The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

Cynthia Fuchs

Even as it lays down a scary geopolitical scenario and a few partisan gauntlets, The Day After Tomorrow aims to please.

The Day After Tomorrow

Director: Roland Emmerich
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum, Dash Mihok, Jay O. Sanders, Sela Ward, Glenn Plummer, Adrian Lester, Tamlyn Tomita, Perry King, Ian Holm
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: 20th Century Fox
First date: 2004
Sometimes it's good to go really, really low-tech.
-- Roland Emmerich, commentary track, The Day After Tomorrow

The fact of the matter is, there's a reason that clichés are clichés -- because it's real.
-- Mark Gordon, commentary track, The Day After Tomorrow

At this point, you're just sort of going, "Oy! Oy veys mir! That is some kind of big action picture!"
-- Mark Gordon, commentary track, The Day After Tomorrow

Watching the opening scene of The Day After Tomorrow, director Roland Emmerich and producer Mark Gordon are plainly pleased with their picture. The opening title images of polar ice caps are spectacular, digitally-effected to crisp lifelikeness, swirling, vast-seeming, elegant. The action commences as an ice shelf collapses: the ground opens up and the U.S. scientific crew working the site is sent into a frenzy. Dedicated paleoclimatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) goes so far as to launch himself into crevice to save valuable charts, saving himself at the last second by whipping out his pick-ax and hooking the ice. Here Gordon interjects, "How in the hell did he get that pick-ax out? There's no fucking way that he could have done that. But it's Indiana Jones, it's in a movie, and we never heard a peep about it in the previews."

This assessment quite sums up The Day After Tomorrow's combinatory ethos, mixing action-adventure hijinks with anti-global-warming cautions, all in the interest of audience delight. Even as it lays down a scary geopolitical scenario and a few partisan gauntlets, this movie aims to please.

Fox's new DVD includes a few extra reasons to feel pleased: in addition to the often amusing Emmerich-Gordon commentary track (the producer especially is prone to play parts, crack jokes, poke fun at his own participation), the DFVD includes a second, more consistently earnest commentary by writer Jeffrey Nachmanoff, cinematographer Ueli Steiger, editor David Brenner, and production designer Barry Chusid, two deleted scenes, and an "interactive sound demo" for a scene involving a helicopter, which isolates and allows you to mix various audio tracks. The title of this featurette, "Audio Anatomy," again suggests the artists' approach to their work, at once painstaking and metaphorical, a means to amp the drama and tweak the tears.

Such gonzo good fun speaks to the filmmakers' explicit glee in its own digital thrills, as well as their self-understanding as gallant tech pioneers. Their work here is geared to make the fake look real, in order to impress on viewers real likely dangers set in motion by human arrogance, ambition, and eager ignorance. That so much of the blame for these abuses is laid at the feet of the U.S. administration is alleviated by the intelligence and courage displayed by the heroes, most U.S., especially when Jack turns into something of a first responder, often backed by a U.S. flag, and always ready and able to save helpless civilians, including his estranged son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), who lives with Jack's ex, Dr. Lucy Hall (Sela Ward), in DC. To set up the film's punchline, namely, sensational shots of NYC frozen solid (the Statue of Liberty, the zoo, the library), the film must get Jack and Sam to the city. To that end, it sends Sam to an academic decathlon, an event that also allows him to find an object of affection, decathlon teammate Laura (Emmy Rosenbaum).

Most emphatically, the movie loves Jack (and Quaid is quite up to the adoration, even if the narrative apparatus is increasingly silly). This is a man who believes in science -- complicated diagrams and graphs, elegant computer models. His faith will be tested: he misgauges the speed of the approaching disaster more than once, by 1000 or 100 years, during his report to a Global Warning Conference, then by months and weeks, in reporting to the skeptical Vice President (Ken Welsh, whose similarity to Cheney is hardly accidental: Gordon notes on the commentary track: "We liked him as an actor, but it didn't hurt that he looks like Dick Cheney... And I think we got a lot of shit in the press for it").

