'The Day After Tomorrow' is an example of what I like to call "fear cinema" -- the kind of movie that cunningly taps into a current, shared cultural fear of some sort of pending disaster, and then exploits it to the hilt for maximum box office. Scientific reality be damned, the formula works. Whether it be 'War of the Worlds' riveting the country to our radios in the '30s with its tale of alien invasion, or 'The China Syndrome' fraying the world's nerves in the '70s with a fictional nuclear meltdown, the mere thought of our planet in peril seems to send us screaming into the cineplexes by the millions to witness our own annihilation.
Ironically, 'The Day After Tomorrow' is a slight disappointment in terms of the fear cinema quotient, simply because it isn't shameless enough in milking our anxieties. It's a brilliant idea for a disaster film -- global warming runs amok and threatens to decimate the planet in only a couple of days -- yet it doesn't give us quite enough to be truly terrified of. Once its big first 20 minutes of destruction are over with, the film drops most of its silly (but effective) pseudo-science, and settles into a fairly routine rescue-adventure flick extolling the virtues of family values over mother nature.
Stealing a page from his own 'Independence Day,' co-writer and director Roland Emmerich certainly knows how to get our juices going with a great first act. Just as those giant alien motherships in 'ID4' were unforgettable symbols of American xenophobia, in 'Day After Tomorrow' Emmerich uses everything from ominous storm clouds to pontificating scientists to create a truly queasy feeling of impending doom. These may be cheap tactics, but they work fantastically well and so we brace ourselves for the terrifying, transcendent vision of an apocalyptic future to come -- one that's presented as all-too-probable if we don't heed the warnings of global warming.
Too bad that once mother nature gives us the swift kick in the booty and turns most of the world into a big iceberg, all we're left with is Dennis Quaid trudging across the country to New York to save his whiny son (Jake Gyllenhaal), who's holed up in a dreary old library waiting for help. For whatever reason, Emmerich and his co-writers felt that global warming wasn't interesting enough, so they injected a whole host of melodramatic, soap opera-like subplots into a story that didn't need any of them.
Do we really care that Gyllenhaal is in love with some boring chick (Emmy Rossum), but that Quaid disapproves of their relationship? Are we really supposed to be upset as Quaid's crack team of co-scientists get picked off one-by-one like counselors in a slasher movie? And do we really give a sniff about the martial troubles between Quaid and the criminally underused Sela Ward as his wife? I guess the moral of the story is that, even amidst global apocalypse, as long as you reunite just one family then goshdarnit, hope springs eternal!
It's a shame that this is not fear cinema par excellence like a 'Titanic,' 'Towering Inferno,' 'Poseidon Adventure' or even a 'Deep Impact' -- the kind of disaster flick where the characters are defined and realistic enough that we actually care about what happens to them. Still, 'Day After Tomorrow' delivers enough of the cool stuff -- namely lots of death, destruction and special effects -- to make it a pretty fun hoot movie.
I watched 'The Day After Tomorrow' only one day after I watched Fox's 'Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer,' and technically speaking, the studio certainly seems to be back to Blu-ray with a vengeance. This is another stellar presentation, and one with enough fantastic sequences that it easily ranks as a new demo disc.
Fox has encoded 'Day After Tomorrow' in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4, and spread it out over a BD-50 dual-layer disc. They've also utilized a source that's super clean, with just about any hint of imperfection wiped clear away. From the opening prologue on the ice cap, to the massive storm sequences of act one, the image can be jaw-dropping in depth, clarity and vividness. Blacks are perfect, and colors supple. There is heavy stylization at times (particularly the "survivors trapped in New York" sequences that have a severe blue cast) but stability and cleanliness holds up throughout. Detail is superior even in complex wide shots brimming with activity, and despite all the fast-moving action, I suffered no pixel break-up or other compression artifacts.
I do have to nitpick, and say that colors can be oversaturated to a degree. This is most apparent in fleshtones -- sometimes even tight close-ups look ever-so-slightly blurred and lacking in realism. Also, the darkest shadows can look a little crushed, with the very finest details sometimes lost and the image flattening out.
Regardless, this high-def transfer of 'Day After Tomorrow' is stunning enough throughout that it falls only a hair short of five-star perfection. This is definitely a Blu-ray disc you should have no qualms about whipping out when you want a reminder of what great HD should look like.
In its Blu-ray debut, 'The Day After Tomorrow' sounds even better than it looks. The movie's sound design itself is utterly effective and engrossing, and this is simply a reference-quality DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround mix -- and that's only extracting the track's DTS 1.5mbps core. (Now that it's finally available, I'm working on adding full DTS-MA decoding to my hardware chain, and this may very likely be the first disc I revisit.)
The film's storm sequences are simply amazing. The sheer heft and bombast is spine-tingling at high volume. Clarity and palpable realism to the rear soundfield is top tier. Imaging is transparent, and there is the true "wall of sound" effect of the best surround mixes. The subwoofer packs a wallop, and I even played the New York destruction sequence three or four times over just to enjoy the vibrations.
I do have one minor complaint, which is that at low to medium volume, dialogue is often obscured. At full blast things evened out, but at lower volumnes, subtlety just gets lost in the din. To be fair, the quality of one's speakers play a huge role here, but 'Day After Tomorrow' is the kind of mix that really taxes your equipment, so you may find yourself reaching for the volume knob often depending on your gear. Otherwise, this is absolutely first-rate stuff!
Having just reviewed Fox's 'Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer,' which is crammed with supplements, 'The Day After Tomorrow' is comparatively disappointing. The studio has ported over some of the extras that appeared on the previous two-disc standard-def DVD special edition, but much is gone -- namely, all the documentary and making-of material. That's a bummer, but at least Fox has come a long way from their early days of completely bare bones Blu-ray releases.
The main extras are two audio commentaries, both rather lackluster. Director and co-writer Roland Emmerich and producer Mark Gordon chime in on the first, but it's filled with too much dead air. The energy level never picks up, and finding true insight is a catch-as-catch-can proposition. The amount of praise Emmerich heaps on the actors and the production crew, etc., is overdone, though Gordon at least lightens things up with some humorous anecdotes about weather-related on-set production challenges, and working with the extensive CGI effects. The track feels somewhat dated as well, as it was recorded well before the whole issue of global warming had finally come front and center in today's political climate.
If I was underwhelmed by the first track, the second one left me completely bored. This tech track features co-writers Jeffrey Nachmanoff and Ueli Steiger, plus editor David Brenner and production designer Barry Chusid. Personally, there's only so much talk I can take of blue-screen photography, digital compositing and the herculean effort required to pixel-map a tornado. Die-hard effects fans will likely enjoy this one, but there is nothing here I haven't heard (or seen) a zillion times before on other DVD supplements.
The only other major extra is about 15 minutes worth of Deleted Scenes. Action fans will enjoy the cut "Hurricane Hunter" sequence, but otherwise the majority of this material only adds context to the storms' impact. Emmerich and Gordon provide optional commentary, and all of the scenes are presented in 480i/MPEG-2 video only.
'The Day After Tomorrow' is an ambitious and idealistic Hollywood blockbuster about the dangers of global warming. Unfortunately, despite its unique premise, ultimately this one's a rather pedestrian action-thriller that doesn't say much about the state of our climate other than we're doomed. This Blu-ray release is a winner, though. The video achieves reference-quality levels and the booming soundtrack hovers just above fantastic. Although the somewhat slim supplements package dampened my enthusiasm somewhat, nevermind that -- if you're a fan of the film (or just like weather porn), this is a must-own disc.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.