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The Day After Tomorrow

A Review of the Film
By John Bennett

The Day After Tomorrow which opened in theaters across North America on May 28th is a surprisingly engaging disaster movie. It is science fiction. The scenario of almost instant climate shift to an ice age over a week just can’t happen, but that is not the point. At its core the film is about human indifference to the mounting evidence of the destruction to our climate.

Dennis Quaid plays the hearty independent Arctic exploring paleoclimatologist, represents the thousands of scientist around the world raising the alarm on climate change. The voice in the wilderness ignored by short sighted politicians thinking about the economy and the next election. He has devoted his life to his work, losing the woman he loves and struggling to remain part of his brilliant teenaged son’s life. The son (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the future we must protect.

This is all standard sci-fi stuff, but The Day After Tomorrow does it really well. The special effects are great. They make you duck for cover in your seat even while you are giggling at their implausibility.

It is hard to express how well the film maintains the tension necessary to allow the audience to suspend its disbelief as one incredible event is piled on another. The pace of the film is maintained throughout unlike most disaster movies that spend an hour in subplots and exposition before rolling out the crashes and explosions. The Day After Tomorrow craftily avoids this trap. The action starts 60 seconds into the film and builds throughout. It doesn’t bother trying establish every character before abruptly changing their climate and their lives. We don’t need to know that Sally and Bob had a silly argument this morning or the Joe is about to lose his job. People are people doing things people do when along comes disaster .This keeps the tension building and the audience interested. It is also part of the message behind the film as well.

The vice president in the film played by Canadian actor Kenneth Walsh who looks like Dick Cheney symbolizes human arrogance and indifference. He refuses to accept the evidence placed before him because it means he must change. He must reassess what he values and how he goes about his everyday life. He is the middle class teenager getting everything he wants. Doing he everything wants until he destroys himself in a single car accident.

Nothing can dissuade him before he experiences “the screaming tires, the bustin’ glass, painful screams.” and o’boy is there a lot of busting glass and painful screams in The Day After Tomorrow.

The better informed intellectuals in the audience aren’t ignored either. There are all sorts of little political jokes and reference that reveal the screenwriters knows a little bit about the climate change debate and the need for action. Little things like Dennis Quaid showing up to drive his son to the airport in a Honda Insight hybrid car. You see enough of the car to identify it but the plot is not bogged down with explaining it. Of course a paleoclimatologist would drive a hybrid.

So yes I enjoyed the film.It was fun and exciting to see. Will it be the popular event that springs a generation in action. I don’t know. It certainly won’t hurt. No one leaving the theater will be moving to Mexico tomorrow to avoid the climate shift. Will it lead to living room debates about climate change? Probably. It certainly is entertaining attempt to put the most serious question humanity is facing into the popular lexicon.

May 31, 2004

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Separating the Science from the Science Fiction

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