against the deadly killer ice -- which, it turns out, moves just slightly slower than teenagers can run and, apparently, can follow its victims with malicious intent. I'll let you make up your own mind about the abandoned Russian tanker drifting down the flooded streets of Manhattan and the pack of hungry wolves (zoo escapees) who menace our heroes on a mission of mercy.

But there are also many winning scenes, moments of furious weather that glue your eyes to the screen: multiple tornados tearing apart Los Angeles, giant hailstones battering a Tokyo streetscape, a tsunami roaring into New York, hurricane-like blizzards covering a major portion of the planet as witnessed by a pair of space station astronauts.

Buried beneath all the snow and ham-fisted dialogue is a political message, a pointed finger at the Bush administration for rejecting the Kyoto Treaty to reduce global emissions and a warning to do something -- anything -- about pollution before it's too late.

How often do we hear people joking during a cold winter's day about global warming? "Bring it on," they'll say with a grin. "I'm freezing." But The Day After Tomorrow might serve to remind people that global warming doesn't necessarily mean balmier winters or an extra notch on the AC in August.

Dry reports from scientists, reported almost daily in the news, don't do the trick. Perhaps awesome special effects will succeed where science has failed.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 5 February 2005

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