Tomorrow's Forecast

Global warming freezes New York in its tracks. Cool.


May 28, 2004|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC



Fissures in the Antarctic ice cap. Tornadoes taking out the Hollywood sign. Tsunamis engulfing Manhattan. Hail the size of canned hams.

Are we having fun yet?

Sure, why not? The Day After Tomorrow, in which global climate changes bring about a sudden reprise of the Ice Age, may be based on flawed science, may be dripping with such plot pratfalls as illogic and coincidence, may contain dialogue the like of which has never come out of a human mouth. But is all that necessarily wrong?

Not when everything else is such a hoot, the trappings of a good, old-fashioned disaster flick that cares only marginally about plot and character but obsesses over blowing things up real good and keeping events moving real fast. Writer-director Roland Emmerich, surely the Irwin Allen of his generation, has made his best film to date, with special effects that are unrivaled and a threadbare narrative that's wise enough to get out of the way when the CGI guys take over.

Dennis Quaid stars as paleoclimatologist Jack Hall, whose dire warnings about global warming and the threat to both our environment and our well-being - stop now, or there will be hell to pay in a century or so - routinely fall on deaf ears.

Unfortunately for him and every other person on the planet, catastrophe proves far more imminent than even he suspected. With warmer temperatures melting glaciers and sending fresh water into the oceans, global currents (especially the big one in the North Atlantic that keeps the Western Hemisphere relatively balmy) begin running amok and the weather turns seriously haywire. Soon, everything north of the Mason-Dixon line is turning into an Arctic tundra.

Amid all this mayhem, Hall sets out on a desperate rescue mission to Manhattan in search of his son (Jake Gyllenhaal). The son is holed-up with a handful of fellow survivors - including his girlfriend and requisite woman-in-peril (Emmy Rossum) - in a top-floor room of the city's massive public library, where they've been burning books for days (or weeks? In this film, time is difficult to define) in a desperate effort to keep warm.

But enough about plot; like all good disaster flicks, such concerns are, at best, secondary. What matters are the disasters, and here, Emmerich and his co-horts have never shone brighter. Images of huge waves crashing though New York (should it matter that they're heading in the wrong direction?) are hold-your-breath mesmerizing. And the scenes of an ice-choked Manhattan are wrenchingly gorgeous, a vision of catastrophe both beautiful and brazen. (If nothing else, The Day After Tomorrow should establish whether audiences are ready to watch make-believe destruction scenes of New York again, less than three years after 9/11.)

Critics of global warming legislation, scientists and conservative pundits who insist the world has nothing to worry about from the continued burning of fossil fuels, have condemned the film for having a political agenda, and Emmerich has fueled their ire by saying he hopes people will learn something from his film. But what's new about movies that take as their inspiration the possible danger of unchecked science and technology? The '50s were rampant with sci-fi flicks that warned of nuclear devastation, while an unseen repercussion of space exploration nearly destroyed the world in The Andromeda Strain.

In truth, Emmerich's inspiration is more The Poseidon Adventure than anything else; the film even includes a scene where hundreds of people are led to certain doom by a well-meaning man in uniform, despite pleas from one the film's stars (Gyllenhaal) that they stay right where they are - a plot point taken almost note-for-note from Poseidon.

Not surprisingly, Tomorrow includes its share of absurdities. Quaid's character, for instance, treks from Philly to New York on foot (in glacial cold) to save his son, and there's even a sick kid thrown in for surefire emotional impact. But unlike in Independence Day, which lost me when the first lady and an exotic dancer ended up sharing a high emotional moment, there's nothing here that grinds the film to a halt. Better than his previous films, The Day After Tomorrow plays to Emmerich's strengths, making for a thrill ride that rarely disappoints when it matters.

Day After Tomorrow

Starring Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum

Directed and co-written by Roland Emmerich

Rated PG-13 (intense situations of peril)

Released by 20th Century Fox

Time 124 minutes

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