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The Day After Tomorrow - Spoiler-free review

Nathan Strum

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So you may ask "Wait... why are you reviewing this film??"

 

Well, it's not the 2004 movie where the world is destroyed.

 

Nor is it the 1983 TV movie where the world is destroyed.

 

Nope. This is the 1975 TV special produced by Gerry Anderson of Space: 1999 and UFO fame. (And also Thunderbirds... but that never aired where I grew up, so I never watched that show.)

 

And the world isn't destroyed in this one. Although it does make reference to us having ruined it by destroying the environment.

 

I miss the days when science fiction was still fiction.

 

It was produced between the first two seasons of Space: 1999; co-starred Nick Tate from Space: 1999; was narrated by Ed Bishop from UFO; and the visual effects were supervised by Brian Johnson, who was responsible for the effects for Space: 1999.

 

And it's incredibly obscure.

 

But I remembered it. Even though I'd never seen it. I'd only read about it. Once.

 

Things like this have a tendency to stick in my brain. For example, the rumors about the Empire Strikes Back from Starlog magazine that I wrote about in my review for The Force Awakens. Or the photo from Midnight Madness at the top right of this page from the same issue that stuck in my brain for over 20 years until I finally watched and reviewed the movie for my old MacMAME.net website.

 

In the case of The Day After Tomorrow, this article from Starlog, in September 1979, stuck in my brain for over 40 years. Ever since reading that article, I wanted to watch The Day After Tomorrow, but there was no way to see it. It was a one-shot TV special, and never aired again.

 

Periodically, when I'd see a reference online to Space: 1999 or UFO, I'd think "I wonder if that other thing Gerry Anderson did is online somewhere?" But I didn't see it. Maybe just a short video clip here or there. And certainly, it was too obscure to ever come out on home video. Right?

 

Well, never underestimate the niche fan market. Because some months back, it popped up in my recommendations on Amazon in a DVD collection of Gerry Anderson rarities titled: The Lost Worlds of Gerry Anderson. It actually came out a few years ago, but I only just recently bought it because, well, I've been looking for stuff to watch during the Coronavirus pandemic. Not because I'm stuck at home (I go into work most every day), but more for the distraction. I recently bought a stupid thing because of this too (which I'm enjoying watching very much, by the way).

 

Now, I'm not going to review the whole DVD, because I haven't watched all of the other content (just skimmed it) and the rest of the materials on it aren't of any real interest to me. The Day After Tomorrow is what I bought this for. So... did it live up to 40 years of expectation?

 

Well, of course not! For one thing, I'd forgotten that it was meant to be one in a series of educational programs. In this case - trying to explain Albert Einstein's theory of relativity to kids. (Just re-read that sentence for a minute, and let it sink in.) But the network didn't want a documentary, they wanted an adventure film, so the kids would get engaged and hopefully develop an interest in science. Anderson also had hopes of it being picked up as a series, so the story was left open-ended so it could serve as a pilot.

 

The story centers around the crew of the ship Altares, the first ship capable of near light-speed travel. The crew consists of two kids, two dads and a mom, which was a bit confusing because they didn't really introduce who they were and what their relationships were to each other. (It turns out that one was a single dad with his daughter, and the others were two parents and their son, but you'd never pick that up from watching it.) Their mission is to travel to the nearest star - Alpha Centauri - and explain to the audience what redshift is and how time dilation works. Then they have to decide if they want to return to Earth (where everyone will be much older than they are), or continue on to explore other worlds. And then some other things happen, one of which involves the heavy use of shooting scenes reflected off of mylar that someone gets to wobble around a lot. And they get to explain what a red giant and supernova are, and a black hole, and probably some other stuff.

 

Because of the educational angle, short run-time (under an hour), and made-for-TV nature of it, The Day After Tomorrow plays a bit like something that Filmation might have made just a couple of years later (Ark II, Space Academy), but with higher production values and slightly-less-cheesy dialogue. Plot-wise, it's Lost In Space meets The Black Hole. But without Dr. Smith or Hans Reinhardt. Or robots.

 

That's not to say it's bad... but rather that you have to find the entertainment in it where you can. For me, it was in the first-rate models and sets that echoed what was being done on Space: 1999 at the time (which, apart from 2001: A Space Odyssey, were the best* in sci-fi until Star Wars came along). Also, there's the wonderful, unintentional cheesiness of it at times. Such as the moment where they have to shut down the malfunctioning Photon Drive, which means Nick Tate has to pull on a lever REALLY hard! Pull harder Nick!! Pull for your life!!! (Because an "off" button just wouldn't be any fun.) Or when the resourcefulness of the prop department shines through, and he has to fix the aforementioned, highly advanced and complex drive using a pop-rivet tool.

