Another day, another ice ageThere was a time in America, back in the 1970s, when a new “disaster movie” was released every 20 minutes or so: “The Poseidon Adventure” (capsized cruise ship), “The Towering Inferno” (skyscraper on fire), “Earthquake” (earthquake), “The Swarm” (killer bees), “Airport” (hijacked plane), “Airport 1975” (plane crashes into other plane), “Airport ’77” (plane underwater)... The cheesy calamities just kept on coming.
“The Day After Tomorrow” continues this tradition of big, dumb destruction, with the added 21st-century twist of sophisticated computer-based special effects that don’t fool you even for a second. The premise is a new ice age, triggered by global warming, which freezes the northern third of the planet solid in something like a day and a half. It makes sense if you try not to think about it.
The old-school disaster movies were star-studded affairs, their casts packed with martini-swilling luminaries like Shelley Winters, Dean Martin and O.J. Simpson. “The Day After Tomorrow” musters Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal. Quaid is a climatologist who has the foresight to predict that global warming and the ensuing changes to the crucial North Atlantic currents and jabber jabber jabber will bring on a new ice age. But does the U.S. vice president, played by a guy who looks like Dick Cheney but without the crooked neck, listen to him? He does not.
Gyllenhaal is the climatologist’s son, who’s away from home at a prep school debate competition in New York when the cold wave arrives. I should admit here that some of the special effects are cool to watch, even if they don’t look like they’re happening anywhere but on a computer screen.
When a gigantic tidal wave strikes Manhattan for some reason, we get to watch from above as the wave hits the urban grid and subdivides into many smaller waves, which start making their way up and down between the buildings. It’s geometrically interesting. It’s also neat to see Los Angeles decimated by tornadoes for whatever reason that happens. We natives of the American Midwest, which is Tornado Central, enjoy it when coastal people can’t handle natural phenomena that we’re blase about. I felt the same way last March when seven inches of snow brought Korea to its knees.
When Quaid learns that Gyllenhaal is trapped in the now-frozen wasteland of New York, Quaid decides to drive up there and fetch him, even though it’s so cold by now that the government has written off the entire northern half of the country as a massive graveyard. When Quaid’s vehicle breaks down, he straps on snowshoes. This quest has something to do with Quaid never having been there for Gyllenhaal when he needed him most. Meanwhile, Gyllenhaal is being chased by timber wolves.
There’s a subplot involving a child in a cancer ward. Why not? In the movie’s funniest scene, Americans fleeing south to escape the cold fight and jostle and wave money for a chance to cross the border into Mexico. Planes crash. Ian Holm drinks scotch and waits stoically for death. By the end of the film, the chastened vice president with the straight neck has seen the foolishness of his ways and makes a speech about how mankind cannot endlessly pillage the planet yada yada yada. Good stuff. Now we need a new killer bees movie.
The Day After Tomorrow
Drama, Action / English
by David Moll