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The Day After Tomorrow
Reviewed by Carla Freccero
Aired 6/15 and 6/16, 2004

Now playing in cinemas everywhere, The Day After Tomorrow is directed by Roland Emmerich, who also directed Independence Day. It stars Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ian Holm and Emmy Rossum, with a host of other minor roles played by favorite "type" actors. One would think that at the moment disaster movies might be too touchy for most U.S. audiences. So that's probably why this one is about catastrophic weather. In non-terrorist-scare times, catastrophic weather is a real material issue for United Statesians, and it's also a popular subject for TV movies and the like, an easy way for us to get our frisson of believable terror. But this one is more reassuring than that, recognizing that perhaps everyone's too delicate for even the plausible human-induced natural disaster events.

This one, in other words, is patently ridiculous: because of global warming, several holes open up in the atmosphere, creating massively cooling vortices that mimic the ice age and cause radical temperature drops and huge storms all over the world. Not that it couldn't happen-I know nothing about the science involved-but here it all happens in a matter of weeks, from ominous start to complete finish. So the audience can relax, laugh at the premises, and enjoy the exciting special effects, fast pace, and infinitely silly dialogue that ensue. This movie is good, absorbing fun, and I recommend it highly for sheer entertainment value.

Dennis Quaid is Jack Hall, the climatologist-he's the one who figures out what's going on, receiving encouragement and confirmation from an illustrious Scottish scientist played by Ian Holm. Of course, our government won't listen-and interestingly enough the movie features a truly evil vice-president and an ineffectual but right-minded president. So the disaster arrives.

Great shots of tornados destroying downtown Los Angeles, New York City swallowed by tidal waves, etc. Meanwhile the human drama involves Quaid and Gyllenhaal, who plays his son, Sam. Dad has neglected the kid, always too busy on some mission or other to spend time with him. He's separated from Mom (Sela Ward), who's a doctor. Nothing like a catastrophe to get one's priorities in order. The son demonstrates that he's learned all the combined sensible and courageous qualities of his parents. He is the exemplary citizen: responsible for others, generous, smart, practical, you name it. And actually, I'm really pleased at this vision of a good person-the character Gyllenhaal plays really does have all the qualities one could hope for.

The Day after Tomorrow also has a sense of humor; there's a lot of banter about book burning in the NY Public Library and various amusing jabs at the government. The most refreshing thing about the film are its surprisingly progressive politics-not only green politics, which you'd expect in a global warming disaster movie, but also its anti-government argument, its quips about the US-Mexico border and US refugees "illegally" crossing the Rio Grande, and finally a whole discourse about the generosity of the southern hemisphere as it hosts fleeing hordes of northerners. One is tempted to think of this as the empire's final fantasy, that when we finally destroy our part of the world, we will be welcomed with open arms-as regular well-meaning people prey to an unscrupulous and evil government-by everyone else.

So, in spite of the lame dialogue and the patently ridiculous and pretentiously delivered scientific information, this movie is excellent entertainment, with some decent politics thrown in.

Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.