 

Some of the other entertainment came from seeing similarities to sci-fi that came both before and after this aired. Besides The Black Hole, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan may owe a nod to this film for a scene in which Nick Tate has to go into a radiation-flooded engine compartment, and effect a repair nearly identical to what Spock had to do with the Enterprise seven years later. Coincidence? Probably. But the comparisons are still... fascinating. ;) 

 

The Day After Tomorrow is just under an hour long, and it's an interesting artifact from the era of 1970's science fiction. For me, it was worth the cost of the DVD to satisfy my 40-year long curiosity about it. But for someone else, is it worth hunting it down? Well, no. Not unless you're a fan of Gerry Anderson, or are looking for a Saturday Morning kids' TV introduction to the theory of relativity.

 

For what it is, The Day After Tomorrow gets a 5/10. (I wanted to come up with some clever mathematical joke for the score, but math and I never got along very well.)

 

 

* (Yes, I'm aware of Silent Running - I have it on Blu-ray. I may get around to reviewing that as well, but it's a depressing movie, and I don't need anymore of that right now.)

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Yep - I've been subscribed there for awhile. The same user also posted episodes from Space: 1999. I haven't counted them up to see if they're all there.

 

Elsewhere, another YouTube user posted episodes of Ark II (nothing says "Saturday morning fun!" than a post-apocalyptic wasteland), Space Academy and Jason of Star Command:

 

 

 

 

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Hah, I really enjoy the mention of Midnight Madness, as we loved that movie when we were kids, and had lines that some of us still say to each other!

 

Magical van computer.

 

"FAGABEEFE"

 

"Look Between the two giant melons"

 

PBR!

 

And both Michael J. Fox and Pee Wee Herman.

 

 

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holy shit, i saw that when it first aired!

 

blast from the past.

 

I remember being freaked out by the accident and by the fact that they were leaving earth and everyone they knew FOREVER!

 

these things have a big impact when you're 7.

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Nathan,

 

Thank you for writing about this.  It will be a treat to watch.  I missed it when it was originally aired, or if I saw it I have forgotten it. My father and my brother watched Space 1999 when it was on, it was a weekly event and my mother melted cheese on nacho chips in the toaster oven many times during that program.  I was young but remember how we loved the model design and atmosphere of the show.  

 

Looking forward to checking these out. 

 

Chad

(SCRUMMY, TITFOS)

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The Lost Worlds collection was on Netflix (or Prime?) and I watched it a few months ago. I enjoyed the Day After Tomorrow for what it was. Not great but not terrible. I enjoyed the Space Police segment they had on there too.

 

Along these same lines, a few years ago I discovered the obscure Canadian '70s sci-fi TV series Starlost was on Youtube. I found that mostly enjoyable too. Good, not great, but lots of nostalgiac '70s low-budget sci-fi vibe. 

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I hadn't even thought of looking on a streaming service for it (although I canceled Netflix months ago anyway). I guess nothing's too obscure for them to try to attach a dollar to it.

 

I haven't watched The Starlost, but I do recall Starlog mentioning it in an article or two back-in-the-day. Right after Star Wars, there was a veritable glut of low-budget sci-fi that was dusted off (or created outright) to cash-in on the craze.

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Starlost was the early 70s, not post SW; it was originally supposed to be a new-tech special effects heavy series about a generation ship that suffered an accident and was knocked off course; the main characters rushed around to find the "backup bridge" to get the ship back on course even though they appeared amish.  Keir dullea played the main character and walter koenig was in some of the later episodes.  Harlan ellison and ursula leguin were involved but it because such a clusterfuck (and the effects that they ended up using were so awful) that they both dropped out (I believe).

 

my dad and I watched this when it originally aired and we were *so* excited because it was new sci-fi on teev!  and then it seemed like it mostly just disappeared, although tantalizingly, bits and pieces would pop up here and there unexpectedly.  It wasn't until the advent of the internet that I was actual able to verify that it wasn't a fever dream and that it actually existed.

 

the episodes are now on youtube and you can see them here: 

 

there's a wiki entry:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Starlost

 

it's a whole crazy story.

 

finding info about this was def recapturing part of my childhood.

 

one of the episodes even had GIANT BEES, which scared the shit out of me as a 5 year old...

 

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Thanks for the write-up. I may just have to binge watch that.

 

It can't be any worse than Quark. ;) 

56 minutes ago, D Train said:

Starlost was the early 70s, not post SW;

I knew it was earlier, but I was referencing earlier sci-fi that was dusted-off to cash-in on Star Wars. The article I saw on The Starlost in Starlog (or somewhere) was well after Star Wars came out. The magazines were basically digging up anything sci-fi related to fill pages while sales were still hot. Hence the article on The Day After Tomorrow. :) 

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