“The Day After Tomorrow”, a feature US movie of 2004 directed by Roland Emmerich, was undoubtedly a commercial success. There have been many disaster movies before, but quite a few of its predecessors might have been compared to it in terms of computer effects and quasi realism. The general public liked the effect of the new Judgement Day, and the box office of ‘The Day After Tomorrow” has exceeded 550 million dollars worldwide, while the original budget was around 125 million. The filming took place in the total of 17 locations, including New York City (with a hefty amount of special effects), Los Angeles, Hawaii and even Canada (IMDB). It may be sometimes difficult to determine the exact location which is being shown in the movie, as the main purpose of the latter is entertainment rather than precision and historical accuracy.
The same approach may be noticed concerning depiction of the natural hazards. Being extremely well-positioned within the canvas of the plot of the movie, most of the calamities are questionable, to say the least. Within this research a thorough analysis of the main geological issues will take place. As the movie is almost entirely composed of the natural disasters, it would be reasonable to assess them one by one, as they emerge throughout the narration, and then proceed to the final conclusion, which will summarize the main findings.
The movie starts with the breaking of the Larsen ice shelf in Antarctica. This episode is based on an actual event, as 2 years prior to the movie a part of this area actually cracked and got separated from the main continent. The area of the entire shelf is considerable and exceeds 31 thousand square kilometers (NSIDC), therefore there are two questions that should be raised from the effective and dramatized, yet slightly unrealistic scene: it is possible for a minor drilling portable device to cause the crack of that size, and is it really possible to see the crack grow at such a considerable pace? Common sense tells the researcher that changes of that scale might have taken much longer, and would have been accompanied by various signs of acoustic, climatic and seismic nature, that would have been noticed by the drilling crew. Due to these facts, the plot inception scene appears to be questionable.
As for the description of a dramatic climate shift, discussed at the climate conference in New Dehli, it is generally feasible, although there are currently not enough facts to provide the exact description of its causes. The instantly frozen mammoth from the New York Museum of the natural history is in fact a real excavation, or a replica of the ones found in Siberia in the 1980-es. The fact that it had some freshly collected and half-digested food in its stomach is also a proof of the fact that the death was momentary and unexpected and caused by a dramatic drop of the temperature of the environment. Therefore the scene and the exhibit are basically legitimate from the scientific point of view, even despite the fact that the theory was used by the protagonist for speculative purposes.
Another theoretical bottleneck is based on the assumption that melting of the ice caps is leading for cooling of the warm oceanic flows, therefore causing a new Ice Age. Despite the fact that the general idea is logical and more or less sound, the movie producers obviously could not wait for millennia for it to happen, so they had to compress the process into a single week. From the statistical point of view, the probability that the melting glacier interfers with a warm flow is not high. The main threat of the melting of icebergs is in desalination of the water rather than in causing instant and irreparable damage to the climate.
The first climatic abnormality shown in the movie is depicted as heavy snowing in India. Nowadays, when unusual weather phenomena have become relatively often, it may appear to be a logical consequence of the global warming process and mix-up of the atmospheric fronts. On the other hand, it may be observed that New-Dehli is located not too far from the northern part of the country, which climatic pattern is heavily dominated by the highlands and mountains, therefore creating an unpredictable and cool weather (Weatherspark). It is not demonstrated in the movie, whether such incidents ever happened before in Northern India. Due to the nature of the regional climatic zone, such occurrences are not impossible.
The global disaster in the movie starts with a dramatic drop of temperature in North Atlantic by as many as 13 degrees Centigrade. This is the moment where pure fiction begins. It may be presumed that the average temperature of oceanic water in the area may be 13-18 degrees above zero (Earthtechling), and this drop makes the water literally freeze. No iceberg, no matter how large it is , could have caused this. Besides, it couldn’t have melted fast enough to cover the entire North-Western Atlantic, from Greenland to Nova Scotia, as shown in the movie. From this moment on the rare moments of scientific accuracy are being framed by picturesque and profitable speculations.
The hail that is shown first in Tokyo, Japan and later in Los Angeles, the US, although dramatized, is in fact possible. Some specimen of hail found in rural areas of the world within the past 50 years were reported to be comparable to or even greater than the ones shown in the movie. However, there were no known episodes of gigantic hail in urban areas, especially over such heavily polluted cities and Tokyo and LA. The scenes look great within the overall message of the movie, yet they are based on the directors desire to show the end of the world rather than on statistics.
The hail in LA is then followed by the numerous hurricanes which are later merged in one super hurricane. This whole scene looks strange from the scientific point of view. On the one hand, as it was reasonably mentioned in the movie by one of the observers, hurricanes do not form over the land. On the other hand, tornadoes, which do so, have never been reported to be seen in direct proximity of the ocean (as in case of LA). They tend to form over the Great Planes (THP), however it is obvious that the elimination of Kansas City would not be even remotely so impressive as that of the Hollywood hill.
Other impressive scenes include the instant freezing of helicopters in Scotland (the ones that tried to evacuate the Royal family from the Balmoral castle) and the Public Library in NYC. While theoretically it is possible that there may be a rapid downstream of cool air from the upper layers of the atmosphere due to the atmospheric rotation, the wind around the center of cyclone would be so strong that the choppers would not be even able to take off, and the protagonist would have never left the library building. The scenes were nicely done, still it doesn’t make them any more realistic.
The massive flooding that took the Lower Manhattan by surprise, was absolutely necessary for the plot progression, therefore the audience might have not assessed this event from the point of view of technical feasibility. They definitely should have. The wave was at least 50 meters high (according to the way it passed over the Staten Island by the Statue of Liberty). This is not the highest wave known to human kind, so, from this point of view, nothing is wrong. What is questionable, is the reason that caused it. Such tsunami waves are being caused by seismic activity, and there are no known cases of any polar melting provoking such a gargantuan raise of the sea level. There is no seismic activity on the eastern coast of the North American continent, therefore the entire scene appears to be artificial, as well as the consequent freezing of the entire water mass. From the scene with a Russian ice-breaker it may be concluded that the layer of water in the streets is at least 10-15 meters, and there is no known natural phenomena that would make it freeze within less than 24 hours.
Summarizing the overall impressions regarding geological accuracy of the “The Day After Tomorrow”, it may be said that it is a typical example of a bad science movie. While the people can’t help sympathizing the main character and his family, if they try to analyze the validity of scientific findings within the plot, they will most likely be disappointed. There are several grains of true verified information, as it has been shown throughout this research, however even those are being used in conjunction with pure fiction, therefore making the movie a poor example of a geological overview of natural disasters. On the other hand, the movie makes a strong overall impression, entertains the audience and clearly delivers a message regarding threats of global warming.
Emmerich, R. (Director), 2004. The Day After Tomorrow. 20th Century Fox, USA
The Day After Tomorrow. International Movie Database (IMDB). Web. Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0319262/locations?ref_=tt_dt_dt
Larsen Shelf. NSIDC. Web. Retrieved from http://nsidc.org/news/press/larsen_B/2002.html
New-Dehli Temperature Record. Weatherspark. Web. Retrieved from http://weatherspark.com/averages/33934/10/New-Delhi-India
Climate change measured by oceanic buoys. Earthtechling. Web. Retrieved from
Formation and Merger of Tornadoes. Tornado History Project (THP). Web. Retrieved from http://www.tornadohistoryproject.com/custom/2467408