A Disaster in Every Sense of the Word. Cool.

The Day After Tomorrow

Recipe For a Good Time:

  1. Rent the movie The Day After Tomorrow
  2. Bring over some friends (like Dan and Cameron).
  3. Open a big bottle of wine.
  4. Strive to win the Kukwa Cup.

I’ve already told you about my love for bad disaster movies. I’m a sucker for special effects and bad science wrapped around a frame of mayhem, hokey dialogue and blatant emotional manipulation. Movies such as Bats!, 10.5 and Countdown: the Sky is on Fire (the one where they spackle a hole in the ozone layer over Los Angeles) are a hoot to watch, in the best tradition of Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

I missed The Day After Tomorrow when it came out in theatres, but I knew that it too would be a hoot to watch. So, Erin and I decided to have a movie night. We’d invite Dan and Cameron (the latter of whom has acting experience and takes improv classes), we’d rent The Day After Tomorrow and The Core, and we’d proceed to make fun of it over nachos and wine. A good time would be had by all.

Unfortunately, some poor masochist had rented The Core, so we were left with just The Day After Tomorrow. Still, that was enough for plenty of laughs as we watched a global blizzard from hell devastate North America.

In The Day After Tomorrow, the disaster threat du jour is Global Warming (tm). Dennis Quaid plays Jack Hall, the Chicken Little scientist who says that the sky is falling and who, of course, nobody listens to. After watching the Ross Ice Shelf crack and start to fall into the sea, he attends a climatology conference in New Delhi (experiencing a snowstorm) to say that ice melt from the polar ice caps may be flooding the North Atlantic with fresh water, potentially stopping the flow of the Gulf Stream. Ironic though it may sound, Global Warming could cause a new Ice Age.

Of course, politicians and industry representatives (including a Dick Cheney-esque American Vice President, played by Canadian actor Kenneth Walsh) dismiss Jack’s dire warnings as hysterical fearmongering. However, before Jack Hall can go search for Jeff Goldblum and commiserate, the Gulf Stream reaches a desalination critical mass or something, and stops flowing. Three gigantic polar hurricanes start to form and descend on North America, Europe and Asia. Monster hail devastates Tokyo. Storm surge wipes out Nova Scotia. Several F-5 tornadoes destroy Los Angeles, and fifty feet of snow falls on Canada (but we seem to do okay - except for Nova Scotia going underwater). Attempts to rescue the British Royal Family from Balmoral by helicopter fails when a sub-sub-sub-Arctic downburst freezes the gas lines, crashes the RAF crew and freezes them solid as they struggle out onto the snow.

Jack’s estranged teenage son, Sam (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) is trapped in Manhattan with teenage love-interest and a bunch of other students at an academic decathalon while storm surge and snow isolates New York City. As the storm deepens, millions of U.S. refugees pour into Mexico (with the irony delivered with extra brickbats just in case you didn’t GET IT), and Jack drops everything to trek across developing Antarctic conditions to reach his son.

On a scale between Armageddon and Deep Impact with Armaggedon representing irretrievably loud and hokey and Deep Impact representing surprisingly compelling, The Day After Tomorrow plants itself squarely in the middle. Most of the science is accurate, and the movie makers’ only crime is that they are accelerating the onset of the Ice Age beyond all reason. The science of the storms themselves, each of which possess an eye that draws -200’F air from the thermosphere, did make Erin scream, and not in a good way, but the bad science is mostly easy to ignore as you gulp down popcorn while watching the special effects take the lead.

The movie is also well shot. There are a number of set pieces that are genuinely compelling. The tornado sequence in Los Angeles features excellent action, and the storm surge and freeze-up of Manhattan has a surreal look, helped by the gothic New York public library, and by a wonderful moment where a Russian tanker drifts up Fifth Avenue. The moneyshot is when the eye of the storm reaches Manhattan and the sub-sub-sub-Arctic downburst freezes the air. The quality of the special effects takes a dive, however, when CGI wolves make an appearance. There were howls of laughter when these things (predictably) came on screen to manufacture even more menace for our heroes.