No matter the public ridicule he gets, Jack, basing his theory on the Ice Age 10,000 years ago, remains convinced that scientists tell truth and politicians, like that pesky Vice President Becker (Kenneth Welsh), do not ("Our economy," he snipes at Jack, "is every bit as fragile as the environment"). Jack knows that the costs of decades of shortsighted, profits-driven planet-abusing policies (including the U.S. rejection of the Kyoto treaty, specially noted here). As the movie's title announces, the catastrophe is already in the works.

This $125 million film, of course, supports Jack's thinking. Indeed, as Emmerich and Gordon note, the Larsen B ice shelf actually did fall into the sea as Emmerich and Jeffrey Nachmanoff were writing the script). And it sets itself solidly against the current administration's thinking on global warming, the Kyoto Treaty, and other environmental abuses, mostly embodied in the VP (the President, played by Perry King, is slow of thought and dependent on his second to make decisions), in wise and cuddly Professor Rapson (Ian Holm) and NASA hurricane specialist Janet Tokada (Tamlyn Tomita), who cacthes a brief and ungainly flirtation from Jack's galumphy good-hearted assistant Jason (Dash Mihok).

That the "abrupt climate shift" encompasses multiple disastrous aspects makes it difficult to harness as a movie-style threat: hailstorms in Tokyo, tornadoes in L.A. (taking out the Hollywood sign and the Capitol Records building), land-based hurricanes in Canada, floods in Manhattan, deep freezes across the northern half of the U.S. Rapson ends up with his crew of two at his Scotland research base (with assistant Simon [Adrian Lester], lamenting that he'll never see his new son "grow up"), a moment that typifies the film's narrative strategy; much like Independence Day, it sets up thumbnail-sketched characters at various points on the globe, then destroys them one by one, mostly offscreen, so the survivors can grimace or look sad as they realize their associates are gone. Because it is an action movie as well as political tract, The Day After Tomorrow doesn't only leave hordes of anonymous folks to their dire fates. And so Jack not only gets to look sad, but he also must make a mighty effort. Again.

Predictably angry at his obsessively professional father for being absent throughout much of childhood, Sam is also conveniently (genetically?) bright enough to grasp the import of dad's warnings even when the U.S. administration is steadfastly ignoring them. So, when Jack says stay put at the Manhattan Public Library, and burn whatever is available to keep warm, Sam convinces a hardy band to do just that. This company includes a librarian (Sheila McCarthy), an atheist determined to save the Guttenberg Bible for the sake of "Western civilization," and a host of nerdy decathletes, including "captain of the electronics club, the math club, and the science club" Brian (Arjay Smith), double-underlines the film's affection for science and research. That a couple of the nerds are transformed into action stars only makes them more admirable.

The film's politics is upfront, which made for some minor ruckus on its theatrical release. Its financing is also clear: Fox News reporters breathlessly narrate the disaster's movements, U.S. attempts to evacuate its Southern states' citizens to Mexico, that government holds up the proceedings until the U.S. President agrees to forgive all Latin American nations' debts (news footage shows desperate yanquis wading through a river to enter Mexico illegally makes for a sharp joke, increasingly relevant). A rich kid in the Library with the rest of the nerds, J.D. (Austin Nichols), also learns a valuable lesson, courtesy of homeless person Luther (Glenn Plummer, whom Gordon calls his "good luck charm," an actor who also enlivened the proceedings in Speed, the producer's first big hit), expert at "staying warm," due to his many nights on the streets of New York. (Luther is also assigned Emmerich's favorite sign of moral decency, a spunky dog.)

For Emmerich, disasters (aliens, Godzilla) are terrific incentives for romance and reconciliation. And so, Jack and Lucy (who remains at a DC hospital with a young, stoic, and eminently pathetic cancer patient) will re-bond over their concern for Sam, and Sam will make time with Laura. His desire for this lovely rich girl leads the boy to feats of derring-do to rival his dad's, including an expedition to find penicillin aboard a ship that has floated down Fifth Avenue and parked outside the Library, just as the city is about to freeze, and just as a pack of digitized wolves (escaped from the zoo) show up on cue (this sequence is among the movie's most desperately silly, these creatures being the more technically advanced brethren of the monsters in Wolfen, but wholly less convincing).

