'Day After Tomorrow' Deals With Real Concerns
"After 'Independence Day' I didn't want to do it again because I didn't want to repeat myself. But I also thought that this movie is very different is from 'Independence Day' and all my other movies," explains the German-born director. "After 'The Patriot' I had all kinds of other subjects and interest in other things and then I discovered this book, 'The Coming of Global Superstorm' written by two science fiction guys [Art Bell and Whitley Strieber]. I first saw it totally as science fiction, but then I realized while researching it how much was real science and that made me immediately want to do this movie."
The message in this case is one that environmentalist has been talking about for years -- how the amount of carbon dioxide and other pollutants being pumped into the air could have disastrous effects on Earth's relatively fragile ecosystem. Specifically, how they may already be causing global warming, which could cause other severe changes such as the melting of the polar ice caps and climate change.
"I'm a filmmaker, not a scientist. But I had a very smart and intelligent screenwriter, who did a lot of research, so he tried to keep it as accurate as possible," says Emmerich of the science behind the film. In fact, there's already two websites devoted to what's fact and fiction in the film (www.DayAfterTomorrowFacts.org and www.GettheRealScoop.com). One has to wonder if this is modern-day environmental activism at work, especially since Emmerich doesn't deny that "The Day After Tomorrow" is a message movie. In fact, he says the film's theme that we can't ignore environmental concerns or else we will pay for them, made the project more exciting.
"When you find something where you can give people a message and still make it an exciting movie, you get very, very excited about something," he says. "You probably even work harder than you normally do."
The fact that the film is rooted in real science, and concerns that many Americans have everyday, also influenced the tone of the film, which is not as comedic as "Independence Day."
"Yeah, I couldn't see the same kind of tongue and cheek humor, you know? ['ID'] is like aliens -- the movie didn't have to take itself so seriously. This movie has a humor too, but it's a little more subversive, it's a little more hidden," says the director.
Maybe also adding to the seriousness of the plot was how, during shooting of the film, the crew started noticing how life was imitating art -- or was it the other way around? Not only did they experience extreme weather conditions while shooting the film in 2002, such as floods, hail and tornadoes, but a few weeks after shooting a key scene where the Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica falls into the sea, the ice shelf fell for real.
"At that time we joked that we had better start shooting soon or we'd be making a documentary," Emmerich says.
Emmerich also doesn't deny that he molded the U.S. president and vice president in the film to be similar to current administration leaders George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. In Cheney's case, especially, the comparison isn't always a flattering one.
"When you make a movie about global warming causing a new ice age that takes place in America, you have to portray a government. If you want to make it real you have to portray it somewhat, the political government which is in place right now," he says. "And it's a fact that they kind of don't do anything [pollution] -- they think it's all a big hoax.
But behind the environmental message, "The Day After Tomorrow" also tells the story of a scientist (Dennis Quaid) and his efforts to save his estranged son (Jake Gyllenhaal). The contrast of the two -- a story about global devestation versus a family drama -- might lead some to argue that "The Day After Tomorrow" is Emmerich's most personal film.
"I think it's very important because I listen, sometimes, to criticism, you know?" he laughs. "A lot of times the criticism is unfounded, but in a way there's an overall criticism of Hollywood movies that they're more effects than story and I think we filmmakers have to learn from that comment and try to do better. And you know what? You always try to make a great movie, nobody makes movies bad on purpose, so we worked very hard to keep the human [story] -- also don't forget that we didn't have a real happy ending so we had to invest a lot into the people so that paid off in the end, so you have a good feeling about the movie."
"The Day After Tomorrow" opens nationwide on Friday, May 28.