Tag Archives: disaster


21 Dec

‘Greenland’: A comet is about to destroy Earth, though calling this a disaster film is too easy

By Tom MeekThursday, December 17, 2020

Meteors crashing into our blue planet and triggering cataclysmic extinctions is nothing new. I mean, look what happened to T-Rex & Co.; some may remember the Comet Hale-Bopp and Larry Niven’s “Lucifer’s Hammer” and 1998’s certain-doom disaster flicks “Deep Impact” directed by Mimi Leder and the jacked-up “Armageddon” from Michael Bay. Now to a streaming platform near you comes “Greenland,” starring Gerard Butler, who for all his manly promise in “300” (2006) never saw his star take off; he got just a few middling rom-coms and the “Fallen” (London, Olympus, Angel) series. Here Butler, shaggier and paunchier than his King Leonidas, plays John Garrity, a structural engineer going about his life – a family man hosting a barbecue with friends at his trés suburban home in Atlanta when news of a comet named Clarke (hello, Arthur C.) streaking toward earth casts a pall upon the party.

What does one do when you learn that annihilation is certain in the next 48 hours? Put more shrimp on the barbie, open that vintage bottle of wine you’ve been storing for a special occasion in the cellar, call your loved ones or panic like lemmings? The answer in this B-tier production by Ric Roman Waugh, who worked with Butler on “Angel has Fallen” (2019), is (d), but then John and his family get a golden Willy Wonka invite to a sanctuary offering life after the collision. Just what that is, initially, is unclear, but the offer from the president himself is splashed across his TV screen like an Amber Alert and his guests, already in a glum state, turn jealous and desperate:  “Take me, take my kid,” and so on. “Greenland” isn’t so much about the next phase of humanity beyond the crash, but about trying to get to the safe place before it happens. As you can guess, that safe haven is a series of bunkers in the country of the title. Getting there as leading fragments from Clarke start to take out whole countries and civilization crumbles becomes the gantlet John and his family must run.

Nothing that happens in “Greenland” is all that surprising, including the poor and shrewdly opportunist ways people react under pressure. The shining moments of humanity and decency are enacted mostly by Butler’s everyman, John. “Greenland” is amazingly spry for its large scope,  mostly because Waugh keeps the lens tight on John and his wife (Morena Baccarin, from the TV series “V”) and son (Roger Dale Floyd). It’s not your typical Bay or Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day,” “The Day After Tomorrow”) kind of disaster film, but something more cerebral, like “The Trigger Effect” (1996) if tamped down and made into mainstream pap. Given where we are, does something such as “Greenland” or “The Midnight Sky” really serve to distract, or does it remind us that we’re all hunkered down in our own little bunkers, riding out the storm?


11 Jan




It turns out “1917” isn’t the only beat-the-clock film this weekend. “Underwater,” a 95-minute race against time, gets its start early and rarely lets down. No, it’s not as harrowing, sharp or intelligent as “1917,” and that’s not because it’s a sci-fi thriller that asks a lot of its viewers – it’s because it’s an ersatz hodgepodge of genre cornerstones that have come before, namely “The Abyss” (1989), the “Alien” films and so on. To say more might spoil some not-so-surprising twists.

We begin with ominous news clippings about mysterious tremors off the Pacific coast and plunge quickly down to a drilling platform 7 miles beneath the ocean surface. There Kristen Stewart’s Norah, a mechanical engineer and one of 300 workers on the rig, brushes her teeth casually as the ring-shaped structure shifts and groans worryingly. More groans, a droplet of water and then all hell breaks loose. By the time we come up for air – and it’s a jittery, frenetic sequence, maybe the film’s best – most of the structure’s gone, as are most of those 300 employees. In a sealed-off section, Norah and five other survivors come to the unhappy realization that they’re trapped, with no serviceable means of returning to the surface, and the rest of the gigantic structure is collapsing slowly down on them.

The answer, as the rig’s captain (Vincent Cassel) has it, is clunky robotic diving suits designed to withstand all that pressure and an iffy, near blind amble across the ocean floor to an older facility that may have resources to get home. Up to that point, and at the onset of that sojourn, the film’s pretty gripping (think “Deepwater Horizon” inverted) but then something weird and ghostly swims by and our budding character study becomes a creature-feature fear fest – and not a very compelling one.

Directed by William Eubank, who showed poise and promise with the mind-bending thriller “The Signal” (2014), the film’s composed competently enough, and production values are high. It’s just all weighed down by an inert storyline that doesn’t even feign putting a new spin on old tropes: As they prepare to make the trip, Norah tells the other surviving woman, Emily (Jessica Henwick), to take off her pants, as they won’t fit in the deepwater diving suit, though the goofball big boy of the group (T.J. Miller) fits into the unisex exoskeleton just fine. Later on, like in Ridley Scott’s 1979 deep space thriller, there’s a panty-line payoff; it’s not egregious, but most definitely worthy of an eye roll. Through it all, the bespectacled Stewart (in an Annie Lennox bob) maintains a commanding hold of the screen, casting palatable emotions as needed. Without her, “Underwater” might have been a full-on collapse; even with, when the camera starts to settle on Norah and her mates and something crashes down or swims in from the dark, it reminds us that these humans are just chum. Best not to get too attached.