The ostensible through-line amid the pockets of survival and tragedy is Jack, who rises to preposterous action-heroic heights, following his decision at last to be a good dad, and trek from DC to NYC in order to locate Sam in the Library. His arguments with the government types melt away as his personal efforts take center stage -- and lead again to a sighting of the U.S. flag. This after a tidal wave and then ice overtake the Statue of Liberty, as Emmerich again (again and again) takes easy aim at emblems of U.S. big-talking self-mythologizing so that his audience can thrill to their destruction.

As the "eye of the storm" speeds across the screen, instantly freezing everything in its path, Jack looks up to see a flag, turned spastically solid in a second. Here it is, the money shot: the emblematic United States, stuck in time, blind to consequences, fixated on its own reckless self-love. Surely, there are smarter, more compelling ways to make this point than Jack's whole-hearted, robust embodiment of U.S. remythification.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

The Hall of Fame has been harshly criticized for some of its more inexplicable exclusions and for neglecting certain subgenres of music. Cynicism and negativity over the Hall's selection process and membership is fairly widespread. That said, despite the controversies and legitimate gripes, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is still widely viewed as a career milestone. The Hall's stature feeds its surrounding controversies: after all, nobody would care to argue so vehemently about the merits of one artist over another if it wasn't important. Very rarely will a newly inducted artist miss the opportunity to appear at the star-studded ceremony to accept their honor.

The criteria for nomination is as follows: "Artists -- a group encompassing performers, composers and/or musicians -- become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first commercial recording. Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock and roll." Specifically for performers, "This category honors bands or solo artists which demonstrate musical excellence. Such a descriptor includes (but isn't limited to) influence on other performers or genres; length and depth of career and catalog; stylistic innovations; or superior technique and skills."

These standards allow the selection committee wide latitude with their choices, and generating a list that would create zero controversy is an obvious impossibility. As for those deserving artists yet to be included, their time will surely come. There has purportedly been an emphasis on increasing diversity among the nominating committee and voters in recent years, and the list of contenders for the class of 2018 reflects this.

Radiohead, as expected and deserved, are nominated in their first year of eligibility, and there is little doubt they will be inducted. Other nominees include Bon Jovi, Kate Bush, the Cars, Depeche Mode, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, J. Geils Band, Judas Priest, LL Cool J, MC5, the Meters, the Moody Blues, Rage Against the Machine, Nina Simone, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Link Wray and the Zombies. It's a strong and varied group.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the list, however, is the British duo Eurythmics. Even though they've been eligible since 2006, this is their first nomination. Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox certainly deserve recognition for their important contributions to the musical fabric of the last 40 years. While Eurythmics have always been generally respected, they've never been darlings with the critics like some of their contemporaries. It's puzzling as to why. Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting and creative audacity. Lennox is second to noone as a vocalist, not just in her lead parts but also in the creative, often rhythmic way she uses her voice as an instrument. This nomination could boost the stature and perception of Eurythmics' body of work immeasurably.

Although Eurythmics are often consigned strictly to the synthpop genre, that designation fits only a portion of their repertoire. Each of their nine studio albums has its own unique vibe while retaining the duo's core identity. Eurythmics never repeat themselves, often taking bold risks and swerving in unexpected directions. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Eurythmics didn't "sell out" or compromise by chasing after obvious Top 40 hits. Even their most popular singles aren't commercial in the traditional sense, and they've always sounded like nobody else on the radio.

Despite the sudden emergence of their 1983 single "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" as an MTV staple and international smash, Eurythmics are far from an overnight success story. Their story begins in London, 1975, when Stewart fortuitously encountered Lennox at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress. The Scottish singer had recently dropped out of the Royal Academy of Music, which she felt didn't suit her musical interests. Stewart and Lennox strongly connected over their love of music, and they quickly became a couple who were inseparable. Along with singer/ songwriter/ guitarist Peet Coombes, Stewart and Lennox formed a short-lived group the Catch. After one failed single, they added two members and renamed themselves the Tourists.

