The Day After Tomorrow: Special Edition (2004)
30th September 2004
Climatologist Jack Hall has been conducting and reporting research that indicates that global warming could trigger an abrupt and catastrophic shift in the planet's climate. He speaks to various governments leaders and their officials as well as at various seminars that if they don't act soon, the melting of the polar icecaps will pour too much fresh water into the oceans and disrupt the currents that stabilise the climate system. But his warnings are continually dismissed as scaremongering by the various big money lobbyists who have too much to lose.
But as a series of increasingly severe weather patterns start to occur around the globe, from snow storms in Bombay to massive tornadoes in Los Angeles, there are alarming indications of a massive, and dramatic, change in the global weather system. Has man finally reaped what he has sown and have the decades of unchecked carbon dioxide emissions finally pushed the planet over the edge and towards a new ice age?
While Jack alerts the White House of the impending climate shift, his 17 year-old son Sam and his friends Laura, Brian and JD find themselves trapped in New York City where rising flood waters and plummeting temperatures are causing havoc with the transportation network. Seeking refuge in the Manhattan Public Library, Sam manages to contact his father to let him know of his travel problems. But with Jack well aware of the impending superstorm, Sam is told to stay indoors at all costs. As full-scale mass evacuations to the south begin, Jack heads north to save Sam, but not even Jack is prepared for what is about to happen to him, his son and planet.
The picture is wonderfully sharp and well detailed with a clever and deliberate lack of colour and washed out appearance. After all, the awful weather conditions hardly call for bright sunny scenes with happy people sunning themselves on an idyllic beach supping a cocktail. The CGI heavy scenes are also a revelation and take disaster films to a new level. However, there may have been a little too much emphasis on the special effects and as a result it can all become a little overwhelming (the tornado scenes are a good illustration of this).
Never the less, there are occasions when certain scenes are so realistic you'd have never thought they had been created entirely in the digital domain (the ship floating down a New York street is a prime example). Naturally, with the film being a recent release the transfer is pristine with no signs of any artifacting, outlining or pixelisation whilst the heavy amounts of CGI are handled with complete ease.
If you're to become completely involved with a disaster film then you really do need a decent soundtrack, and with weather being the main focal point of the film there's plenty of scope for something exciting and dynamic. So in a welcome move The Day After Tomorrow comes equipped with both 448Kbs Dolby Digital and 768Kbs DTS soundtracks, and what a cracking duo they are too.
Dialogue is crisp and clear in the centre channel whilst there's plenty of activity in the surround channels, good stereo steerage at the front plus some room shaking LFE effects. The surprising thing about the two soundtracks is that they are not over loud. For the amount of near continuous ambient effects in the rear channels the dialogue never becomes muffled and you can set a comfortable listening level without having to keep diving for the remote. Naturally, the greater dynamics and presence of the DTS soundtrack ensures that it comes out on top. A good sound comparison between the two formats is the RAF helicopters encounter with the super-storm over Scotland.
The menus on both discs are scored and animated with various cut scenes from the film superimposed on a flashy graphical menu which is well laid out and is fairly easy to navigate through. Selection of a submenu has a nice transition effect and most are scored and animated, although some menus appear to be there for the sake of it. After some disappointing menu systems from recent Twentieth Century Fox Entertainment releases, it nice to see them back on track here.
Some distributors release a DVD labelled as "special edition" without any apparent inkling of what "special edition" actually means. After all, simply re-releasing a disc with a new shiny and reflective cover or adding a DTS soundtrack doesn't really make it special. However, Twentieth Century Fox Entertainment certainly know what they're doing as the two-disc version reviewed here is an absolute cracker of a set. Even the single disc version contains enough extras for it to be labelled as a special edition too. There's no doubting that with titles such as Independence Day, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Master and Commander, Fox are the unrivalled champions when it comes to special editions, and that winning formula continues here.
But things take an instant tumble when, upon inserting the DVD in the player, there are two annoying features which are making a slow and unwelcome creep onto DVD. First off, we've a couple of advertisements for chocolate Maltesers (with the connection to the film being....?) whilst there are a number of previews, and desperate plugs, for forthcoming releases of I, Robot, Garfield and The Simpsons Box-sets. At least you can skip past them, but lets have the previews on a separate menu and loose the adverts please. I'm sure people would be much happier paying an extra pound to avoid having them (I know I would).
Along with the two soundtracks the main film disc is accompanied by two audio commentaries from the various writers, producers and director. Both tracks offer some insightful information but this tends to be somewhat repeated in the various featurettes on the second disc (although this won't be a problem for those people who have opted for the single disc edition). The best of the yack tracks has to be the commentary by director and co-writer Roland Emmerich plus producer Mark Gordon. There are the occasional quiet moments, but both men appear to get along together and are full of praise for the various actors and the special effects team.
Whilst it may be a bit of an information overload to sit through a repeat viewing of the film with the second audio commentary enabled, the commentary track with co-writer Jeffrey Nachmanoff, cinematographer Ueli Steiger, editor David Brenner and production designer Barry Chusid is just as interesting as the first. Never the less, no matter which track you choose, if you come across a particularly interesting scene then it is well worth spinning it back to listen to each of the audio commentaries in turn.
