The title of The Day after Tomorrow - now available in video and DVD - suggests the movie's most controversial idea: the next Ice Age is just around the corner. This may not be a foreign concept for Minnesotans - especially after the last few days!- and it has been suggested elsewhere, most notably in a book called The Coming Global Super Storm, upon which the film is partially based. Mostly, though, this better than average thriller's appeal lies not in its thesis but in some masterful special effects.
In fact, the real stars of the show are the technical folks at Industrial Light and Magic, Digital Domain, and about a dozen other "fx" shops. They have produced tornadoes in Los Angeles (with the Angelenos capturing the moment on film); ice covering Scotland (where the Royal Family presumably misses central heating at Balmoral Castle); and Russian freighters berthing on the steps of the New York Public Library (do the sailors have cards? Stay tuned.) Along with some superb sound work, the movie's visual appeal is undeniable.
The story itself is pretty standard, as director-screenwriter-producer Roland Emmerich attempts to employ the formula he and countless others have used previously. After nearly plummeting to his death in an Antarctic ice crevasse at the film's opening, a maverick scientist, paleoclimatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid), warns that our children and their children may be well facing a catastrophe brought on by global warning. Though the rest of the world pays some attention when snowstorms hit New Delhi, the U.S. - represented by a Dick Cheney-like Vice-President - rejects the idea as bad for the economy. (Okay, so the film isn't a total fantasy. When the catastrophe looms later, the President asks the Veep what he should do, and, in a still more terrifying moment, the Cheney figure takes over the reins of government. Yikes!)
Naturally, the Big Catastrophe has to be humanized, and the filmmakers trot in two love stories, both involving Jack's son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhall.) On the one hand, Sam's smitten by classmate Laurie (Emmy Russen), so much so that he joins an academic whiz team to be near her when the team travels to New York City for a match. On the other, Sam is angry with dad, who has been absent doing science for much of his son's young life. Sam's oncologist wife, Lucy (Sela Ward), isn't all that happy with him, either.
So when a tidal wave, followed by a super blizzard, followed by a super freeze, hits the Big Apple, Jack and some buddies strap on their cold weather gear, load up the four-wheeler, and set off from D.C. Complications ensue, some of which you might imagine, some not. For instance, you might not have worried about falling through the glass ceiling of a shopping mall or being attacked by a wolfpack in a library, but here you get those vicarious thrills. Cinematographer Velie Steiger, aided by Harold Kloser's musical score, manage to generate some tension, even though we know perfectly well how it will all come out.
If you like special effects and lots of stunts - or if you're just deeply into bad weather like some folks I know - you'll love The Day after Tomorrow. It's not going to win any acting or screenplay awards, but it will probably be up for some technical ones. Rated "PG-13," it's less than the advertising hype promised, but more than most of its ilk.