Roland Emmerich has carved a niche in the movie world with his succession of big budget disaster films lovingly directed to display worldwide desolation against the backdrop of a select few survivors. The ploy has worked in varying degrees, vastly successful in his breakthrough 'Independence Day' while flagging in his follow up 'Godzilla'. In terms of being an entertainer, Emmerich's latest installment into the disaster subgenre, 'Day after tomorrow' is unfortunately much closer to the latter rather than the former.
The first few minutes of the opening takes viewers to the icy surface of Antarctica where Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid), a climatologist, is conducting experiments with his team, when he is rudely interrupted by a massive crack that forms on the surface. We next see him at an environmental conference in Delhi, where he squabbles over his distress at the neglected state of the world ecosystem with the vice president of the United States. Later that same evening he meets Prof. Rapson (the inimitable Ian Holm), a fellow scientist and concerned environmentalist who seconds Hall's claims of alterations in weather patterns. All of this is juxtaposed with scenes of dramatic climate shift globally. Fist-sized hailstones in Japan, snow in India and strong winds across the US all point to things not really being normal. In the midst of this is Hall's son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) who is preparing to go to New York for a school decathlon contest.
Once Jack is back at home and Sam has reached New York, all hell, and the CGI teams assigned to work on this, break loose. First come colossal hurricanes that rip apart the Los Angeles skyline, closely followed in quick successions by heavy rain, flooding, and eventually the movie's grand visual spectacle midway, the inundation of New York City. Say what you will, but these short lived bits are perhaps the only reason to sit through Day after tomorrow, because the rest of it is so exhaustively and knowingly the signature work of its director that the movie seems inconsequential.
It initially plods through the heavy visuals, setting up the vast ethnicity of mankind in jeopardy, suggesting some form of unity in danger that quickly cheapens because it feels like movie making cliché. There was a time when movies like this might have worked, because the thrill of seeing world wide catastrophe occurring on such a massive scale was unprecedented. In 2004, after having already witnessed numerous celluloid destructions in previous years ranging from volcanoes to asteroids and even Emmerich's very own aforementioned work, the entire premise seems based on a familiar pattern left on autopilot. To cite a comparison, the hurricane effects in 1996's 'Twister' were far more convincing and amusing than any single sequence in the whole of 'Day after tomorrow'.
I do not question the logic of the execution, despite being exaggerated and misleading hokum, because I did not seek any and I don't censure the performances, because they are exactly of the level that they need to be in a movie like this. The perplexity lies in the heavy handed execution of events that should excite, alarm, scare, awe or entertain us but which shoot off tangentially from the original storyline and embrace topics such as love, and parental dedication. The posters ask us "Where will you be"? Better at home, is what I say. - Faizan Rashid