Thanks to an airing on one of the Cinemax channels that I was able to nab via DVR a few weeks ago, I watched the Day After Tomorrow tonight. Given the critical thumbs down it seemed to receive, I did not have very high expectation for it, but it was able to exceed those expectations.
Note: this post is a spoiler on a number of plot elements.
This movie, in my opinion, shares a lot with the Da Vinci Code. Yes, more than that I happen to disagree with the world view displayed in each. More importantly, both dabble on the line between truth and fiction, and as such, probably mislead a lot of people unable to deal with such blurrings. In both cases, the fiction/fact blending is what makes the storyline compelling, so I'm not saying that such a mix is a bad thing, only that people need to be cautious.
Having watched the latest iteration of War of the Worlds a short while back, I couldn't help but see much of the plot as the same. An invasion from the skies, something covering most surfaces, cities utterly destroyed across the globe — in short, simply good summer mega budget movie fodder. The difference between the two movies is that far more people, people I'd not question the mental state of, believe in the eventual reality of Day After than of War of the Worlds. Aliens with tripods probably won't invade, but perhaps the Atlantic conveyer really will shut down.
If we get past that and put the two films on the same level, science fiction, then I would say that Day After Tomorrow offers a much more compelling version of the cataclysmic than does War of the Worlds. The acting was good and the characters were well written, likable people. While Tom Cruise never managed to make me care about his character's fate, Dennis Quiad did so early on in Day After. Both are men that are absorbed in their own projects to the detriment of their children, but Quaid's Jack Hall comes off as misguided, not just a jerk.
No, I don't think tomorrow we will face “super-cool” winds that will instantly freeze everything. But just because I don't expect something to happen doesn't mean it can't make for good fiction. We just have to remember it is fiction.
Other Notes of Biases: One other thing should be said. The film is politically tilted about as far as it could be without donkey logos flashing on the screen. The well meaning, if not terribly fast to respond, president looks very much like Al Gore, suggesting all kinds of possibilities. (“This is where Gore should be,” perhaps?) Likewise, the evil vice president, who later sees the light, has a Cheney-esque air to him, though not as much as the president matches Gore. More importantly to the story, the global cooling seems to stop for the most part precisely at the U.S. border, allowing Mexico to be the “good guy” that allows all of the “illegals” to come from the U.S. fleeing the storm. At the end of the movie, when the vice president has become president, he spells this out, noting the “hospitality” of the countries that we previously looked down on as “third world.” Finally, the last remarks from the space station note how clean the earth looks now that the Northern Hemisphere is shut down, but that seems unrealistic both because pollution wouldn't disappear that fast, and (here's what Hollywood doesn't want you to know) the worst pollution comes from newly industrialized countries such as the ones hosting the refugees.