are several positive and entertaining aspects of German
born, L.A. based Roland Emmerich's latest potential blockbuster.
Despite the fact that the movie does exactly what it says
on the tin (here be very expensive digital FX, ooo!), it
- Refreshing satire – Mexico not letting US citizens across
the border without the US consent to absolve the country
of its national debt.
- Corporate mean-spiritedness – the film literally blows up
the town of its own origin. It literally whisks away the
pocket that finances it.
- Anti-cliché – it presents the hero's rival for the
heroine's affections as a decent guy. I mean, despite his
considerable 'white wealth' and privilege, he listens to
homeless black guys for advice on keeping warm. Priceless.
The cynical and disbelieving oaf as Vice-President – after
the death of his boss – becomes contrite (can you imagine
Cheney EVER saying sorry?) It has an almost solemn respect
for ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, which
is fine except for two things.
– remove the quintrillion dollars of digital FX and you
are left with 'x' million of what is essentially an ambitious
TV movie. A son is stranded in New York during a weather
crisis and a father says "I'm coming to get you..."
So he drives from Washington DC, crashes and walks from
Philadelphia. He manages it. The End. It's that simple.
There are ravenous wolves, a feature of the film that made
me accept a rather depressing truism. It is now easier and
presumably cheaper to digitally animate animals that are
freely available to be trained and photographed on set.
As I watched the wolves, I thought, this should have been
a real animal. It rendered the jeopardy a little sterile.
A CG wolf is a CG wolf, c'est la guerre.
what about the lion's share of the reason for walking through
the cinema's doors? The giant wave engulfing New York, the
hurricanes ripping through L.A., the creeping freeze in
the eye of the tornados. OK. That's when I flashed on Groucho's
moustache, Chico's flights of surrealism and Harpo's (uh)
harp playing. I had an epiphany and in a Roland Emmerich
movie, that's really saying something.
was simply this.
you have something you know that people want to see but
you are nervous about how to present this something then
what do you do?
the 30s, Groucho and his brothers kept Vaudeville audiences
entertained throughout and beyond the depression. In order
to deliver them to a wider audience it was decided that
movies would embrace and showcase the Marx Bros. One problem.
Movies were narrative driven. Stage surrealism would not
do. But wasn't that stage surrealism what people wanted
to see? So the 'formula' was discovered (or breach birthed
whichever way you look at it). Concoct an excruciatingly
bad sub-plot featuring B-characters (who can or cannot sing,
whatever) and interweave the madness of the siblings with
the banal plot and audiences will come running.
it worked, in as much as the brothers became universally
famous but which Marx brother fan reading this can remember
one aspect of plot from their movies (with the exception
of Duck Soup which was pure Marx Brothers
with no romantic sub-plot in sight). There seemed to be
an executive need to not trust an audience with 100% Groucho
and co. So we had (including on a few occasions, the unfunny
Zeppo) very banal leading men serenading their equally very
banal women while the brothers provided entertainment that
still stands as extraordinarily funny comedy.
where does Roland and his giant waves come in? Get this.
TV movie embellished with extraordinary digital effects
is the Marx Bros romantic sub-plot – the ostensible reason
we think we still care. It looks like a movie, has a hero
like a movie and it talks like a movie. So it's a movie.
Uh, not quite.
on the waves, the tornados, the ice cracking, the submersion
of New York – we are talking Groucho's finest. "I could
look at you until the cows come home. On the other hand
I could look at the cows until you came home..." The
Day After Tomorrow had no such classic lines but
it fit the same formula. Take what you believe people want
to see – digital FX shots that made the jaw drop with their
photo realism – and marry it with a banal human story and
voila, a Hollywood blockbuster.
Roland Emmerich was aware of it or not, Twister was a movie with digital tornados, The Perfect Storm and Deep Impact were movies and
they had big digital waves. Hell, even Armageddon had a scene of "Jesus, look what's raining down on
us!" The gamut of what Emmerich had to offer had already
been showcased. What had he brought to the table that was
different? Book burning? Ooo, political. Wolves? CG'ed out
of believability. A father's relief finding his son sleeping
by a nice cosy fire? Gosh, how radical is that?
Day After Tomorrow may well be this century's first
'Mark Brothers'' model Summer blockbuster but at least it
has the balls to say what it is and live up to those claims.
You want depth, then watch Jane Campion movies. You want
depth of tidal wave, then Roland will suit you just nicely.