Notes on the Atrocities
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Sunday, May 30, 2004  

The Day After Tomorrow

Through a series of unlikely circumstances, I had the misfortune to find myself in a dark theater last night with Roland Emmerich's profoundly bad The Day After Tomorrow. It is so bad that it goes past being good and back into bad again--everytime you chortle over something wildly inappropriate, something more wildly inappropriate intrudes on your snarky pleasure--wolves, say--forcing a wince of pain. That's a handy trick.

The movie now joins the most rigid of film genres, the disaster flick. Rigid because it's the worst genre, and no one is sufficiently interested to try to subvert it. It's a genre almost beyond cliche because there's nothing but cliche. It goes like this:

A wicked smart scientist, toiling on some obscure subject, discovers catastrophe is about to strike. S/he is an obsessive, but truehearted slave to the truth, creating a rift in the household. S/he has therefore neglected a child/spouse/both and finds his/her personal life in a shambles. Was the damage done to the child/spouse/both worth it? No time to consider--the catastrophe is nigh.

The scientist approaches a government official to alert him (always him) of the danger. But alas, the beaurocrat is evil and stupid, and will not heed the warning of the wise but obscure scientist...until it is too late.

Meanwhile, some "real people" and their plights are introduced. They have some distant connection to the central plot or not, depending on how truly abysmal the script is. One of them has a pet. One of them is old/injured.

The disaster sequence is the point of the whole movie. Depending on how truly abysmal the script is, the plot may or may not guide the special effects. The action shifts between the haggard genius scientist, the "real people" plighting along, and the evil and stupid beaurocrat, on whom the horror of the situation--and his own stupidity--dawns.

Hundreds to millions of faceless strangers die in the course of the disaster, but only one of the "real people" or scientists will succumb--due apparently to the protective bubble of genuis afforded them by proximity to the protagonist. The person who dies does so in a swelling moment of self-sacrifice.

The protagonist, whose life work has just been vindicated, will repudiate the life's work, having learned the true meaning of family.

Following the disaster, everyone is tired but happy: they've survived. There's a comic/sentimental moment involving the pet. The scientist is reunited with his family and two decades of dysfunction are washed away.

Roll credits.

The Day After Tomorrow follows the script exactly, of course. In this case, global warming triggers an instant ice age (don't ask), killing off almost everyone in the Northern Hemisphere. It's a dramatic change, but not, as you might imagine, dramatic enough to keep the attention of the filmmakers, who lard the film with drama boosters: a child dying of cancer, a girl dying of sepsis, and wild wolves snapping at the heels of Jake Gyllenhaal in a Russian ship (a tanker?) beached in the center of Manhattan.

(I can imagine the writing team: "I don't know, it's sort of draggy here. What should we do to punch it up a bit?" "I don't know--wolf attack, maybe?")

The central plot is so bad and so implausible that even to describe it makes me think I'm hyperbolizing.

The only redeeming quality to the film are the characters of the President and Veep--thinly veiled stand-ins for Bush and Cheney. The veep is the evil beaurocrat and clearly the guy in control of the White House. When the president finally does enter, he blinks with surprise and confusion. He defers to the veep.

I don't think it's hyperbole to say it is sure to be the worst script of the year, and is possibly the worst script of all time. On the other hand, the worst script of all time is something to recommend it--as is the wolves sequence. I predict it will spawn a drinking game wherein every time something absurd happens, you have to have a drink. People will be three sheets to the wind after the first half hour. At which point, perhaps, they'll be ready for the wolves.

posted by Jeff | 10:50 AM |
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