The Day After Tomorrow
Roland Emmerich, the director behind summer spectacles like Independence Day and Godzilla is back, and this time heís showering down an apocalyptic weather storm in The Day After Tomorrow.
Thereís almost a formula to Roland Emmerichís blockbuster films. Some force (shrouded in mystery at the beginning of the film) appears and wreaks havoc, allowing Emmerichís choice of special effects companies to destroy cities with impressive special effects. A group of people, usually played by has been or up and coming celebrities (presumably so Emmerich can spend less money on talent and more on special effects) face off with whatever the force is, and eventually save the day. The Day After Tomorrow is no different, replacing Independence Dayís aliens or Godzillaís giant lizard with a giant weather storm.
Like Emmerichís other summer spectaculars, The Day After Tomorrow has visual effects that surpass many other things out there. When New York is flooded by a massive tidal wave you believe it. Cars are tossed aside by the gigantic wave without cause or care, ice pelts down on unsuspecting businessmen, and helicopters crash, frozen in a terrifyingly believable manner. Just like it was easy to believe aliens were destroying cities in Independence Day, it isnít hard to suspend disbelief and be dazzled and dismayed by the storm raining down on Earth. The visuals do have one downside though - the notoriously ugly CGI wolves. In the midst of a giant storm that floods all of New York City and then freezes everything instantly, a pack of wolves manage to survive and cause trouble for our heroes. Iím guessing they survive due to the fact that they are made up of horrid CGI that can withstand the storm. Itís amazing how special effects can believably destroy cities, but canít make a pack of wolves look good. Wolves aside, if the movie was a two hour visual display of a storm wreaking havoc on the planet, this would be an excellent movie, although lacking of much in the way of plot.
Unfortunately the filmís spectacular visual effects come to a halt from time to time to show us the effect of these storms on the characters. The film attempts to not just be a special effects festival, but also a character piece as well. The problem is, the characters are never developed enough for this to work, so the film fails miserably. Yeah, we understand Dennis Quaidís Jack Hall is concerned about his son and wife, but we never get a feeling for it, and we never get a real explanation of why itís so important for him to travel miles and miles with total disregard to the few instructions heís given his family - particularly the instructions to stay inside. We never bond enough with the characters to feel bad for what theyíre going through, and unlike Emmerichís other films, he doesnít really attempt to help that.
There are a few characters added in to try and make you sympathize with their plight, but itís so overt and manipulative itís hard to fall for. One of my favorite moments of Independence Day is the president and his daughter sitting outside his wifeís hospital room. Itís a true moment of emotion that touches you with a consequence of the alien attack and allows an actor to shine for a moment. The Day After Tomorrow has no such moment. Here there are just lots of characters and all of them are facing challenges. Some live and some die, but itís never the right ones dying. Often killing a character means introducing a new person so they can be killed, leaving the leading players out of true danger. This happens so often the whole movie starts to fall into Star Trekís ďred shirtĒ plague; If Jake, Emmy, and new character #37 go off to do something, you quickly know which character isnít coming back. With no real danger to the main characters, the threat the visual effects press upon you is nullified, spoiling moments of tension and suspense.
The other huge problem with The Day After Tomorrow is that the antagonist is something that canít be stopped. This is a giant storm, created by decades of humans abusing the earth. What could the characters possibly do to stop it? The answer is - ďnothingĒ. This causes a bit of pointlessness in the characterís plight. Quaidís character travels from Philadelphia to New York by foot to save his son... from what? What could this father possibly do to protect his son that he couldnít do over the phone? The only intelligent course of action is given verbally early in the movie, making the rest of the storyline for Jack Hall a pointless, ridiculous effort in futility.
