9/10/08

RP009 The Day After Tomorrow

(2004, Drama/Political, color)

Riffers:

Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

Let me pull out my portable pulpit.

Rating: **1/2

In a nutshell:

Global warming freezes the world.

Summary:

On the bright side, it's a shorter hike to the torch now.Heroic paleoclimatologist Jack (Harrison Ford... er, Dennis Quaid) has been drilling for samples in the arctic when the ice shelf he’s on breaks up and floats away. Later, he lectures on how global warming will actually cause a new and abrupt ice age within the next few centuries while a broad caricature of a certain real-life politician (Bill calls him Chick Deney) curls his lip and sneers. Afterwards Jack meets a British climatologist (Ian Holm) who later calls to tell him about a sudden series of rather alarming drops in temperature...

You know what? None of this matters. Not all the pulpit-pounding speechification. Not all the worry-contorted faces staring at televisions and computer monitors. Not the prophetic comic relief homeless man, Jack’s clueless son Sam (Tobey Maguire... er, Jake Gyllenhaal), the Object of Sam’s Unrequited Affection (Natalie Portman... I mean Emily Rossum), and half-a-dozen other unremarkables all stranded in the public library while the new ice age crashes down on Manhattan with NASCAR-esque speed. Certainly not Jack’s Estranged Wife (Sela Ward) and her nameless juvenile cancer patient, cut adrift by the movie to float aimlessly off to one side in their own little subplot, wholly unconnected to anything or anyone else in the film.

Where was I? Oh, yes. The sudden annihilation of the entire Northern Hemisphere. It basically boils down to admittedly impressive weather-related special effects destroying famous landmarks while crowds of disaster movie redshirts stare gape-jawed Until It’s Too Late. Meanwhile, everyone with a name and more than twenty lines of dialog engages in even the most ill-advised of ventures with impunity. Ventures such as, say, leaping across a widening crevasse to obtain easily replaceable ice core samples, plunging underwater to use a payphone, and running outside in negative one hundred thousand degree weather to forage for food and medicine.

What's-Her-Name's about to be consumed by that enormous tidal wave!  If only I were Spider-Man!The movie’s greatest crime against common sense, however, comprises the final portion of the film, when Jack and his expendable friends hike through a raging blizzard from Washington, D.C. to Manhattan to rescue Sam. One expendable friend nearly dies of cold, while the other nobly sacrifices himself to the glass roof of a shopping mall so that the others might live. Jack drags his last hypothermic friend to Manhattan where he discovers that Sam and friends have survived by burning books for heat, as the copious amounts of wooden furniture lying around were apparently too valuable to use for this purpose.

Amazingly, though, the book/furniture thing is only the second stupidest thing about this situation. The stupidest thing, by far, is that by the time Jack gets to Manhattan, the storm has ended and temperatures have gone back up to “colder than normal, but still balmy”, just as he predicted they would. With the inclement weather past, the now-repentant (and now-president) Slick Zeney has sent helicopters to look for survivors, just like the Powers That Be always do after a natural disaster, making the entire third act unnecessary and the death of Expendable Friend completely pointless.

Thoughts:

A representative sample of this film can be seen when Sam makes a call from the library. Cell phone signals are down, the power is out, and there’s water right up to the second floor, but “ordinary pay phones get their power directly.” This is technically true, and since no one a) asks where they “get their power directly” from, b) wants to know how the large and delicate network of phone lines it uses to communicate could still be operational, or c) points out that any exposed power source, regardless of origin, will short out upon immersion in water, it works fine. Also unasked: how Sam is able to call his dad long distance with a single coin.

Damn you all to hell!  It's a madhouse!  A maaaaaaadhoooouuuuuse!Stepping back to view the movie as a whole, the “global warming will actually cause cooling in temperate climates” thing is actually a pretty well respected theory in climate change circles. This grain of technical truth most likely came from an expert consultant—a consultant who probably provided more details than that, but then director Roland Emmerich threw them all away and then increased the cooling trend’s speed and severity by about a million percent each. The resulting scenario turns out less plausible than just blaming it all on the wrath of God, Mr. Freeze, the White Witch, and/or a secret cabal of garden gnomes, but since it’s a goofy disaster film with no pretentions to realism, this didn’t bother me that much.

What does bother me is the movie’s smug and strident tone. Emmerich cannot be considered an icon of subtlety. For slack-jawed characters staring off screen, he out-Spielbergs Spielberg. For loud and wanton destruction, he out-Bays Bay. For gaping plot holes and junk science, he’s in a class all his own. He did all this in Independence Day too, and except for the unnecessary last act, The Day After Tomorrow compares favorably. I enjoyed the former because it let me switch off my brain and have fun. Unfortunately, the latter’s many, many heavy-handed speeches more or less explicitly instructed me to switch my brain back on and take it seriously, so I did.

Um, Roland (Can I call you Roland?), just a couple of points:

1) You do your own side a grave disservice by framing the global warming debate as “the environment vs. the economy”. They’re both important, but from a practical perspective, you have to go through the economy to get to the environment. Regardless of anything you say, John Q. Public isn’t going give you money to fight global warming until after his family is fed.

2) Why the self-righteous glorification of the Third World? Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. I saw the way you slaughtered the horny Caucasians, spared the Hispanic janitor, and then stampeded Americans across the Rio Grande into Mexico. I noticed how you wiped out Europe and North America, but left the Southern Hemisphere untouched. You went out of your way to hold them up as “go green” paragons, despite the fact that their smoke-belching factories and clear-cutting of forests are directly responsible for a huge portion of our environmental woes. I’ll grant you that they’re directly responsible with our significant encouragement and financial assistance, but at the end, when even Mick Queney has learned a valuable lesson about global warming, I can’t help but notice that you’ve killed off everyone rich enough to do something about it.

Well Roland, there you go. You’ve made me think far too much about a horrible movie that makes light of a serious issue. I hope you’re happy.

It’s just Bill and Kevin for this commentary, and they’ve got plenty to work with. Kevin leads off with “So far, I’m liking this movie, but then again, I’m part penguin.” Later he notes the slo-mo tidal wave with, “Jello salads bear down on people faster than this.” After the sky fills with birds, rain, hail, and then snow, Bill says, “It will soon be raining elephants and anvils." When we see a Russian freighter parked in front of the library, Bill wants to know “How’d that ship make the turn at Washington Square?” Near the end, when President Tick Sheney apologizes to the world for his environmentally irresponsible governing practices, Bill sums up the entire film by calling it “red-hot liberal porn”. For all this, the Rifftrax/movie combination never quite engaged me. On the plus side, it never bored me either, putting it at or near the center of the Rifftrax Relative Quality Scale.