Coombes was the dominant creative force and primary songwriter behind the Tourists. Lennox and Coombes shared vocals on the band's dour and melancholy power-pop. The Tourists released three albums and managed a handful of chart appearances in the UK. Two of their singles, a peppy cover of Dusty Springfield's "I Only Want to Be With You" and the hard-rocking "So Good T\to Be Back Home Again", made the UK Top 10. The band toured extensively, but their success was fleeting. The Tourists' third album, Luminous Basement (1980), tanked badly despite containing their strongest material yet, and the group dissolved shortly thereafter.

Lennox and Stewart also endured a painful ending to their sometimes tumultuous romance, but they recognized the power of their musical chemistry and decided to continue working together as a duo. They were a pair "who couldn't be together, and who could not be apart", as Lennox reflects many years later in the song "17 Again". History has shown that they made the right decision: Stewart and Lennox compliment each other intuitively through a shared passion for music, the thrill of experimentation, and the need for emotional release that songwriting and performing allows.

The name Eurythmics was derived from a technique used to teach music to children based on sensory and physical methods of learning rhythm. The newly-christened duo signed with RCA Records and in early 1981 headed to Germany to record their debut album with highly-respected krautrock producer Conny Plank.

Plank already had a long string of acclaimed albums to his credit, including collaborations with Neu!, Can, Ultravox, Kraftwerk and Brian Eno among others. The sessions for what would become Eurythmics' debut album, In the Garden, were held at Plank's studio in Cologne. He brought several of his regular collaborators into the proceedings, including bassist Holger Czukay and drummer Jaki Liebezeit of avant-garde rockers Can, Blondie drummer Clem Burke and D.A.F. electronics whiz Robert Görl. Stewart has described the sessions as a learning experience that helped expand his perception of what pop music could be and how it could be created without following any rules, a perspective that served Eurythmics well.

Eurythmics' austere and hypnotic debut single "Never Gonna Cry Again" was released in May 1981. They filmed a low-budget video and landed a couple TV slots to promote the track, but the song's haunted nature did not translate to mainstream success: it barely scraped the lower reaches of the UK singles chart. A second single, the dreamy guitar-rocker "Belinda", followed in August but failed to chart.

In the Garden was finally released in October 1981, but without a hit to generate momentum it was barely noticed. Despite scant sales figures, the album's gloomy psychedelic guitar-pop makes for a rather strong debut. In the Garden exists in late summer shadows, densely atmospheric and shrouded in a veil of dread. Lennox's vocals are understated, subtle and lower in the mix than on subsequent albums. Sound effects, odd vocalizations and bits of sonic experimentation fade in and out like flashes of hazily repressed memory.

RCA wasn't eager to invest in a follow-up to In the Garden after its disappointing reception, so Stewart financed Eurythmics' second album largely through a personal bank loan. Faced with a minuscule budget, they worked in a London warehouse to avoid spending money on studio time. They were able to purchase cheap second-hand equipment for the sessions, including the basic TEAC 8-track on which most of the album was recorded. Adam Williams, former bassist for the ska band the Selectors, helped the duo learn the equipment while co-producing some of their earliest tracks.

The primitive set-up was the ultimate blessing in disguise. Since they were financing the sessions and self-producing, Eurythmics had the freedom to experiment with no oversight. As both Lennox and Stewart were enduring periods of deep personal strife at the time, the sessions evolved into an emotional and creative catharsis that helped shape the mercurial nature of the music. It was out of this environment that a classic was born.

Despite appearing only a few months after their debut album, the first single to emerge from the new sessions proved radically different than any of Eurythmics' prior work. Released in April 1982, "This Is the House" is a flamboyant, horn-driven spectacle on which Lennox belts out a vocal more confident and brash than any of her prior work. The song's odd mix of synthpop, R&B; and latin influences renders it completely unique, but despite its infectious ingenuity and beguiling loopiness (or perhaps because of it), "This Is the House" failed to chart.

The follow-up single that landed two months later is even better. Entrancing and soulful, "The Walk" exudes the anxiety, drama and innovation that became Eurythmics' hallmark. The vocal arrangement is ingenious, and Dick Cuthell (known for his work with Madness, the Specials, Fun Boy Three and others) lets rip a blistering trumpet solo. As in many of their songs, "The Walk" slowly ratchets up the tension through hypnotic repetition and the gradual addition of more layers of sound until it reaches a haywire frenzy. Although a brilliant recording, "The Walk" fared no better than its predecessor.

