Review

The Day After Tomorrow Review

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Jun 09, 2004 | 1:08pm EDT

Like a violent twister touching down on a small midwestern town The Day After Tomorrow hurls moviegoers right into the eye of storm literally within minutes. As the film opens climatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) and his field team are almost killed when a chunk of ice the size of Rhode Island breaks off the Antarctic Ice Shelf. Later in Washington Jack's research suggests a buildup of carbon dioxide has caused polar ice caps to melt pouring fresh water into oceans and disrupting the North Atlantic current. The result? Three massive super storms that will push it into a new Ice Age--in a matter of days. But when the U.S. government launches full-scale evacuations Jack--snowshoes in tow--heads north to save his son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) who is holed up with some friends inside the Manhattan Public Library burning books (much to the dismay of the librarian) to keep warm. The story here isn't exactly deep introspective stuff and the geographically dispersed characters are simply here as vehicles to advance the plot. And while the story is littered with disaster movie clichés including the doctor who stays behind with her young cancer patient the autocratic vice president who won't take Jack seriously and the homeless guy who knows all the tricks to staying warm it almost doesn't matter. Disaster movies are about disasters--and The Day After Tomorrow nails it. The characters here don't really have that much depth but you have to appreciate that the movie doesn't deliberately aim to tug at your heartstrings. Remember the scene in Deep Impact when Tea Leoni and Maximilian Schell wait on the beach for the tidal wave to kill them? There are no sad-ass moments like this here. Quaid's character Jack is probably the most fleshed out a workaholic father who lost his family because he was never around. Now he's trying to right all his wrongs by saving Sam--even if it means snowshoeing from Washington D.C. to the Manhattan Public Library. Quaid is believable though both as a dad and a climatologist delivering lines like "Mr. Vice President if we don't act now it's going to be too late" with utter conviction-and he carries it off. Gyllenhaal (The Good Girl) plays his son Sam a brainiac whose best subject is suppressing his emotions. But although Quaid and Gyllenhaal's characters are a little cardboard you have to admire their ability to act frightened nervous and panicky in the face of nothing considering three-quarters of the film was created during post-production. A-list director Roland Emmerich whose surprise hit Stargate led to the big-budget actioners Independence Day Godzilla and The Patriot delivers a stunning and spectacular film. The Day After Tomorrow begins with the unnerving sequence in which Quaid dangles off the edge of the Antarctic Ice Shelf by an ice pick--and it only gets better. The scenes of destructions that occur in Los Angeles including the obliteration of Welton Beckett's landmark Capitol Records headquarters and the annihilation of the Hollywood sign by four deadly twisters are hair raising. Even more impressive are the shots of Manhattan being swallowed up by an inconceivable tidal wave followed by shots of a Russian freighter hulking down Fifth Avenue. And just when it can't get worst a radical temperature drop causes it all to ice over sending New York City into a deep freeze. Emmerich's direction throughout is so tight that it's difficult to detect where the set pieces and water tanks end and computer-generated imagery begins. With the exception of some bizarre looking CGI wolves that escape from the zoo the visuals here are flawless.

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