Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Day After Tomorrow

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)…or The Day Hollywood Cashed In On All That Angsty Eco-Concern.

Twentieth Century Fox, never slow to recognise a cash-cow, cannily exploited growing popular sentiment on global warming by creating a movie specially designed to highlight the key concerns of green-minded people. Naturally, having seen Independence Day and Godzilla, they decided Roland Emmerich was just the man to handle such a sensitive job.

(Incidentally, the explosion-happy German later made 2012, in which pretty much everything gets destroyed, but for me the most upsetting aspect of that movie remains how closely John Cusack’s tiny mouth resembles a dog’s bum.)

So, in a nutshell: a second Ice Age is on the way and only Dennis Quaid knows it. That’s despite snowstorms in India, killer hailstones the size of medicine balls in Tokyo and tornadoes in Los Angeles. Which, at the very least, ought to have given other people a hint.

This time Dennis is a paleoclimatologist, if you’re interested. But, regardless of whether he’s buff and desert-sweaty (Flight of the Phoenix), cadaverous and louche (Wyatt Earp) or, as here, freezing his nuts off in full action mode, the dead-eyed Texan always brings an identical Will this do? quality to his roles. If acting were colour-coded, he’d be beige.

Early on, he’s repeatedly portrayed as a maverick figure, shocking high-level (even Presidential) meetings with his profound geo-revelations, but for all the tension raised he could be reading a prescription for haemorrhoid cream.

Still, that’s largely missing the point. Along with Aaron Eckhart, Quaid is one of those handy go-to men for action movies where the budget has already been spanked on special effects and the studio doesn’t want an actual personality getting in the way of all that expensive CGI.

Our multi-helicopter crash scene occurs just as the world’s weather systems collapse into freezing, snow-flurried chaos. It is also set in Scotland, which poses an obvious problem: how would they be able to tell the difference? (In fact, as the first chopper hits the ground, if you press pause you can just make out a scrawny figure wearing a short-sleeved Celtic shirt and carrying a can of Tennants in the background.)

Three RAF helicopters, helmed by the type of plummy-voiced Englishmen never heard of outside modern Hollywood movies, are heading for Balmoral Castle to evacuate the royals. But it suddenly starts to get a bit demmed perky out there, dontcha know, to the tune of minus 150 degrees.

One pilot cries out: “Bladdy fuel lines are starting to freeze, sah!” Then the rotor blades themselves quickly ice up and stop turning. A second pilot, sounding even posher, bleats: “Come on, you bar-stard!”

All three copters then spin in descending circles before crashing down onto the very soft snow at speed. Obviously, given all the fuel is frozen solid, they don’t actually explode. Clearly aware that this non-spectacle looks boring, the effects boys instead have the choppers send up huge jets of spraying snow and even have one of them come crashing directly towards the screen. As a final garnish, one of the pilots opens his door to peek out and we see him actually freeze solid before our eyes. Lummy.



Exploding helicopter innovation

It’s a decent idea. The notion of the weather suddenly turning so cold it can literally halt the rotors of a helicopter might be scoffed at as just another Wednesday by vest-wearing Neds in the Gorbals, but for the rest of us it’s a novel concept.

However, the only sweat and tears generated in putting this scene together most likely belonged to a few over-weight, under-deodorised geeks wedged in front of mammoth computers on a LA studio lot. None of it looks even remotely real, there’s zero sense of actual danger and the impossibly close angles scream out CGI botch-work.

Number of exploding helicopters

Three. (Or none, depending on how pedantic you’re feeling.)

Positives

Forget the encroaching ice, the real danger here is getting buried in clichés. Action movie buffs with a love of the obvious can sit back and relax. Cute dog. ‘Character’ vagrant. Baldy kid with cancer who makes it. Best buddy of hero who doesn’t make it. Cynical politician who admits he ‘got it wrong’. Unlikely teen crush that works out. Rousing orchestral music at the slightest provocation. It’s all here.

Negatives

Quaid – who could mangle the finest lines - is given some appalling eco-platitudes to spout. In fairness, even De Niro would struggle with such fare as: “Our climate is fragile. At the rate we're polluting the environment and burning fossil fuels, the ice caps will soon disappear.” Hearing Quaid deliver such lines, you’ll want to set fire to the nearest forest.

Interesting fact

To promote this eco-movie and its save-the-planet mantra, the leading cast members were flown, separately, around the globe on private jets, monstering up enough fossil fuel to power a small country for a year. But hey, it’s all about the message.

Review by: Chopper

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