The film is obviously set up as a social/ecological commentary. The events in the film are possible, although it would take centuries for them to transpire, as opposed to the days within the film. Emmerich kind of acknowledges this subtlety - the massive weather events happen tomorrow, the survival and recovery happens the day after tomorrow. Since tomorrow is always a day away, the events are always hovering there in the future. Iím all for science fiction films based in fact, but Emmerichís tale has all the subtlety of a Michael Moore film in its ecological message - weíre screwing up the planet and this is what could happen. Not to beat a dead horse, but itís too bad that message is undercut because Emmerich didnít add any emotional value to that message by making us care about the characters up on screen.
The Day After Tomorrow is probably a more enjoyable film on DVD. Sure, you lose some of the impact of the huge visuals unless you happen to have a ten foot screen in your home theater. You do get the benefit of being able to fast forward or make fun of the dramatic scenes though, and thatís worth losing that big scale. The better thing to do would be just to watch the trailer for the film which includes all the big visuals without the mindless characters and plot.
Of course, you wonít find that trailer on the DVD, which is representative of the entire problem with this DVD - what is included on the DVD is mediocre, but itís whatís not included that really hurts this release.
So what is on the DVD? There are deleted scenes which more appropriately should be called alternate scenes. Both scenes (yes, there are only two) show alternate or extended versions of scenes that are actually in the movie. Neither scene is different enough to justify presenting a different version of the scene. One connects some of the minor characters we briefly see (those ďred shirtsĒ I was talking about) and the other offers a little more dialog between Quaidís character and his team. As deleted scenes go, these are pretty pointless inclusions.
There are two separate commentary tracks for the film. The first, between Roland Emmerich and producer Mark Gibson is an example of everything a commentary track shouldnít be. Gibson dominates the conversation, praising every single person who was involved with the film and continually calling Emmerich a genius. As he calls out whatís happening in the film, Gibson also gives his opinion on other stuff they should have done, planned on doing, or didnít do despite his opinion. You get the impression Gibson was brought on to help finance the film, and he never went home. Oddly, neither Emmerich or Gibson seem to be aware the film is a dud, and heap praise upon even the worst parts of the film, including the dreadful CGI-wolves. The second commentary track is between co-writer Jeffrey Nachmanoff, DP Ueli Steiger, Editor David Brenner, and Production Designer Barry Chusid. These behind-the-scenes people offer a more interesting look at the production of the film without the brown nosing of the producer. Between the two commentary tracks you begin to realize how much of the film consists of green screening and completely digital shots, from what appears to be a fly over of the ocean (completely digitally rendered) to Quaid and Gyllenhaal driving around (green screened). If this is representative of summer blockbuster filmmaking, the days of practical effects are over. Thatís not to say digital effects donít have their place, itís just a shame to see everything over taken by CGI. Again using the example of the wolves, it really would have made the movie stronger if they had been organic rather then digital. Of course, the way the wolves look did help distract from the fact that they hadnít frozen to death or drowned, so maybe there was an advantage in that choice.
What really would help show how the film was made would be some behind the scenes documentaries. Unfortunately, with the exception of an ďaudio anatomyĒ scene, thereís no behind the scenes material to be found. Actually, it is there to be found - if you have a DVD- ROM drive and an internet connection (preferably high speed). The disc provides a link to over an hour of online behind the scenes footage. This is a disaster as far as extras go, putting something that should be a standard inclusion as something you have to access online. Taking into consideration most people donít use DVD-ROM material, this behind the scenes footage will be unseen by most people. Even if you do use a DVD-ROM to watch the movie, youíre only able to access the material if youíre using a Windows based PC. Macintosh and Linux users canít access the material. Since I use a Mac, I canít tell you how the online footage is, but if the DVD itself is any indication, Iíd say it probably isnít convenient and doesnít cover as much as youíd like it to.
I give the folks at Fox credit for trying something new with the online ďmaking ofĒ footage, but as a whole this DVD release is as big a disaster as the events in the film. If I had to make a prediction, Iíd guess another release of this film is just around the corner, trying to make up for the lack of quality behind the scenes material on this disc. With poor extra material, and a sub-par summer popcorn flick, Iíd suggest passing The Day After Tomorrow by.
Reviewed By: Rafe Telsch