There are two ways to go with a movie about global warming. One is to rope in director John Boorman and a cast headed up by Jane Fonda and Daryl Hannah, folk who place the green of the environment over that of the box office. The other is to hire Roland Emmerich.
A modern-day Sovereign of Scourge who makes Irwin Allen's celluloid catastrophes resemble a burning match (The Towering Inferno) and a toy boat in the tub (The Poseidon Adventure), Emmerich's been put on this earth to do one thing and one thing only: blow shit up.
Seemingly itching to do just that - having wasted time and money hatching The Patriot, the German helmer rolls up his sleeves and wades straight in. An Antarctic ice shelf collapses in the first five minutes. Thousands of birds take to frenzied wing above Manhattan, Cassandra sensors on red alert. Clouds roll, skies go grey and surf swells, Dennis Quaid's aptly weathered climatologist explaining that melting ice caps have brought the Atlantic to "critical desalination point". Translation? We're fucked.
Gloriously so, as it happens, the destructo money shots deserving a place in the CG pantheon. First up is the spectacular razing of LA as four twisters weave across a wide shot of the city via Capitol Records and assorted landmarks ("There goes the Hollywood sign!"). Then it's over to the east coast, tidal waves drowning the Statue of Liberty as they surge towards Manhattan's skyscrapers and crash through the streets. It's remarkable. It's dumbfounding. And, frankly, it's troubling, the movie's mass annihilation - much of it caught by news teams - inevitably recalling 9/11. Exhilaration tinged by guilt, escapist entertainment laced with all-too-real horror, it also explains why Emmerich has chosen to make a disaster movie that requires rain and ice, not smoke and fire. One step at a time, eh?
Gone, too, is much of the tub-thumping triumphalism of ID4, Emmerich at pains to spotlight the US government's refusal to heed the experts' warnings. Here, the heroes are everymen: Quaid's worn weatherman, a flawed father who bravely (stupidly?) heads for New York to save his son; said offspring Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), a likeable, troubled teen who's holed up in the New York Public Library; and, on the fringes, meteorologist Terry Rapson (Ian Holm), the stereotypical Englishman who faces calamity with a stiff upper lip and a "spot of tea".
It's during The Day After Tomorrow's second half, which is more about survival than mayhem, that we're granted quality time with these characters. And while their obdurate quest for existence never loses our attention, it says something for how little we care for them that we're quietly willing the climate to once more get climactic on their arses.
Which, being Emmerich, it duly does.
A spectacular first hour gives way to a solid second, but the effects are never very far away. An ocean liner floating through Manhattan, anyone?