The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

Does The Day After Tomorrow take itself a bit too seriously? Yeah, I’m pretty sure I can say that with a good degree of certainty. There isn’t an intentional laugh to be had in Roland Emmerich‘s 2004 disaster flick. That’s not to say there aren’t funny parts, it’s just that this doesn’t appear to the intent of the filmmakers. Everything within the film is played straight, including a scene where people outrun the cold air, before shutting a door on it.

That’s right. People outrun the air and stop it by closing the door on it. So, why does something like this scene take away from the film, instead of being passable in something like The Happening? Well, it’s because the latter example doesn’t take itself seriously at all, and in fact, invites you to laugh along with it. Both films are disaster films, and neither is particularly good, but at least The Happening manages to be a fun experience, instead of the bore that The Day After Tomorrow ends up being.

This is too bad, because there are some good things that have gone to waste when creating this film. The special effects were overall solid, and … actually, that’s just about all the film has going for it. And even they sometimes look really out-of-place. For example, there are a couple of scenes that show CGI wolves. Now, don’t get me wrong, from an animator’s perspective, these wolves look great. They act and move like real moves. The problem lies in how they just look really out of place in a film like this one. As realistic as they might look, they don’t look realistic enough to have a place in this movie. They take you out of the immersive feeling of the movie whenever they show up.

Immersion is the other thing that the film did fairly well, but this is done mostly through the environments featured in it. There are parts of the film that take place in the Arctic, and after the natural disasters begin occurring, all you see is snowy, deserted areas. You do get a real chill while watching it and it has parts that will have you reaching for your blanket.

The story opens with you learning about far too many characters. Mother Nature seems to have had enough of us polluting her atmosphere, so it’s time to show the humans who’s boss. Tornadoes begin destroying Los Angeles, and soon enough we enter into a snow-filled hellscape…despite the tornadoes, typhoons and hurricanes shown earlier having nothing to do with this. Anyway, many of the characters are quickly killed off, and we instead get to follow two stories. One story follows Scholastic Decathlon student Sam Hall (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his friends who end up trapped in New York. The other story follows climatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid), who, despite telling the world not to go outside, does exactly this and ends up snowshoeing across miles of snow to get to his son.

The main reason to watch The Day After Tomorrow is for the visuals.

The main threat of the movie ends up being the cold. There is a superstorm coming down from the Arctic, and in the eye of the storm, the temperatures reach below -150 degrees Fahrenheit. It soon becomes a race between the father and this superstorm, with the finish line being New York City. And despite giving away almost the entire plot, except for who wins and what happens to the planet after the race, I still wish I could give away more spoilers.

See, the ending is something I have a big problem with. We get told at some point in the film that it’s only the Northern Hemisphere that is being affected by these storms (despite the fact that there were supposedly typhoons in Australia), so everyone gets ordered to head as far south as they can go. What happens when they get there? Will the world come together in this time of need? What about all the resources that come from countries in the north? The first point gets touched upon, but the second point is disregarded entirely. Surely, even if people manage to escape the storm, there would be too few resources to sustain this population.

Speaking of resources, the film isn’t light about its message either. Depletion of natural resources will eventually lead to our downfall just about sums it up. It gets brought to the foreground early on in the film, before being ignored for the majority of the second act. Once the ending comes around, and even after where the film easily could have ended, it rears its ugly head again. Yes, climate change is bad, we get it. We don’t need it repeated multiple times over the course of the film.

There is also a problem with the casting of the film. The actor who ends up doing the majority of the work is Jake Gyllenhaal. He is cast as a 17-year-old high school student, and just doesn’t look that young. He doesn’t do a terrible job with the role, but being a college student would have been far more believable. It takes you out of the film when you realize this, and then keeps you out for the rest, as you continue to question his age, and why they couldn’t have cast someone younger for the role. Some people can play much younger without an issue, and The Day After Tomorrow taught me that Gyllenhaal is not one of these people.

The main reason to watch The Day After Tomorrow is for the visuals, and while they are good for the most part, they aren’t good enough to make it worth watching. It had a good message, but was way too up-front about it. The story was too implausible to be considered close to realistic, and the casting of Gyllenhaal really bugged me. It’s immersive, but there are better disaster, special effect, and story-driven films out there.

Conclusion: The Day After Tomorrow is immersive, but it lacks in most other areas.

Recommendation: There are better disaster movies out there. Skip this one.

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