The Day After Tomorrow
Roland Emmerich is a German director who has made his name with Hollywood blockbusters: Stargate, Independence Day, Godzilla and The Patriot. In looking at that list, we realise he has destroyed Washington by alien attack, New York with Godzilla trampling it, but took the side of the American Revolutionaries against Briton in The Patriot. Now he has the opportunity to create giant fissures in the Antarctic, ice storms in Tokyo, tornados uprooting LA, a tidal wave rolling through New York and, in general, destroy most of the northern hemisphere.
It should be added that the special effects to achieve all of the above are some of the best to be seen.
While the disaster formula is as expected, the characters are one dimensional and there is the usual dialogue about threats and heroism. There is no time to think about this because something dramatic and exciting happens every 15 minute or so.
This time it is nature destroying the world (aided, of course, by selfish and greedy humans) but there is no hero to rectify everything. All anyone can do is to die with dignity or try to help people survive. This happens in Britain with Ian Holm and Adrian Lester as stoic scientists. The heroism is in scientist Dennis Quaid (whom the US government took too long to listen to) trying to get to New York to save his son (Jake Gyllenhaal, who actually manages pretty well without him).
The premise is rather interesting - global warming and the melting polar ice-caps leading to a new ice-age - but the science is so exxagerated no green activists will be using this movie in their election propaganda.
This year Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 has attacked the Bush administration. The Day After Tomorrow is also highly critical. Kenneth Welsh's obdurate Vice President, advocating economics over environment and looking and sounding very like Dick Cheney (against the Kyoto requirements) is the villain of the piece but, as refugees from the freezing US cross the Rio Grande illegally to find a new life in Mexico, he apologises....
Had Gladiator not been such a critical and box-office success, I wonder would backers have financed Troy. It is not fair to make too much of comparisons, but it does throw light on how Troy works (or does not work) and in trying to gauge its strengths and weaknesses. Russell Crowe brought a serious demeanour and physical strength to his role as general and gladiator. Richard Harris was a wise and dignified Marcus Aurelius. The plot of military battles, betrayal and the struggles of the gladiator slaves symbolizing the fall of the Roman Empire contained great substance. There was a gravitas about the whole film.
Troy lacks the same seriousness despite its origins in Homer's Iliad. In fact, the plot is rather simple: the wife of a warlord flees with a lover which leads to an invasion and siege ending in catastrophe for the Trojans and empire for the ambitious Greeks - and all compressed into a far shorter period than the long siege of Troy.
The special effects are, of course, very impressive: the thousand ships, the military might, the battles, the destruction of Troy and a wonderful wooden horse.
The plot, however, centres on Achilles, a maverick warrior, who irritates king Agamemnon no end but who is drawn into the war when Hector kills his cousin in battle - thinking that it was Achilles himself. Achilles, portrayed by Brad Pitt, seems too sullen and surly to be a classical hero. He lacks classical diction and does not engage audience sympathies. In terms of sympathy, the Trojans win it all. Eric Bana is a decently heroic Hector. Peter O'Toole's Priam is a magnificent presence. Orlando Bloom who looks too young and slight as the wilful Paris eventually finds some courage. The Trojan women, Rose Byrne and Saffron Burrows (even Diane Kruger's Helen) elicit our concern.
The Greeks, on the other hand, come across as a vicious and power hungry lot, especially the bluff Brendan Gleeson as Menelaus who wants to avenge his humiliation by the absconding Helen and his cruel brother and leader of the invasion, Agamemnon, effectively played by Brian Cox. It is only Sean Bean's wily Odysseus (whose idea it was to build the wooden horse) who makes the Greeks interesting to watch. (And, despite the screenplay's frequent reference to Achilles' wanting to be remembered in history, it is Odysseus/Ulysses who is the best remembered of those who fought the Trojan War.)
There has been a long tradition of mighty, expensive historical spectaculars. Troy takes its place - but does not stand out.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
The first two films in the series were directed by Chris Columbus, efficiently effective versions (so readers of JK Rowling's books acknowledge). They were straightforward stories with the flair coming from the plots and the exciting special effects. Columbus has stepped back to a producer's role and the Mexican, Alfonso Cuaron, has now achieved the seemingly impossible of pleasing audiences (the most important role) and pleasing the critics (no mean feat!) Cuaron made a version of A Little Princess during the 90s as well as an odd updated version of Great Expectations. He also made Y Tu Mama Tambien (And Your Mother Too), a rather energetic road movie of Mexican youth and sex, which would not suggest him as a director for Harry Potter! However, he has done it - and very well.
The three young stars and their characters have grown since the first film. Daniel Radcliffe's voice has broken so Harry is now a teenager. He does very well this time and is more effectively centrescreen. Rupert Grint is still humorously down-to-earth support as Ron. Hermione is called a know-it-all by Professor Snape. She is, but has become a little more attractive.
While the old staff are still around (with Michael Gambon making a very smooth transition from Richard Harris as Professor Dumbledore and Hagrid becoming a teacher), there is the welcome addition of David Thewliss as Professor Lupin and a hilarious cameo by Emma Thompson as the short-sighted professor teaching discerning the future. Gary Oldman is good as Sirius Black, the actual prisoner of Azkaban.
The plot is not simply a confrontation between good and evil. Rather, there are more sinister aspects: Harry's life is under threat from Sirius Black; he is well tutored by Professor Lupin; the powers of evil are not those we might expect, so there is a certain suspense, especially in the final part where there is a play on time travel and rectifying situations.
There are also some sinister creatures (especially werewolves) and a very agreeable Griffin (or Hippogriff, half horse, half eagle), called Buckbeak.LONDON - 1 June 2004 - 1,140 words
The Day After Tomorrow