Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Day After Armageddon's Deep Impact

Commentary by Martin Kelly
June 2, 2004

Movies released now are not as good as they were 10 years ago. Then, I used to go weekly to the two independent theatres that still survived in Glasgow’s West End. Both are now closed, one a restaurant, the other is waiting redevelopment. Even in 1996, we caught Independence Day in the last theatre on the city’s South Side, which is now also closed, being redeveloped as apartments. In the last 10 years the whole movie-going experience has been turned into one great big corporate consumption opportunity, the releases loudly, crudely and violently homogeneous. It’s just revolting to see grown men carrying boxes of popcorn so big you know they’ll never be finished but just wasted. It’s annoying that, no matter how warnings are given, some clown will still leave their cell phone on and it will go off at a critical point in the action. Maybe the manners of going to the cinema are dying - as we increasingly expect personal service in everything, we become less able to participate in communal entertainment.

By the time the lights went down, I was ready for The Day After Tomorrow, to see it all swept away.

Forget the relatively intelligent criticism of the movie’s junk science – the factual failings in this movie are so profound that absolutely nothing in it can be taken seriously.

Example 1 – at one point a character is shown watching Manchester United playing Glasgow Celtic. Celtic are portrayed wearing blue tops. Blue is the one colour that Glasgow Celtic would never, ever wear, being the colour of their archrivals Rangers.

Example 2 – three RAF helicopters crash in the Highlands on their way to rescue the Royal Family from Balmoral Castle. As well as giving an indication that the story is set in August (the only time the Royals ever go to Balmoral), the fact that there is always a helicopter at Balmoral to evacuate them the short distance to Aberdeen Airport is not deemed worthy of mention. And, consequently, if it were taking place in August, wouldn’t the high school the Jake Gyllenhaal character attends be on vacation, rather than sending him on scholastic decathlons?

Example 3 – at the very start of the movie, which owes a great deal to the beginning of Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) is portrayed coming out of a hut, leaping across an icy chasm to recover critically important samples and leaping back again. He and his two companions are then portrayed from an aerial shot, standing beside the chasm in awe and disbelief. I could have sworn the hut wasn’t in the aerial shot.

The Day After Tomorrow isn’t, of course, a disaster movie. Strictly speaking, there are no such things as disaster movies but survival movies. What should motivate the viewers’ interest is the drama involved in the characters’ struggle for survival. In this movie, you just don’t care.

I have seldom seen a movie that so stubbornly fails to generate interest in its characters. Dennis Quaid, the poor man’s Harrison Ford, acts in this movie with two expressions, mouth open and mouth closed. I’m wrong, he uses a third. When facing down authority, he glares. Boy does he glare at the wicked Veep! Man, he glares at the government guy who only gives him 48 hours on the mainframe! In fairness to Quaid, he is not helped by a script containing some of the worst dialogue heard on screen since Star Wars. But all the conservative smart boys and think-tankers have been asleep on the job when they’ve only noticed that the character of the Vice-President is based on the Vice-President. The good and compassionate President who orders the evacuation of the South is played by Perry King, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Al Gore in terms of height, build, age and haircut.

All the clichés of the survival movie are there – the smart kid whose romantic failings are corrected by the end – wait, that’s not right! Roland Emmerich left that as a bloody great loose ending- and the sick youngster. At one point I expected the hero’s doctor wife to produce a guitar and sing Kum Ba Ya, which would probably finish off the poorly poppet.

This movie is a bust. Its star is a computer generated tidal wave shown swamping the Statue of Liberty. In an article for the Washington Dispatch last September called In Love with Disaster, I wrote that,

‘One director, Roland Emmerich, has managed to do what neither Hitler nor Al Qa’eda achieved and destroy New York twice’.

Now he’s done it again! What is the root of this mania? Roland Emmerich used to be a very clever and original film-maker, in the early days of Universal Soldier and Stargate, but the rot set in with Independence Day, which is War of the Worlds as scripted by the DNC and the first occasion when Der Moviemeister busted the Big Apple. Everything else since has been drivel, including the downright malicious and odious The Patriot, the proper title of which should be Braveheart in the American Revolution, which depicted Redcoats burning Americans in a church, an atrocity that really was perpetrated by the SS in 1944 in the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane. The wolves chasing the kids are true to his German roots, straight from the fairy tales of the Black Forest and the Brothers Grimm. However, it is irresponsible if not downright narcissistic of Emmerich to continue to depict sudden calamity at a time when sudden calamity is a constant threat, and the object of your depiction has been on the brutal receiving end of a sudden calamity.
Whether your disaster movie of choice is Armageddon (oil drillers save the planet), Volcano (the product of a psyche that really hates Los Angeles), Deep Impact (New York buys it again at the hands of a giant wave), do yourself a favour and watch something else. The quality of output is universally bad, I know, and I for one will never watch anything advertised as a woman’s movie or starring Winona Ryder. But The Day After Tomorrow is so bad don’t even consider it. It’s a movie about the dangers of consumption that took millions of dollars to make (think of the amount of hydrocarbons needed to make the prints) released by one the world’s most rapacious corporations. It deserves to sink beneath the weight of its own ice-cap sized pretensions.