This movie has some of the most incredible special effects I’ve ever seen. The views of the earth and disastrous weather systems viewed from space are simply gorgeous. The repeated disasters are very skillfully done and usually very scary. The surround soundtrack is spacious, effective, and loud.
Otherwise, the story and characters are derivative and boring. This is one instance where you need to decide if you can ignore a good chunk of the movie just to see “the good stuff.” Liberal use of the fast forward button helps.
There are occasional humorous touches (e.g., watching the Hollywood sign get tornadoed out of existence) but overall it’s hard to be amused while watching so much mind-numbing death and destruction.
I thought Godzilla was more fun, and for an engrossing end-of-the-world epic, I don’t think The Day The Earth Caught Fire has ever been topped. But the latter has nowhere near the special effects of Day After - it’s just intelligent and scary, not dumb and scary. Take your pick.
Of the two commentary tracks on this DVD, the second one by the co-writer, editor, production designer, and DP provides more insight than the first which is provided by the director and the producer, who revel in the process of making movies and whose casual references to huge expenditures get boring after a while. For example, they make a lot of the opening scene where an extremely long CGI generated tracking shot of a helicopter zooming in over arctic ice leads to a final zoom to a research station. While beautifully done (it really does look like a real helicopter shot) I found myself wondering, “What has this got to do with the story? Why did they spend so much money and time on generating this particular sequence?” Listening to the commentary I understood why they did it — they could, and they had the money to do it.
A DVD extra depicting how layers of sound were added to the crashing-helicopters scene is mildly interesting but repeats the concept already used in one of the extras on The Two Towers.
In summary, this is technically an excellent film, and if you like the genre, you can’t go wrong. Just don’t expect great drama.