With the duo's second album Sweet Dreams (are made of this) completed, RCA began a strong promotional push, issuing the opening track "Love Is a Stranger" as a single in November 1982. Lennox's dazzling vocal ranges from icy cool to fiery passion over a relentless electric groove bracketed by sinuous lines of synth. "Love Is a Stranger" rose to #54 in the UK, their highest placement yet, and momentum was finally building for the duo thanks in part to the single's provocative video.

The first significant chapter in a series of visually arresting promotional clips that Eurythmics generated over the span of their career, "Love Is a Stranger" showcases Lennox's dramatic presence and her innate ability to command the viewer's attention. She plays multiple roles, ending the clip with her red hair slicked back and dressed androgynously in a man's suit. Image was quickly becoming an important part of the Eurythmics' equation, with Lennox always compelling no matter which character she inhabits, and Stewart often appearing as her sort of mad-scientist counterpart.

Sweet Dreams (are made of this) hit the shelves on 4 January 1983, along with its title-track, a single that continues to reverberate through pop music nearly 35 years after its release. Suddenly everything changed for Eurythmics. An obscure British duo, barely managing to survive in the music business, soared to the top with one of the more unconventional songs ever to scale those lofty heights.

"Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" has an unusual structure, with no real verses or chorus. Lennox has described it as a mantra, and indeed it is. The lyrics, which Lennox rattled off spontaneously in a matter of minutes, are a simple but profound statement about the human condition: "Everybody's looking for something," the search for meaning and fulfillment, the ephemeral "this" of which sweet dreams are made.

Lennox begins the song with a single line of vocal, then starting with "some of them want to use you" at the 0:24 point it doubles. From there the song gradually builds intensity, with the vocals increasingly layered. A masterful finalé combines all the sonic elements before fading to black, the mantra repeating endlessly, the "this" still stubbornly undefined. The booming minor-key bass riff and the epic string-motif solo starting at 1:31 are played by Lennox on a Roland Juno-6 synthesizer. The main riff (improvised by Lennox while listening to Stewart working on a drum-machine pattern), is a simple two-bar arpeggio that loops throughout most of the song. Two parts were recorded separately and panned on opposite sides of the sound spectrum, creating a richly resonant effect. "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" is no dated relic from the early days of MTV burdened by the limitations the time. Its massive waves of synth flood out of the speakers with enormous power, as inexorably as the tide.

The music video, which became wildly popular on MTV during its heyday, is forever entwined with the song in listeners' collective consciousness. The iconic image of Lennox in her masculine suit and flaming orange flat-top helps to define the new wave era. Her forceful demeanor, nervy confidence and the subtle nuances of her facial expressions amplify the song's inherent tension. She confronts the viewer directly by pointing right in our faces at the 0:24 mark. At 1:56, she offers a sly half-smile with, "some of them want to abuse you", and at 2:15 she pounds her fist just as the song reaches its dramatic apex. Stewart appears throughout the video stoically pecking away on the drum machine he used in the recording of the song, the Movement MCS Drum Computer MK1 (except for that part where he and the cow have, well, a moment… It's all in the eye contact).

After a slow climb up the US pop chart, "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" was finally able to derail the Police's "Every Breath You Take" from its seven-week reign at the top during the week of 3 September 1983. It would be Eurythmics' only chart-topping pop hit in America, and it reached #2 in the UK. In the wake of Eurythmics' new-found fame, "Love Is a Stranger" was re-released, this time becoming a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

The album's deep cuts are every bit as strange and fascinating as its better-known singles. The ghostly "Jennifer" is a narcotic reverie of keyboard swells and spectral atmospherics. "I've Got an Angel" and "Somebody Told Me" are serrated neurotic fits, swerving dangerously off-the-rails from anything that would normally be considered pop music. A long and mesmerizing exploration of urban isolation, "This City Never Sleeps" is a powerful finalé. Sweet Dreams (are made of this) is an examination of the human psyche fraught with turmoil, a series of jagged recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks set to music that is soulful and experimental, melodic but eccentric, a stark electronic soundscape that bristles with horns and unexpected sonic jolts.

Next Page: Potent and Ferocious

This film suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.