But it is the second disc where the bulk of the extras can be found with the Eye of the Storm: Filming The Day After Tomorrow and The Force of Destiny: The Science and Politics of Change featurettes each running at over an hour each.
Depending on your current opinions on the climate change debate you may find The Science and Politics documentary more interesting than the other as various scientists, with some alarming proof which seems to be easily dismissed by the biggest lobbyists in the senate, and senators go about predicting the horrors that await our children and grandchildren. It's the sort of documentary which Channel 4 would show as part of their Equinox season and I can't quite make my mind up as to whether it has been created for the DVD or was originally broadcast on the Fox television network.
Next up is the hour long Eye of the Storm: Filming The Day After Tomorrow featurette. This takes you behind the scenes and onto the streets as they film various parts of the film as well as into a giant ex-train depot where the Tokyo, and more impressively, the initial New York segments of the film were shot. I was only going to have a brief scan through the documentary in order to get an idea for this review. However, I was so engrossed with the explanations from director Roland Emmerich, and the amount of different materials which were used to create the snow, that I ended up watching the entire featurette.
With the film just short of two hours there are a number of Deleted Scenes which were removed for pacing purposes or poor responses from the test audiences. Certain scenes are the finished article whilst others include CGI mock-ups which were never completed before being dropped. Director and Co-Writer Roland Emmerich plus producer Mark Gordon are also on hand with an optional audio commentary to help explain why the various scenes were removed. This commentary is always a welcome addition as some discs just slap a couple of deleted scenes on with no indication as to why they were removed from the final cut.
Next up are a number of shorter features containing background information on planning the film, its musical score and the extensive special effects. The Pre-production Meeting, Pre-visualisation and Scoring featurettes are informative enough, but it is the thirty minute Pushing the Envelope: Visual Effects featurette which offers an extremely interesting insight into the planning and creation of the various special effect sequences used in the film. It essentially covers each scene in the film, plus some you probably never suspected (including the fully CGI generated flypast over the icepack in the opening credits) and the various designers and producers explain how they worked their digital magic.
The Final Mix feature is a bit of a gimmick, but it allows you to listen to one of eight audio tracks created for the RAF helicopter sequence. It includes things such as the dialogue, the score plus weather and helicopter noises and you can flip through them as and when required. It's neat enough, giving you an insight into elements of the post-production, but it's not something you're likely to want to return to. Finally, the rather pointless Interactive Demo feature allows you to select one of a number of fixed points on a world map and see what the weather will be like there in a hundred years. You can also chart any strange weather anomalies which have occurred over the past century.
There will always be one film reviewer who will be ready to bring up that overused saying of "they don't make them like they use to", and to be honest, in the case of disaster movies you would have to rightly agree with them. The last real disaster movie of note to come out of Hollywood would have to be The Poseidon Adventure or The Towering Inferno. Apart from Titanic, which really isn't a disaster movie as such, there's been nothing of late worth while shouting about. Whilst there's no doubting that Independence Day had its merits, it was still far to cheesy with too much flag waving for some, whereas Mar Attacks! was just too odd for its American audience. Is it simply because Hollywood has run out of good ideas, or are they just concentrating too much on the special effects?
So where does that leave The Day After Tomorrow? Well, in this case, you still have the cheese in abundance and the near pointlessness of the script has more holes than the ozone layer, but the ideas behind the film are more or less based on predicted weather patterns over the next 100 years. Should you be worried about this predictions? Well after watching the The Force of Destiny featurette, and the apparent lack of action from the American Government, you may well be quaking in your snow boots and reaching for your winter woollies. But is this the point of the film? Is this just a $100 million dollar political statement, or simply some pop-corn entertainment which lacks a true "happily-ever-after" outcome that most film viewers demand?
Either way, I still can't fault the superb entertainment and education factor of this disc. Even if you opt for the single disc version you'll still get a half decent set of extras in the form of the audio commentaries, a film bursting with amazing special effects plus those cracking Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks.
The Day After Tomorrow is no classic disaster movie, never the less it will still manage to keep you amused throughout its near two hour length. Putting the poor storyline aside, this disc must be one of the most comprehensive and value packed DVDs of 2004. Just make sure you opt for the two-disc special edition, and remember to recycle your packaging.
- Commentary by Director/Co-writer Roland Emmerich and Producer Mark Gordon
- Commentary by Co-writer Jeffrey Nachmanoff, Cinematographer Ueli Steiger, Editor David Brenner and Production Designer Barry Chusid
- The Force of Destiny: The Science and Politics of Change
- Eye of the Storm: Filming The Day After Tomorrow
- Deleted Scenes with optional commentary by Director/Co-Writer Roland Emmerich and Producer Mark Gordon
- Pushing the Envelope: Visual Effects Featurette
- Scoring Featurette
- Pre-visualisation Featurette
- Pre-production Meeting Featurette
- The Final Mix
- Interactive Demo