Roland Emmerich, the director of The Day After Tomorrow, is getting pretty good at destroying the world. He has let aliens run amok in Independence Day, and crushed New York City under the horny toe of Godzilla. Clearly, it's in his blood. Perhaps little Roland was one of those kids who liked to build model airplanes and then burn them? And there's no doubt the Emmerich family motto should read: "Watch this!"
All that practice in wreaking disaster six ways from Sunday has finally paid off. Never in the history of the movies has "blowing it up good" been a more fun or satisfying ride. Nothing says snuggle in your seat and enjoy your popcorn like a good disaster movie. And as disaster movies go, this one is cool as ice. Just look for the sign outside your local Cineplex this summer: Baby, it's C-O-L-D inside.
It is an irony of the premise of Day After Tomorrow that global warming might result in a new Ice Age. But that's exactly what climatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) believes. He's spent his life away from his wife Lucy (Sela Ward) and his son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) trying to prove as much. But the only ice he can point to is that which has formed around his family. It seems that Jack is doomed to piss off both them and our government, as he does in an early scene when he tries to warn everyone that the sky is falling. But it looks like Chicken Little isn't going to convince anybody.
And then it starts to rain.
And snow. And hail. And storm.
You don't need a weatherman to know which ways the wind is blowing, but Jack soon learns that all over the world, there's been a climate shift. And according to his computer, there isn't much time left before the whole world is frozen over just like he predicted. And it's going to happen fast.
Let the New Ice Age begin.
What follows is a breathtaking mix of special effects and thumbnail portraits of people all over the world getting smacked around by Mother Nature. There are delightful scenes in which Los Angeles is swarmed by non-sunshiny tornadoes, including one crowd-pleasing moment when the Hollywood sign is ripped to shreds. Hurray!!! In Japan, hail the size of handrolls. And in New York City, home of the rudest drivers in the world, a slow rise in the water table until, in an incredible scene of destruction, the town and its cabbies are engulfed by a tidal wave. Like doomed teenagers in a slasher movie, it's fun to see what sin or mistake results in death. In L.A., a scene of illicit sex on the job is interrupted when a twister rips the lovers away, along with the side of their skyscraper. And as one scene proves, if you've got a dog, and are kind to it, you too can be spared the wraith of the Furies. So Sayeth Roland.
And as we cut back to Dennis who has a real nice case of the "I Told You So's" going -- yet is man enough to resist saying it -- the only thing he cares about is getting his family back. His son Sam is trapped up there in New York City and Dennis is going to rescue him. Dennis has learned that even when you're facing an Ice Age it's family first.
It is not so much the multiple stories but the ironies that make this movie a howling success. Yes, we get some satiric mileage poking fun at a Dick Cheney clone and his George Bush-like boss as they look scared and remorseful knowing they should have signed that darn Kyoto Treaty. And there are some lovely human moments, as when Jack's mentor-like fellow climatologist (Ian Holm) and his ice station buddies toast each other with 12-year-old Scotch before the final freeze. But what makes it are the little touches that are an Emmerich trademark: the oil tanker that floats up Madison Avenue to come to a clanking stop at the New York Public Library where Sam and his pals are holed up; the sudden realization by Dennis that he and his rescue team are snow-shoeing across the top of a mall so covered in ice and snow that it is buried below them; and a hilarious moment when, fleeing south to escape the freeze, U.S. citizens must cross the border into Mexico, a twist on illegal immigration.
What makes these moments work is the upside down world Emmerich and his special effects team have created, one we revel in because by looking at our state this way we see how tentative and unreal our grip on life really is. We wonder what we would do in this situation, how we would hunker down, or stay above the rising waters, or somehow survive. Or not. But it's freeing to see the world come apart like this, it is the ultimate escape, a guilty fantasy.
As for global warming, even environmentalists agree that The Day After Tomorrow is a work of fiction, good one though it may be. No, it won't happen like this. And even if it did, it wouldn't stop us. We're just like the characters in this movie, obsessed with all the wrong things, not knowing it's too late. We watch as the temperatures rise along with the sea level, stopping only to think: Hmmm, look at that.
It's not the heat, it's the stupidity.