American cinema has been without an epic disaster flick for far
too long. The boom times of the ’90s left us with several of
these big-budgeted monstrosities: “Jurassic Park” and
its various sequels, “Twister,”
“Armageddon,” “Titanic” and
“Independence Day.” These movies were more than just
ordinary films — they were events, public spectacles. The
public responded with network television specials and media
campaigns that were themselves epic.

Film Reviews
Tobey Maguire called: He wants his vapid, worried stare back. (Courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

“The Day After Tomorrow” starts, as all disaster
epics do, with some menial tech junkie, half asleep on the job,
discovering some kind of natural anomaly: In this case, climate
shifts have broken apart an entire ice shelf in Antarctica. The
melting ice changes the proportion of fresh to salt water in the
world’s oceans, the Atlantic’s hot air currents are
disrupted, and peculiar weather anomalies wreak havoc on the
world.

The thing is, Jack Hall (a character as bland as his name
implies, played by Randy Quaid) has found that a similar increase
in heat created the last ice age 10,000 years ago. Because weather
is cyclical, he encourages the American Vice President to begin
wide scale evacuation plans. The Veep, modeled closely on Dick
Cheney, dismisses Hall’s ideas, but the freak weather
freezing most of the northern hemisphere soon changes his mind.

Are these meteorological irregularities worse than El
Niño? Actually, they’re “funny” rip-offs
of better movies. A massive block of ice the size of Rhode Island
breaks off of Antarctica, setting off an “armageddon”
situation much like a certain massive asteroid the size of Texas on
a collision course with Earth. Multiple tornados demolish Los
Angeles, throwing cars and humans about like a certain movie with
“twisters.” During a freak rainstorm, rich urbanites
try to commission a city bus that can’t help but go a certain
“speed.” A “titanic” Russian ocean liner
floats into New York City after tidal waves submerge all of the
buildings. Meanwhile, starved wolves break out of the cages at a
New York zoo, and trap a group of youngsters on the boat. Robert
Muldoon should have walked out with a tranquilizer gun (for the
audience, not the wolves).

A strong Hollywood personality could have given the film a
better focus — someone with the power to single-handedly save
a bloated epic like Will Smith did in “Independence
Day,” “The Day After Tomorrow”
producer/writer/director Roland Emmerich’s last movie.
Without an action hero so exuberant, so excited to be a part of the
movie’s conflict, the main character really becomes the
special effects. Just like in Emmerich’s previous disaster
masterpiece, this new film jumps around between a motley crew of
characters. However, in “Independence Day,” the actors
were given plenty of chances to show emotion and endear the
audience to their plight, and, as a result, viewers rooted for
their survival. In “Tomorrow,” there is no clear star
that isn’t cut into a contrived mess through the
hyper-editing required by the MTV generation. It seems as if
Emmerich just wanted to get that messy “acting” thing
out of the way and wow audiences with the special effects.

But maybe the lack of a solid protagonist isn’t the
problem, for the main nemesis of “Tomorrow” isn’t
an alien or an asteroid. Mother Nature isn’t someone you can
just nuke (as was the solution for those other-worldly foes), so
the role of ass kicking everyman just isn’t as pertinent
here. The nebulous, ill-defined quality of “The Day After
Tomorrow”’s central conflict leaves the movie in a
state of anticlimactic blandness and leaves Emmerich with no real
place to end the movie.

The opportunity to create the ending for movie like this would
have been the dream of any Hollywood director. The possibility of
starting civilization anew after the demolition of half of the
world simply intrigues the mind. Unfortunately, the audience is
left with an implausible letdown: a preachy Presidential speech
about conservation of fossil fuels that insults the intelligence of
the entire human race and doesn’t have the impact of a
sinking lifeboat, let alone a nuclear missile launched into an
alien mothership.

Indeed, the world has waited too long for another epic. And if
Hollywood keeps churning out directionless trash like “The
Day After Tomorrow,” it’ll just have to keep
waiting.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars.

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