Fuck the summer. It’s hot as shit, kids are out of school and therefore stinking up the streets, and the cinema takes a long holiday from both intelligence and subtlety. Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow, a big, dumb, lumbering bore of a movie, is the sort of schlock that will ostensibly kill over three billion people, then not give us the pleasure of watching more than a handful of them die. People are washed away by tidal waves, a few are found frozen, and flying objects smash several lunkheads to bits, but the true horror is denied us, as this is PG-13 and we wouldn’t want the kiddies to be too disturbed by an unprecedented catastrophe. Yet we do know that half the world has perished, something the film takes great pains to avoid, as it is much more important that a renegade scientist locate his estranged son in the frozen tundra of New York City. Disaster films always have a “human interest” element, but this film has gone too far. We are asked to believe that amidst the worst storms in the history of the planet, complete with temperatures dipping as low as 150 degrees below zero, a man is able to walk from Washington D.C. to the Big Apple with nary a scratch. Fine, he was a bit out of breath when he arrived, but on the whole no worse for wear.
Conservatives are blasting this movie as environmentalist propaganda, which it very well might be, but the fact that right-wingers are looking to Roland Emmerich, a man eclipsed only (and barely) by Jerry Bruckheimer in the soulless trash department, for anything approaching social commentary is arguably the most ridiculous political witch hunt of the year. Yes, the earth is overcome by global warming, and an ice age, and disaster on a massive scale because mankind has ignored the warning signs, but the filmmakers in question merely needed an explanation for killing a bunch of character actors and blowing shit up real good. They would have used aliens, but that’s been done. The film’s science is about as credible and relevant as the alleged subtext of an Adam Sandler movie. There are a few terms thrown around and we see lots of flashing computer screens, maps, and impressive looking charts, but no one really gives a shit. Roland’s merely passing the time until he gets to use that great shot of the Statue of Liberty being overtaken by a wall of water.
There’s also the character of the Vice President, who is clearly Dick Cheney, except for the fact that he shows a bit of humanity by the end. The real Cheney, even in a world where half of its human members have died miserably, would still be checking his stock portfolio and making calls to see if Halliburton can be flown in to clean up the mess. The VP’s change of heart in The Day After Tomorrow is silly at best, even more so because he’s a one-dimensional ass-fucker in the beginning, only to be a Churchillian statesman by the conclusion. The Bush character is as moronic here as he is in real life, even down to his deference to the whim of his VP. Here, however, the President dies as he’s trying to leave the White House, which unfortunately is unlikely to play out for us in the audience.
But what about all that shit with Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) and his son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal)? For starters, Sam is on a field trip with his school chums as the “big one” hits. Jack regrets not spending any time with the boy, so instead of focusing his energies on that which just might end life on earth, he decides to take Dr. Phil’s advice and deal with parenting issues. I’m not sure Emmerich is sophisticated enough to realize it, but it makes sense that an American man would block out the extermination of half the planet to get in touch with his inner feelings. His narcissism is ours, only on a grander scale. He must be punished for working so hard, even though that work is saving lives and contributing great things to the cause of humanity. Still, none of this can or should compare with tossing a football in the park every Sunday afternoon. Despite the trials and tribulations, Jack reaches the library where Sam is hiding out with his friends, and they exchange a big hug, oblivious to the fact that they are walking around an icy graveyard with no less than five million corpses strewn about. But goddammit, the American Family must push on!
There might be some talk about the expensive special effects, but after a few minutes, I was bored out of my mind. Perhaps I’m simply beyond being impressed by the work some dude did on the computer, but my apathy is more the result of the lazy filmmaking. Emmerich, as expected, did not even try to tell a compelling story, nor did he care that each and every member of the cast was constructed out of cardboard. And while the big name actors sucked big time, the supporting players also stunk up the joint, giving stilted line deliveries that would have been shouted down on an Ed Wood set. And just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, a scene where Sam attempts to secure medicine from a Russian tanker stuck in the ice turns into a chase involving hungry wolves who earlier escaped from the zoo. Yes, it’s even worse than it sounds.
We also get the standard “Wise Homeless Man,” who had been seen mumbling about man’s insensitivity to nature before it all turned bad; the nerdy, mean-spirited librarian, who is also an atheist, but only so that we can jeer this fool who would rather protect his silly books than keep warm and survive; the clueless, defiant military brass, who exist only to show off the ribbons on their chests and act disgusted when scientists suggest the problem cannot be solved by invading Iraq; and the put-upon wife of the Dedicated Scientist, who finally hears words of love, and also shows her Christian humanity by caring for a child with cancer. Another word or two about Jack’s wife, if I may. First, she invokes God so much that I’m surprised Mel Gibson didn’t make a cameo. And second, she’s a doctor, so if she was angry about Jack’s career that took him away from the family, why isn’t Jack allowed to be pissed about the hours she keeps? Last time I checked, being a doctor doesn’t keep a person on the couch with her kids very often. Still, I am convinced that her character was a doctor solely to give us at least five shots of a brave young lad, bald head and all, fight the good fight against the Big C. But while you might find him the epitome of bravery, let me remind you that he’s focused on his pain, and couldn’t give a flying fuck about the millions of other dead and dying children. But damn it it all, we must get this boy an ambulance! He must live!
So yes, Emmerich has done it again. He made an alien invasion a tedious snoozefest, transformed the American Revolution into a Colonial Death Wish, and now has taken a can’t miss premise — killing humanity en masse — and ruined the joy of righteous bloodlust by insisting that we give a fuck whether or not a father and son embrace one last time. And do these things always have to take place in Los Angeles or New York? For once I’d like to watch those fuckheads in the backwater Red States drown, disintegrate, burn alive, and freeze. We owe it to them. So as much as Republicans hate the film’s message of environmental disaster, they have ignored the fact that with NY and LA gone, the majority of America’s liberals have been removed from the political equation. And for the Cheney stand-in, this bodes well indeed.