The Day After Tomorrow (2/10)

Copyright © 2004 by Tony Medley

I felt like I was in a movie within a movie. I was in the audience in Singin’ in the Rain (1952) watching a preview of Dueling Cavaliers the “new” 1927 talkie starring Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and his regular leading lady, the inept Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen). The lines were awful, Lina couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag; it was a disaster and the audience howled at lines that were meant to be serious.

That’s what happened at the all media screening of The Day After Tomorrow. Substitute Dennis Quaid for Lina Lamont and you were back on the MGM lot sitting in that audience. Some of Quaid’s lines out-camp the worst of the ‘50s B movies. Dennis is coming off a dismal performance for the ages in the deplorable The Alamo earlier this year. Now he’s topped himself. Dennis’ poor performances can no longer be blamed solely on bad scripts, although this one, by Roland Emmerich (with Jeffrey Nachmanoff), who also directed, produced, and created the story, is as bad as they come, and bad directors. Emmerich might as well have starred in it, too, because he couldn’t have been worse than Dennis. Poor, poor Dennis. At least the fictional Don Lockwood had the integrity to hide from the audience after the preview. He knew the film stunk and he stunk. But here’s Dennis on The Today Show promoting this thing and his career, gloating, “I’m in a really good place in my career now.” He doesn’t realize how bad are his recent roles and how banal his performances, and that he’s in danger of becoming a caricature? Or, worse for an actor, the owner of an unringing phone?  Maybe that explains something. Can you spell J-U-D-G-M-E-N-T?

Emmerich will win his political credentials, though. Even if it had been a good movie, it would have been destroyed by its POV. The bad guy in the movie is the Vice President of the United States, a dead ringer for Dick Cheney. The President is a youngish dolt who always asks the Veep, “What would you do?” And there’s a plug for the Kyoto Treaty. And all the blame for global warming is based on human action, even though there’s a lot of science to the effect that if there is global warming at work (a debatable premise) it’s due to natural causes that have been in play for billions of years. But as you will learn as you read on, Emmerich doesn’t display any penchant for intelligence or informed knowledge or even-handedness in this film.

How dumb is this? Listen. The earth is hit with unprecedented storms that bring about an ice age in 10 days. Prof. Jack Hall (Quaid) predicts the storm but the Black Hat veep ignores him. Jack is in Washington D.C. when the storm gets much worse. Air traffic has been cancelled. Three helicopters crashed in England because their fuel lines froze. Jack’s son, Sam (Jake Hyllenhaal), is trapped in New York. Jack says he’s going to walk from Washington to New York to get to Sam. Someone says, incredulously, something like, “Walk?” Jack says, seriously, “I’ve walked that far before.” The audience guffawed. The questions I asked myself were, “Why does he want to go to New York? What can he do if he gets there and finds Sam?” Nobody brought that up, so he sets off on his quixotic jaunt with his two buddies. The Three Stooges off in the storm. The only reason I can think for this journey is that he’s walking to The Big Apple because he can’t get through on the telephone.

Later one of the characters comments on a part of the storm that’s hitting New York. Says she, “…temperature is falling 10 degrees a second!” Ten degrees a SECOND? By the mathematics I learned in the first grade, that means in one minute the temperature drops 600 degrees! Yet Sam is out on a boat trying to get medical supplies for his girl friend and he’s got time to crawl out the window, balance on a little pipe 50 feet in the air (remember it’s snowing and cold and slippery), trying to get away from a pack of wolves (don’t ask). The drop in temperature doesn’t seem to affect him. Apparently the writers of this script didn’t get past first grade mathematics. And, after you sit through this, you can believe that they don’t have the knowledge or sense that a normal first grader should have acquired by achieving that level of education.

Then, Sam and his buddy are trying to outrun the cold, which is just behind them, freezing buildings (so cold the Empire State Building freezes and falls down). Where are they running to, you might ask? They’re trying to get in a room with a fire and close the door!  Close the door! Did you get that? The cold is so bad it FROZE THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING! And they are running in order to get inside this room to close a door so they’ll be safe! The door to hell couldn’t make them safe from anything this cold.

The Special Effects are good, and they’re the only reason I don’t give this the lowest rating I can. If the story were a little more intelligent, it would at least be ludicrous. But this screenplay doesn’t achieve that level. Enough to say the people who wrote this think they’ve given us a happy ending even though 100 million Americans apparently perish. If that doesn’t give you a taste of the intelligence behind this, nothing will.

The unfortunate part of all this isn’t just that these people spent a lot of money to make a terrible movie. No, the sad part is that there are lots of problems with our worldwide society causing immeasurable damage to the environment, including the fact that global warming might be caused, or exacerbated, by human action. These filmmakers had all this money and a chance not only to make an entertaining film but also at the same time to educate people about something important. Instead they didn’t know what they were talking about, took cheap political shots, and wasted an occasion to do a lot of good. While it might be true that the primary obligation of a filmmaker is to make money, close behind is to contribute to a better society by educating people about issues. Emmerich and Fox and Lions Gate might make money out of this, but they should be ashamed of themselves by squandering so much money on such a putrid piece of work and frittering away a golden opportunity to accomplish something more far reaching than telling a story.

May 25, 2004

The End