Written by: Roland Emmerich & Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ian Holm, Emmy Rossum, Sela Ward
The battle to avoid and alleviate climate change has waged on for years with advocates warning of the adverse impacts on our environment and others too focused on the current financial value to look into the future. Some people just need to see exactly what can occur if we continue to damage this planet, which The Day After Tomorrow seeks to achieve. Even with all of its cheesiness, it proves to be emotionally resonant and a visual marvel as well.
With the polar ice caps melting, paleoclimatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) attempts to warn the presidential administration about what will occur if shifts are not made in our practices as a planet. Disregarded ideas, which then blows up on everyone as a series of horrifying climate events occur around the globe, including tornadoes, floods, and the possibility of a new Ice Age.
If you’ve read my reviews of the other films directed by Roland Emmerich films like 2012 or 10,000 BC, you would know of my distanced affection for him. He typically makes subpar features but they always revolve around topics that interest me. Emmerich has become the master of disaster films, where if you see one on the horizon, you can bet he’s attached in some way. The Day After Tomorrow displays the typical tendencies which have dragged down his other films, but the positive aspects more than make up for it.
At the core of this story amidst all of the planetary disasters is the bond between a man and his son. Jack has never really been around for Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), as he works as a paleoclimatologist. Their relationship does not contain much substance, but it really comes together with the disasters arising. While Jack attempts to convince people in the nation’s capital of the danger this weather will have Sam travels to a competition in New York for an academic decathlon. As the weather events occur, it strands Sam, along with some classmates, in New York. The stakes only get higher when learning the northern states will get hit the hardest when this storm gets at its worst. This establishes the two main storylines we follow throughout the film. We have Sam trying to survive in New York and Jack trying to reach his son and must make his way to the big city from Washington.
Each of these storylines carries intrigue, but most human of them occurs with Sam. New York gets hit with a tsunami, which almost nearly submerges the city. Sam, his friends, and a host of other people make their way to a library for shelter. This place is where Sam learns the instructions of his father to not go out and stay warm, as the storm will get exponentially worse. This advice makes sense for Sam, but it gets heartbreaking as he tries to convince others to do the same. Everything occurring in the library shows the survival instincts we have as humans and how our egos let us down at times. While Jack makes his way through the cold for his son, the library provides moments of comedy, romance, and heartbreak as the people there try to wait out the storm.
Undoubtedly, the film wears its political opinions on its sleeve, but the matter of climate change should never be one of politics because we should be caring for this planet. Several moments throughout the film provide those moments where the story winks at the audience about the reversals in fortune. The most direct one, which made me laugh appears with the evacuation notice the president makes that people in the southern states should head to Mexico as the United States begins to freeze and be inhabitable. We then see the Mexican border officially trying to let them legally, while the Americans begin to illegally cross over seeking refuge. A truly delightful thing to see, as the fortune turns and the Americans refuse to play the waiting game for refuge, just as they sneer at any immigrants coming into their own nation. It did make me chuckle because it shows the hypocrisy of our laws and I believe this exact scenario would play out if the same events were to occur in our reality.
Roland Emmerich always delivers on his visuals and he has astounding moments in this film, including seeing the Statue of Liberty frozen solid or the looks from space at how much the world has been impacted. Each moment of catastrophic weather adds more danger, as things shift in a perilous matter before anyone can adequately react to it. The storms arrive in different shapes and sizes, but they all pose an incredible danger to anyone caught in it. Moments like the tsunami in New York and the aftermath of the eye of the storm look breathtaking and Emmerich manages to utilize these visuals in conjunction with the strong story.
Very transparent with its intentions and also incredibly effective, The Day After Tomorrow shows a future on our horizon if we do not take the environment seriously. Catastrophic events will occur and it becomes a manner of whether or not we want to do short-term sacrifices for long-term survival. Seeing this film so many times as a kid has allowed me to develop such an affection for it and the visuals certainly hold up. Certainly Roland Emmerich’s best combination of story and flash, and a film with a strong message along with a touching father-son connection.