Greenland (2020)

The Scene – it was a Friday night after yet another taxing week and my Better Half and I were wanting to check out something with an escapist slant to it…you know…the equivalent to tasty cinematic pablum. Easily digestible. Not too strenuous on the brain or nerves.

Sifting through our streaming choices…I stumbled upon Greenland.

I’d heard about Gerard Butler-starring Greenland, directed by Ric Roman Waugh, when it first got a piddly release back in the thick of goddamn Covid-19 in goddamn 2020, and even though I remember the one or two reviews I saw being favourable, I unfairly dismissed it as another Low-Mid Budgeted sci-fi / action flick starring The Butler, jumping way too late onto the Armageddon (1998) / Deep Impact (1998) disaster-flick coat-tails, most likely to cheesy, easily disposable effect.

Boy, was I wrong.

This flick surprised the shit outta me!

It does help to go into these movies blind, with no preconceived notions about quality, like we did, as I guarantee that helped elevate this impressively well-paced and mature Disaster Movie to opinion levels that took me by surprise.

Greenland tells the modern-day tale of ‘John Garrity’ (Gerard Butler), a dedicated architect / site foreman in the midst of a strained relationship with his wife ‘Allison’ (Morena Baccarin), who is faced with seemingly insurmountable odds as it is declared that a passing comet named ‘Clarke’, travelling through space as a storm of rock and ice debris, is not going to merely zip on by, as previously announced. Instead, it’s revealed that Earth will inevitably endure a vicious bombardment of impacts before a Planet-Killer sized piece strikes our world, most likely ending all life on Earth, a la the dinosaurs. In preparation for this, select people with specific trades are informed that they and their families have been chosen to be evacuated and relocated to prepared shelters, as their expertise will be needed to try to rebuild, should there be any chance for survival in the aftermath of the impact. The ‘Garrity’s, along with their diabetic son, ‘Nathan’, have been chosen and must race against time and many unforeseen odds to try and be saved from Oblivion.

So, with expectations set way low, I grabbed my pad and pencil, cracked a beer and hit Play.

Here lie those scribbles…

Nice Score. Reminds me of the Sunshine OST. I still really like Danny Boyle’s harrowing 2007 restart-the-sun flick Sunshine and one key aspect of that is the low key and often beautiful score by John Murphy. There were elements to this one, composed by David Buckley, that felt very much in keeping with that tonal approach.

Hell yeah! Morena Baccarin! I had forgotten that this drop-dead gorgeous actress, who for me will always be tied to Firefly / Deadpool, was a key player in this movie, playing ‘John’s estranged wife ‘Allison’. A most welcome oversight on my part.

Strangely low-key intro to family dynamic. Effective family interaction. I like the chemistry. We are led into the ‘Garrity’ family dynamic in an impressively organic way, readily establishing the underlying frostiness affecting the marriage, though I did like that it was handled in a mature manner, where the love between the parents may be strained but they both recognize that they still have to ‘come together’ for the sake of their young son. The acting among the three was spot-on, feeling natural and heartfelt and I think Waugh was smart to use this approach to invest us into these characters almost right away.

Creepy military flyby. For the most part, the first Act is not consumed with scenes of mass destruction or crazy footage of the Hell Comet tearing through space on a clear collision course with our little blue world. Instead, we a drip-fed seemingly benign information via TV or radio, with the phenomenon being treated as a once-in-a lifetime cosmic event akin to a lunar eclipse or meteor shower. However, the gravity of what’s happening and the growing idea that all is not what it seems is punched home with a scene where ‘John’ heads to the market for party supplies and, from the parking lot, sees the sky filled with an armada of military transport planes all flying away, in one direction, a scene that would have me shitting my pants if I saw it with my own eyes, as it clearly signifies a massive ‘what do they know that we don’t’ problem. A simple but highly effective sequence, IMO.

Good suspense. Intense buildup. From the point where our main characters get wise to the actual gravity of the perilous situation, and desperation and panic begin to mount, the pacing and application of suspense was handled with a deft hand. This applies to pretty much the entire run-time.

Attention to detail and realism adds to the scare factor. One aspect that certainly separated Greenland from the two most famous ‘Earth imperiled by asteroid‘ movies Armageddon (a truly stupid-as-hell movie) and Deep Impact (the clear better of the two) was the attention to detail and adherence to some semblance of realism. Everything I was being shown, from the government machinations to the reactions of the population felt credible and not overblown for the sake of dramatic spectacle, which is not to discount what ‘dramatic spectacle’ we DO get. It was very much appreciated and helped pull me into the increasingly desperate narrative.

Heartbreaking escape scene. Brutal. The first Act culminates as ‘John’ and ‘Allison’, while hosting a party, receive word that they have been selected to be ‘saved’, while none of their neighbours and friends get the same notification. This leads to a truly soul-rending scene where they realize that they can’t help the people around them and must coldly turn away those who frantically try to talk their way into joining them, which is impossible. All they can do is drive away, leaving everyone else to their fate. It was a tough scene to watch.