The acting ranges from average to good. Of special note is Ian Holm, a climatologist in northern Scotland who, with his two colleagues, accepts his ultimate fate with stoic good humour and grace. There are also genuinely funny moments as Sam Hall, his love interest and assorted refugees hold-up in the New York Public Library and debate which books to burn as fuel.

Jeremy: Friedrich Niezsche? We can’t burn that! He’s one of the most important thinkers in history!
Elsa: Please! Niezsche was a syphilitic chauvinist who was in love with his own sister.
Jeremy: He was not a chauvinist!
Elsa: But he was in love with his own sister.
Brian Parks: Uh, yeah, guys? We got a whole section on tax laws down here we can burn.

Kenneth Walsh doesn’t do a bad job as Vice President of the United States, although when the president dies while evacuating from snowbound Washington, I had to turn to the others and say “and just when you think things couldn’t possibly get worse…!” What is it about Kenneth Walsh and evil roles?

The movie gets points for not miraculously solving the problems in time for a happy ending. Nobody came up with the idea of bombing the Gulf Stream back into action (and, knowing Hollywood, somebody had that idea somewhere). The movie ends with a satellite shot of the polar ice cap extended over half of North America, illustrating hundreds of millions dead, economies ruined, and civilization displaced, but that’s okay because Jack Hall made it to Manhattan and reconciled with his son.


Memorable Moments

The movie has several unintentional belly laugh opportunities, from hokey dialogue and contrived situations. Among what we came up with:

Sam Hall and love interest have a heart-to-heart:

Laura Chapman: “Everything I’ve ever cared about, everything I’ve worked for, it’s all been in preparation for a future that no longer exists!”

ME (as Sam Hall): “Yeah, I guess that would be a bit of a bummer.”
ERIN (as Sam Hall): “But, on the plus side, you and I get to repopulate the northern hemisphere!”

In the public library, Sam Hall and others prepare hold out against the storm. They wonder what they’ll do for food.

ME: “Oh, look! A soccer team!”

A Russian ship drifts up Fifth Avenue, past the public library.

Dan: “Look! An oil tanker! They could burn that!

Well, it wasn’t an oil tanker. Which was a pity, because they could have burned that.

Satellite-view of the storm clearing, revealing Italy

Dan: “Meanwhile, in the Vatican, the Pope has eaten all of the cardinals!”


Art Bell Screwed?

In my original post about the movie, I wondered if Art Bell would receive a writer’s credit for this movie. Art Bell’s book, The Coming Global Superstorm, describes a similar scenario.

As it turns out, the movie cites The Coming Global Superstorm as an “ideas based on” credit. Which I suppose is the least that they can do, because the movie is basically an out-an-out adaptation. Consider the major plot points the movie takes from the book:

  • The British Royal Family is stuck in Balmoral castle in Northern Scotland. They are never heard from again.
  • A group of climatologists in Scotland, friends of our climatologist hero, share data on what’s happening, and face death with grace and stoicism.
  • The sub-sub-sub Arctic downdrafts are a major threat in both book and movie, although I don’t think the book mentions the thermosphere.
  • Jack Hall’s arrival in a Manhattan under fifty feet of snow. This adapts the final scene in the book, planting the hero character in the place of anonymous marines.

These scenes and more suggest to me that The Day After Tomorrow could well have been called The Coming Global Superstorm: The Movie, and I have to wonder if Art Bell was paid, and how much. Why do I suspect that he might have gotten only a token payment?


The Kukwa Cup

The Kukwa Cup is the term used to describe our competition of witty lines and jokes attempting to make somebody laugh while drinking, causing them to shoot whatever it is they’re drinking through their nose.

So named after Dan Kukwa, who won the first Kukwa Cup after choking on his Diet Coke while we were talking about the Star Wars Holiday Special, featuring, as Erin put it: “Chewbacca, Spitbacca and Grandpa Drool”.

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