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The Day After Tomorrow

Getting audiences to line up for a movie that depicts the utter destruction of the earth's northern hemisphere may seem like a tough sell, but for some reason disaster movies retain their popular appeal — be it simply because there is a strange feeling of release that accompanies the end of the world as we know it, a re-assurance in knowing that the world outside the theater is still intact, or even an Aristotelian sense of pleasure in observing the pain and suffering of noble individuals. It certainly isn't new territory for Roland Emmerich, the German director who brought us Independence Day (1996) and Godzilla (1998), and he returns once again to shatter famous American landmarks in The Day After Tomorrow (2004). Dennis Quaid stars as Dr. Jack Hall, a paleoclimatologist who specializes in learning about the planet's climate by digging into its deepest recesses, most recently in Antarctica. However, when a section of the Larsen Ice Shelf the size of Rhode Island breaks away from the polar continent, Hall has cause to worry, and in short order he prepares a theory indicating that greenhouse emissions could drive the earth into a new ice age in less than 100 years. His presentation at a global warming conference in New Dehli is dismissed out of hand by Vice President Becker (Kenneth Welsh), but before long other events unfold, in particular the rapid cooling of North Atlantic ocean currents, observed by British scientist Terry Rapson (Ian Holm). Thus, when severe weather strikes North America — most dramatically in Los Angeles, which is devastated by a series of killer tornadoes — the debate is placed before President Blake (Perry King), with Vice President Becker advocating a standard emergency-management response, while Hall insists the northern hemisphere is about to be supercooled by immense, slow-moving hurricanes, and that most of the American population should be evacuated to southern countries. But Hall doesn't have much time to argue — his son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is stranded in New York, causing the intrepid scientist to launch a hazardous rescue mission in the face of the oncoming freeze.

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One is tempted to discount The Day After Tomorrow — particularly during its opening sequences — as not so much science fiction as it is sheer science fantasy. After all, proposing that the earth's climate could undergo epochal shifts in the space of a few weeks is about as plausible as suggesting that the oceans could disappear in a matter of months, or that the earth's atmosphere could somehow be swept away into space. Hollywood movies work quickly, but our Mother Earth watches untold generations of humanity pass away before she even shifts in her sleep. Along with that, meteorologists and other science buffs will enjoy the film simply to chip away at inaccuracies that defy the laws of nature: How could a low-pressure system pull air down, rather than draw it up? Why do the low-pressure systems appear anti-cyclonic (correct) in some shots, and cyclonic (impossible) in others? And why is the space station tumbling along thousands of miles away from earth, rather than remaining in stable orbit a mere few hundred miles above the planet's surface? It's the sort of movie around which any university's physics department could develop a drinking game, but at the same time it is just a movie, and if you're not the sort of person who's going to get your hair out of shape over inconsistent air-pressure formations, The Day After Tomorrow does put on a pretty good show, from the deadly tornadoes that strike SoCal (watch for a few bits of wry comedy), a tsunami that obliterates New York City, and even an oil tanker that aimlessly drifts down a Manhattan street while survivors gaze with a silence that speaks to the incomprehensible nature of the new world they are about to inherit. Thankfully, Emmerich tones down a lot of the bravado that marked both ID4 and Godzilla — in the realm of disaster flicks Tomorrow is quieter and more mature, replacing alien invaders and an overgrown reptile with a terror that's based, however inaccurately, in the power of our own planet. The fact that it varies its pace between the spectacle of destruction and the very human stories trapped within reveals that, indeed, Emmerich may have actually made a disaster flick for grown-ups. However, the choice of using thinly veiled representations of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in two critical parts is bound to strike all kinds of nerves with viewers of all political persuasions — Emmerich would have been better off to leave his political commentary in the script's earliest drafts.

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Fox's second DVD release of The Day After Tomorrow features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio options. Returning from the initial one-disc release is the commentary from Roland Emmerich and producer Mark Gordon (where they sound most enthusiastic when looking at the complicated effects-shots), along with the second track featuring co-writer Jeffrey Nachmanoff, cinematographer Ueli Steiger, editor David Brenner, and production designer Barry Chusid. Also on Disc One are promos for other Fox titles on DVD, while Disc Two features an array of documentary material. Under "Pre-Production" are the featurettes "Previsualization" (5 min.) and "Pre-Production Meeting (6 min.), as well as storyboard and concept-art galleries. "Production" offers the featurette "Two Kings and a Scribe: A Filmmaking Conversation" (48 min.). "Post-Production" includes "Pushing the Envelope: Visual Effects" (31 min.), "Scoring" (10 min.), "Audio Anatomy" with a look at the final mix (9 min.) and an eight-track interactive demo, as well as deleted scenes. Finally, "The Science" offers the feature-length documentary The Force of Destiny: The Science and Politics of Climate Change. Also on board are a theatrical teaser, two theatrical trailers, and trailers for three other Fox titles. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case with paperboard sleeve.

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