Back in the '70's a new film genre emerged: the disaster flick. While there had been earlier films involving people threatened by impending doom, it wasn't until Airport (1974), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), and The Towering Inferno (1974) that people started thinking that large scale pandemonium was all that you needed in a movie. It really wasn't enough, of course, and by the time the decade was over the genre had pretty much died out.
Fast forward to the late 90's: the disaster film returns. Mainly do to the falling cost of computer generated special effects, producers and directors realized that they could create catastrophes on a wider scale than ever before. Films like Volcano and Dante's Peak (both 1997) were threatening more than just a building or ocean liner; now whole towns were in danger. The ante was raised the following year. Who cares about a town? Let's destroy the whole world! In both Armageddon and Deep Impact (1998) asteroids are on a collision course for Earth and when they hit, they'll wipe out humanity.
Using the exact same template as other disaster films, 2004's The Day After Tomorrow has the Earth and humanity being threatened by... global warming and an ice age. Filled with silly science and a mediocre...ummm, I guess you could call it a plot, the movie's main attraction is that viewers get to see some large scale destruction.
Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) is a paleoclimatologist, someone who studies the weather of the distant past. He's the only scientist in the world who happens to notice that some bad things are happening with the Earth's weather, all because of global warming. (I know, he's supposed to be studying the past, not present... just go with it. Best if you don't ask too many questions with this film.) Soon his predictions come true, but much sooner than he was thinking. The largest typhoon ever recorded hits Asia, and a series of tornados trashes downtown LA. Intrepid Jack plugs the data into his computer model and discovers that there's only a matter of weeks till all hell breaks loose. Opps...make that days. Giant storm cells have formed in the North Hemisphere (but not the southern for some reason that's never explained) and after they pass over the northern continents the Earth will be gripped in another ice age.
With his son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) trapped in New York City, Jack realizes that he has to make the hazardous trek from DC to the Big Apple mainly on foot and save his son because, ummm, well I guess there wouldn't be much of a movie otherwise.
This is a typical disaster flick. It starts out with a bang and then slows way down so that viewers can get to know the cast of cardboard characters that will be featured in the film. There's a street person in New York who loves his dog, Jack's ex-wife who is a dedicated doctor, the kindly senior scientist who helps Jack by giving him some pertinent data, and the mean vice-president who is totally unreasonable and won't evacuate the northern half of the US just because one guy says to. Of course, some of these people won't make it to the last reel of the film, but that's to be expected.
With implausibility piled upon ridiculous plot elements and sheer impossibilities, you can't look at this film hoping for any type of accurate science, or even believable events. At times it's really hard to look past that. In one scene three helicopters in flight crash because the jet fuel that runs the engine froze due to super-cold air from the troposphere. Planes routinely fly in the troposphere however without any ill effects. Even if you didn't know that, it's hard not to laugh in the scene where someone goes out into the weather that froze 20+ feet of water solid in a matter of hours and finds a vial of penicillin in aqueous solution that's still liquid. There are many errors like that riddled through the film and it really makes the film laughable at times. (Like when people out run cold air. That was hilarious.)
The special effects did look good but not outstanding. The frozen Statue of Liberty looks impressive, but the CGI wolves look like, well, CGI wolves. They weren't rendered very realistically and their movements didn't look natural. Like a lot having to do with this film, you just have to overlook that.
The Blu-ray Disc:
While this isn't a bad looking disc, I was surprised at some of the problems that were present in this 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encoded disc. Previous discs that used the AVC codex looked fine, but this one had some compression artifacts pop up now and again. Posterization was a minor problem in a couple of scenes, such as when the janitor cleaning a building in LA during the tornados walks towards the light shining under a door. The blacks weren't even, rather they were slightly banded. Worse than that was the aliasing that crept into the image. There were a couple of scenes where parallel lines would shimmer and shake slightly when the camera passed over them. Check out the grating in the door on the ship when the boys are looking for medicine and skyline of the ice covered NYC at the end.
Besides that, the image looked very good. The level of detail was strong and the colors were very nice. They looked natural and solid without having looking like they'd been boosted in post-production the way many HD discs do. The black levels were even throughout and grain wasn't a problem even in the large snow covered fields. Overall this is a nice looking disc that is unfortunately marred by some minor flaws.
The audio portion of this disc was top notch. The disc comes with a DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 mix as well as a DD 5.1 dubs in Spanish and French. If you don't have receiver that will decode the DTS HD-MA codex don't worry, you'll still be able to listen to the disc in 'regular' DTS, as I did. The full soundstage was used to great effect during the exciting storm sequences, and it was very impressive. There was very good directionality, viewers can hear certain effects, like a car being blown down the street, pan from one speaker to the next while there's general mayhem coming from all speakers. That was really cool. The subwoofer got quite a workout in these scenes too, with a lot of rumbling destruction that gives the disc a real kick. During the more sedate scenes the audio also did its job, reproducing the dialog faithfully.
Once again Blu-ray adopters have to decide between getting a superior picture with a Blu-ray disc of going for more bonus features on the SD counterpart. I've railed against this before, and it really blows my mind that a studio would do this, especially when they're in the middle of a format war.
In this case several featurettes that are found on the 2-disc collector's edition SD DVD have not been ported over. The two documentaries, The Force of Destiny: the Science and Politics of Climate Change and Two Kings and a Scribe: A Filmmaking Conversation, aren't here, and neither are the pre- and post- production material with one exception.
This disc does have two commentaries, one with director Roland Emmerich and producer Mark Gordon, the other with co-writer Jeffrey Nachmanoff, DP Ueli Steiger, editor David Brenner, and production designer Barry Chusid. I listened to bits of both of these but they didn't wow me. Both were fairly boring and didn't add anything to my enjoyment of the film.
There are also several deleted scenes which run about 15 minutes altogether. While some of these were fun, most deserved to be left on the cutting room floor.
This disc does have Blu-ray only extras though! Woo-hoo! The only problem is that they aren't that exciting. First is a pop-up trivia track that gives details on real weather phenomena and the 'science' of the film. There's also a movie length global warming game. While the film plays a series of questions will pop up. For each question you get wrong, the temperature will rise one degree. If it rises too high, you will have destroyed the Earth.
The Day After Tomorrow was 2004's Deep Impact. It joins other disaster movies like The Core as being mindless entertainment. Its fun enough to watch once, but there's not a lot of replay value. Added to that is the fact that the Blu-ray disc while not bad isn't as impressive as it could be. Make this one a rental.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do
not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.