Thursday, 16 April 2009

Movie Review - The Day After Tomorrow

There are three things you would expect from a film made by the people who gave us Independence Day:

1/ A plot that thinks it’s cool and clever but borders on the idiotic more than once,
2/ Impressive special effects
3/ Unbelievably stereotyped British accents in an obligatory scene featuring the RAF.

You may or may not be pleased to discover that The Day After Tomorrow provides all of these, but it’s no the same sort of film as Independence Day at all. In fact, despite the potential of the plot, there really isn’t much to distinguish it from practically every other disaster movie that’s ever been made. (I’m not a fan of the genre so I’m a little biased against them, but I did enjoy Volcano - much to my surprise – so I’m not pre-programmed to dislike them.)

The basic plot for this film is that the earth is about to be engulfed by a global temperature shift into an (almost) ice age, which will make the entire northern hemisphere uninhabitable. Geologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) realises this, but is not believed by the Evil Vice President. Ho hum, the inevitable happens, and Jack's son ends up trapped in the middle of lots of snow, and has to be saved… blah blah.
They really could have done something with the plot here, and the science does at least sound reasonably plausible, but instead of doing anything worthwhile the scriptwriters went for the dependable old “tugging at the heartstrings” method of completely unbelievable plot contrivances to get the main characters into “tense” situations. (You can tell I’m not impressed, can’t you?!?) The acting is mediocre, and Quaid (an actor I really liked in the wonderful Undercover Blues) looks, sounds, and acts like a second-hand Harrison Ford – and at one point even gets to deliver a line from one of Ford’s films (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) in exactly the same manner. Imagine Ford playing Jack Ryan in Clear and Present Danger, take away a bit of class, and that’s the performance of the main character in The Day After Tomorrow. On the other hand, Jake Gyllenhaal did show occasional flashes of real talent as Jack’s son, Sam. As Laura, Sam’s token love interest, Emmy Rossum was… sorry Emmy, but you were just boring. Sela Ward as Jack’s wife was okay, but her performance, like most of this film, was rather pedestrian.

On the plus side, while they’re reached in such a contrived fashion, the action sequences themselves are well done. I’d hardly call it edge of your seat, but I’ve seen a lot worse. There are occasional glimpses of directing talent that rises way above the level of 99% of the film – for instance, when trekking through the snow, a battered sign for having a holiday in the sun can be seen – just for a moment, so you’d miss it if you weren’t paying attention. This kind of subtlety is sadly lacking for most of the film, where the ecological message (well meant, no doubt) is thrown at you with force every few minutes.

The special effects are obviously the centrepiece of this film, and for the most part they are indeed impressive – the weather effects look spectacular, with the swirling clouds viewed from outer space being particularly good. However some of the vehicles look more like they come out of a computer game than a film, particularly the helicopters. Considering how pivotal they are to the film, however, they do not exactly leave you in awe.

There’s very little real suspense in the film due to it being so contrived, though it does have a few moments that’ll have you involved. There’s an occasional bit of humour, which are actually funny even more occasionally. Running time is 117 minutes, though it felt like a lot more… It could have usefully lost at least 20 minutes.

Overall, what we have here is yet another case of what could have been. There’s practically no imagination in this film, it’s just a disaster pic on a near global scale rather than a ship / house / city . I very nearly didn’t bother going to see it all, having read so many reviews that similarly pointed out how mediocre it was. However I’m glad I did, because I would always have been left wondering if it just pushed into the “worth watching” side of average. And it does – just. Nothing about it is actually bad, it’s just mediocre. However, the end sequence and it’s message are well worth seeing, and beautifully ironic. If only the rest of the film had been as good…

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See also my Review of 2004 Movies.

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