Ponderance

(May 2003 - March 2007.) Tama's thoughts on the blogosphere, podcasting, popular culture, digital media and citizen journalism posted from a laptop computer somewhere in Perth's isolated, miniature, urban jungle ...

The Day After Tomorrow

Friday, May 28, 2004
Unlike 99.9% of viewers, I was completely convinced that writer/director Roland Emmerich's previous global disaster film, Independence Day, was actually a satirical look at the fantasies of global American culture. After seeing his latest ecological thriller, The Day After Tomorrow, I feel somewhat vindicated. In The Day After Tomorrow, we see the catastrophic beginnings of a new Ice Age caused when global warming upsets the North Atlantic current, wreaking climactic havoc. In the montage of spectacular CGI disasters, we see the number of US monuments destroyed. The Capitol Records building in LA is wiped off the map by some spontaneous tornadoes, and while another tears away the Hollywood sign, we hear one reporter screaming, 'There are people down there still filming! You've got to get away,' or something to that effect; surely this is a tongue in cheek comment on the fact that viewers are paying to sit and what the world destroyed for their visual pleasure!

This film also marks (I think) the first time a major motion picture has 'destroyed' New York city since September 11th. Indeed, most of the Northern US states are rendered uninhabitable by the onset of 'radical climactic change' (read: A New IceAge, sans amusing squirrel), and while the US government is forewarned by tragically misunderstood climatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid), they don't act until it's too late. The Vice President is cast as a particular nasty, money-oriented, environmentally short-sighted character, which juxtaposes playfully with ex-Vice President Gore who has been using the film as a rallying vehicle to push for better environmental laws in the US. (The science of The Day After Tomorrow has actually been widely discussed in the mainstream press, such as this article from The Australian).

The politics aside for a minute, I have to admit I enjoyed The Day After Tomorrow far more than I had anticipated. Jake Gyllenhaal's character, Sam, holds the film together with some fine acting, while most of the ensemble cast hold their own. The script is well threaded together, and the CGI is marvellously handled, leaving some eye-popping moments on screen. I'm starting to wonder if it's the mark of truly great disaster films to have some sort of mutilated but still-standing version of the Statue of Liberty to gawk at; this one encases her in 15 metres of snow and ice.

The film's ecological left leanings are completely unambiguous by the end of the film, which closes of an address by the new US President, who we met as the vice-president earlier in the film, but the previous president didn't make it out of Washington before the ice hit. He is broadcasting from Mexico, where millions of US residents have ironically fled as refugees from their ice-entombed cities. The new President apologises for his, and the government's, lack of foresight regarding environmental issues, but promises in this new world 'where the third world has become the only world' [paraphrased: I can't quite remember], things will be better and ecology will be an integral part of government policy. Of course, I'm not sure that Australians will be entirely flattered by the idea that we're part of the third world … nor, I'd imagine, will many other countries. That said, I still think The Day After Tomorrow is a moral fable about the dangers of ecological shortsightedness. And a visually spectacular one at that.

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