STARRING: Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum, Dash Mihok, Jay O. Sanders, Austin Nichols, Arjay Smith

2004, 124 Minutes, Directed by: Roland Emmerich

The Day After Tomorrow has been promoted as a potentially true story. Filmmaker Roland Emmerich has tried to attract huge box office returns by claiming that scientists have predicted something similar to the events depicted in this film really could happen. I very much doubt it.

The film's theory is rather thin, which may explain why it is simultaneously confusing. A scientist (played by Dennis Quaid) foresees a global disaster involving polar ice caps. His theory is that the earth's natural cycle of heat will be disrupted, resulting in the "next ice age." Of course, as New York City and Los Angeles are destroyed, and the United Kingdom is frozen solid, it is considered that mankind is being destroyed. Really? What about areas south of the US, such as Africa, Australia, and New Zealand?

Emmerich doesn't deal with any other countries than the US and UK, which will serve as fuel for those who claim the United States is ignorant when it comes to other countries. But regardless, we are supposed to believe that the next ice age is occurring. Temperatures drop at rapid paces. Tidal waves roar across cities, destroying everything and everyone in their path. Tornadoes demolish large buildings and blow debris into cars and humans as they grow larger. While this happens, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is trapped in Manhattan's public library. His father (Quaid) tells him to stay put, and that he'll come get him. There are some fine action sequences prior to the rescue, such as when Sam finds himself trapped in a large vessel with a pack of wolves that have escaped from a zoo (don't ask). Great special effects and tense sequences are ultimately what make silly scenes like this so fun.

Emmerich is notorious for his big-budget disaster flicks such as the colossal Independence Day and equally gargantuan Godzilla. Neither of those two movies worked for me. Independence Day was rather stupid and Godzilla was both stupid and inept; a totally joyless B-monster movie homage complete with a multi-million dollar budget and famous stars. If Godzilla was an homage to those cheesy cult monster flicks, then The Day After Tomorrow is Emmerich's ode to the disaster flicks of the 1950s and '60s, when the Cold War had just begun to settle, and when novels such as "Alas, Babylon" depicted vivid images of a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Indeed, Independence Day contains all the fundamental elements of a B-movie, but happens to boast one of the largest budgets in cinema history as a counter to this summary.

Emmerich's best film, so far, has been the one in which he abandoned disastrous activities for a touching story in The Patriot, which starred Mel Gibson, and which I highly recommend despite its historical inaccuracies. However, The Day After Tomorrow also comes with a recommendation (albeit a half-hearted one) because it has one vital ingredient that Emmerich's other disaster movies sorely lacked: A sense of fun and bouncy spirit.

Yes, The Day After Tomorrow, while admittedly stupid, is also a very fun movie with some of -- if not the -- best CGI sequences I have ever seen. Many people might argue that the Lord of the Rings trilogy boasted superior visual effects, but I beg to differ. Here, we see New York City demolished before our very eyes. Tidal waves pour across Manhattan -- most of them seemed so real that even my very cynical perception failed to trace them.

Independence Day represents a breakthrough in computer generated images -- I had a hard time spotting quite a number of them in this film. I am usually rather anti-CGI. I consider it to be a generally sloppy way of filmmaking for directors too lazy to put effort into making more realistic stunt sequences for their films. But here, one of the only reasons I can recommend the movie in the first place is because of its CGI. The New York City sequence (roughly ten minutes long) is worth the admission price alone.

The acting is fairly impressive. Quaid does his best with the dialogue he is given. Gyllenhaal (who frequently demanded dialogue re-writes on the set of the film) makes his character likable and a relatable hero. The movie is not great by any means but the performances are far better than those in Independence Day.

On the downside, Emmerich's film is so blatantly liberal that it almost ruins some of the fun. The President of the United States bears an uncanny resemblance to Al Gore. He is depicted as the "good guy." When he dies, the Vice President (who looks like Dick Cheney!) takes over. He is the "bad guy" who ignores the warnings of scientists and is responsible for the deaths of millions. Towards the end of the film (without ruining all of it) he apologizes to America for being ignorant and declares that we have been stealing from Mother Earth too long, and should have been more careful with our resources, yadda yadda. I feel like I've seen this movie before. And I feel like I've seen this same sort of speech before. Could it be from Independence Day? Maybe. Either way, The Day After Tomorrow has some of the best special effects I've ever seen. And that is really all I expected from this movie, and I was surprised to find a fair amount of humor, fun, and tense scenes that I really didn't expect at all. I think Emmerich is finally learning how to make a good disaster movie -- hopefully his next will be as good as this.

- John Ulmer



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