Directed by Roland Emmerich
Story by Roland Emmerich
Screenplay by Roland Emmerich & Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer. Over the next few months movie theaters across the country will be inundated by the genre of Hollywood film known as Special Effects Pornography. Before I cause a national disaster comprised of young men flooding out of their parents’ homes, clogging up the roadways and storming box-office windows let me point out that I am using the definition of “pornography” that means the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction.
After a moment of reflection, I realize the more common definition of pornography might be just as applicable because the only scenes in this film that anyone is going to care about involve “action.” Whenever the film deals with the story, the plot makes no sense and is badly formulaic. The filmmakers just want to get to the next action sequence so they can show off their skills, which is the same feeling they pass onto the viewer.
The film starts as a trio of scientists are drilling in the Artic Circle. Their activity causes a gigantic crack in the Earth’s surface that runs through their camp. The fissure continues to grow wider between the men and their equipment. Our hero, Jack Hall, played by Dennis Quaid, who acts as well as can be expected with this horrible script, risks his life by leaping back and forth over the fissure, so he can save some ice samples. He makes it back right before an enormous wall of ice falls away. The reason? We never find out, but most plot points are never followed up once their purpose to move the story along has been served. This happens throughout the film as I will illustrate later.
When we next see Jack, he is speaking at a global conference in New Delhi, India where the Vice President, a Dick Cheney caricature, completely disregards information about global warming. And not just the science presented to him but the concept in its entirety. Back home in Washington D.C. where Jack works for some government science institute, we learn about his family. It appears he is divorced from his wife, but that’s never made clear although he doesn’t live with her and is obviously more involved with his work. His son, Sam, is off to New York City to attend some kind of academic decathlon.
The entire Northern Hemisphere of the planet is impacted as weather around the world changes abruptly and dramatically. Japan gets hit with hail the size of bowling balls, Los Angeles gets hit with multiple tornadoes, and the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean starts to change temperature. New York is hit hard by torrential rain. The animals in the zoo are freaking out because they know what’s coming and the timber wolves break out of their cage. Sam and his friends try to get a train back to D.C., but as the streets flood they end up looking for a place to stay.
Jack has a second meeting with the Vice President and the cabinet where he suggests evacuating the southern half of the United States and leaving everyone in the north to fend for themselves. The Vice President still isn’t sure about Jack, but the revelation about his son being in New York is supposed to assure everyone of his sincerity.
There are some really well done effects shots such as when a tidal wave passes over Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty and hits Manhattan, flooding the streets. The city is shown from above as the water makes its way through the streets, knocking over cars and buses. There’s a silly scene that is intended to be suspenseful, with Sam’s friend Emily, who he is in love with. She’s helping a Haitian family communicate with the police because she knows French. Sam has to get her to safety in the Public Library before the wall of water reaches them. It’s in the first hour of the movie, so of course they make it. During this scene she cuts her leg on a cab’s tailpipe. A large Russian freighter named машина богов mysteriously has made its way right in front of the library and comes to a stop.
Sam finds a pay phone in the library and let’s his parents know that he’s okay. Jack decides that he is going to save his son even if he has to walk to NYC from D.C. Against Jack’s wishes, his team goes along. They drive for a while, but eventually have to walk through the snowstorm. They have tents and gear that allow them to survive this unprecedented storm. Halfway there, they find themselves walking across the glass roof of a mall and one guy falls in. He sacrifices himself by cutting his tether to the team and falling to his death.
Americans are crossing the border into Mexico in droves, which got a huge laugh from the crowd I saw it with in Southern California. Rather than evacuate, Sam’s mother, a doctor, decides to stay at the hospital to wait for an ambulance so a sick little boy can travel. Why it has to be an ambulance is never explained even though you would think everything that was needed for the boy would be at the hospital.
The water in New York turns to ice and snow quickly blankets the city. Others are seen leaving their building and heading south. The people in the library decide to head out. Sam tells them they need to wait it out, but they don’t listen. A homeless guy waits with Sam and his friends. Homeless people are always wise in movies, so we know which group will win out.
It is discovered that Emily is really sick from the cut she got, so Sam and a couple of guys make their way to the Russian ship to get medicine. That’s why it floated into town. Unbeknownst to them, they are followed onto the ship by the timber wolves to make for another action sequence. Now it’s obvious these animals were chosen for the script because they can survive in the cold, but they must be very good swimmers as well to have survived in the city when it flooded. The wolves are CGI effects and they look horrible. It’s amazing to think that dinosaurs were created so convincingly over ten years ago, but animals that the effects guys could go see look so bad. The boys are able to outsmart the wolves and make it back; however one is bitten in the leg. Nothing more is mentioned about his bite nor is much done about Laura’s illness when they get back.
As the boys make their way back to the library, Sam realizes that they are in the eye of the storm and have to get inside quick. It’s amazing luck that the eye of a storm dropped on them. That way they only have to survive half the storm since the eye of the storm is in the middle. They get inside as the freezing cold quickly descends. The effect looks good as it works its way down the city’s building. But then the laws of science get thrown out the window to create more suspense and action. Instead of continuing to move down the walls of the library, the cold runs along the walls, appearing to chase the boys as they make their way to the room with the fireplace.
The president dies in transit to Mexico and the VP becomes the President. He hears about the storms stopping and people being alive in New York. He broadcasts a message on the Weather Channel about rebuilding America and what he’s learned about global warming, although it’s not clear who he thinks will receive since that is a basic cable channel.
If the filmmakers had a message they wanted to get out, they should have rethought the script because it’s not clear what started the story’s chain of events. There’s no evidence that global warming is the cause of the change in weather. Every model about the effects of global warming in the film has it happen over years not days, so those models are obviously incorrect. For all we know from the information provided by the film, the weather got messed up after the huge sheet of ice fell into the ocean. No one is talking about scientific research destroying the planet.
The dialogue is horrendous. It is used half the time to pass on information in such an obvious way that it is obtrusive because the characters aren’t speaking naturally. Usually in films when there’s information that needs to be passed onto the viewer, there’s a character that fills in for the audience and brings the same level of naivety to subject matters. This film is so badly written that in a roomful of scientists one tells the other “hurricanes don’t happen over land.” If the scientists have to be told that, how smart can they be?
I don’t recommend this movie. It is almost dumb beyond belief and was insulted by the script. I do understand if you go see it for the effects, which are phenomenal and almost worth the price of admission. This is a big screen movie so don’t bother waiting and watching it on home video unless you have a state-of-the-art system. Please pass this review onto people who filter their Internet access to make it safe for children as the word “pornography” might keep them from seeing this review.