Good depiction of societal panic. Scary. It becomes apparent that the government knew the true nature of the cosmic threat well in advance, with the truth only being revealed to the doomed masses in the final days leading up to impact. As the ‘Garrity’s race against time to reach their assigned military base for transport to shelter, we see more and more depictions of society collapsing along the way.

Wow! Perimeter breach. This actually caught me off guard, as I was so caught up in the drama of the forced separation of our two main characters at the air force base (*SPOILER*?) that a mass storming of the perimeter fence by a huge throng of panicking civilians seemed to come out of nowhere. What results is a violent and destructive riot on the tarmac that effectively ruins EVERYONE’S day.

Awesome comet footage. Eerie. Most likely due to budgetary constraints ($35 million budget), we don’t get fetishistic shots of the comet barreling through space toward us. Almost all views of the comet and breaching meteors are tackled from a ‘boots on the ground’ perspective, with Clarke being shown hanging in the night sky as the main part passes Earth, creepy and silent. Having seen at least one comet in my lifetime, it rang true.

Lots of nice people. Refreshing. One aspect that we see a lot in these types of movies is how people’s desperation pushes them toward villainy, only looking out for themselves at the expense of others and the main characters have to deal with it, often to lethal effect (yes, some of that goes down here as well). They also often encounter authority figures that are unwilling to bend in their methods to help (not that they necessarily should, given the scenario), frequently becoming another obstacle to the protagonist’s goals.

Greenland was a little different.

Sure, asshole characters are encountered along the way, as they would be, but we are treated to numerous scenes where people, particularly the military, actually make the effort to help, at times going out of their way to show a degree of compassion that I didn’t expect, given the circumstances. It was a refreshing change of pace from what I’ve grown accustomed to expecting and lent a glimmer of hope to the proceedings.

Impressive performances. Everybody steps up in this regard, even in the bit parts. The cast seemed to understand the gravity and drama the story was trying to convey and went all in, with Butler and Baccarin really shining through. I’ll even give props to the kid playing ‘Nathan’, Roger Dale Floyd, as I found his performance impressively varied and not obnoxious, as child actors can often be.

Scott Glenn! Scott Glenn (The Hunt for Red October) has been a mainstay in Hollywood for decades and it’s always good to see this veteran actor appear on screen, even if just for a beefed-up cameo like here.

Music great. Tonally appropriate. As noted right off the bat, the music definitely added to the tragic and eerie tone of what happens over Greenland‘s 2 hour run-time. I’m actually listening to the soundtrack as I write this. Great stuff!

Holt! Holt McCallany (Fight Club) is another actor I always welcome onscreen, so his cameo here as a Canadian bush pilot was another nice surprise.

Disappointingly hopeful finale. Ok, this was one spot I was a little iffy on. I’m a sucker for a good downer or ambiguous ending and this one led up to a potentially great ‘make up your own mind’ finale…before fading back in and barreling through to tack on…*SPOILER*an unnecessarily glowingly hopeful ending that, given the magnitude of how fucked up what’s left of Earth is, I couldn’t easily swallow. Hell, after we see our survivors 9 or so months later, they look like they JUST got to sanctuary, no physical changes at all (longer hair, worn down clothes, facial hair etc). And knowing a wee bit about how nuclear winter works, I didn’t buy what we were shown of the aftermath, as devastating and cool-looking as it is. It didn’t tonally connect to all that had come before it but luckily what had come before was, in my opinion, easily good enough to allow me to dismiss my slight modicum of disappointment. I will also admit that there was a clear effort to give some hope to our main characters as the story played out, and on that level, the end DOES work.

I’m just a dark-souled fella who likes dark-souled story endings, what can I say?

Great film. Pleasant surprise. Right there. That.

All in all, I feel that I walked away from Greenland having had a genuine ‘movie experience’, which is something that doesn’t happen for me too often these days, especially on the ‘small screen’ (Damn, I miss theatres and would’ve loved to have seen this one there, given the chance). I guarantee a big part of that was due to my already dismissive attitude toward the movie going in. Though, had I gone in with hopes high, I still would’ve been smiling by the time the credits rolled.

Plain and simple, Greenland is a solid disaster movie that wisely focused on the human drama on the ground as opposed to the spectacle of mass destruction (though what we do get is both cool as hell and scary as fuck) and on that merit alone, I appreciated it. But, the cast, capably led by Butler and Baccarin, is great (even the high-profile cameos), the attention to detail and realism is highly commendable, the less-is-more approach to the destruction is effective, the music score is slick and eerie, the use of tension and suspense is top-notch, and the overall consistency in tone and pacing is very viewer-friendly (IMO), even if the movie MAYBE could’ve used a tightening trim of 10 or so minutes. If I had to toss a Negative into the mix, a couple narrative issues (based entirely upon my own tastes) in the 3rd Act stood out but were certainly not enough to derail my surprisingly high opinion of this film.

I highly recommend Greenland and having now seen it, feel that it deserved a far larger audience (though it did make approx. $47 million with the exposure it was able to garner mid-pandemic). If you’re a fan of disaster films or dystopian science-fiction and appreciate attention to characters that you actually give a shit about, then this is a film for you.

I guarantee that there will be at least one more viewing of this title in my future.

Take the trip to Greenland!

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