Starring Gerard Butler, Morena Baccarin, Roger Dale Floyd, Scott Glenn, David Denman, Hope Davis
Written by Chris Sparling
Directed by Ric Roman Waugh
Produced by Gerard Butler, Basil Iwanyk, Sebastien Raybaud, Alan Siegel
Cinematography by Dana Gonzales
Edited by Gabriel Fleming
“Greenland,” a new suspense-action-thriller about a huge comet and accompanying comet space debris hurtling towards earth for a potential extinction-level impact and how one family fights to survive, is excellent. The film is suspenseful, gripping, intriguing, action-packed, scary, thrilling, tightly-edited, tightly-paced and well-directed, with amazing production design, art direction, and visual and special effects. Yes, the disaster-film storyline is cliched; yes, many of the scenes in the movie are cliched scenes we’ve seen hundreds, possibly thousands, of times in too many other disaster action-suspense thriller movies; and yes, on one level, the movie’s a bit light on original, deep and intriguing dialogue–but give plenty of credit to director Ric Roman Waugh for crafting a movie that works well from start to end despite its bag of tricks and movie cliches, and give credit to screenwriter Chris Sparling for centering the movie around three lovable people–a mom, a dad and their young, pre-teen son–and making these folks lovable enough that viewers will care about them, and stick with them through the cliches, tragedies and disasters as the comets, meteors and asteroids reign down on Earth in continually horrifying, terrifying manners.
And the cast is excellent–the leads hold your attention, they are lovable, as noted–yes, lovable–and it is important to stress the point that viewers will, as mentioned, care for them and about them, which is important in a suspense action thriller such as this. Little Roger Dale Floyd, who was only 6, 7 or 8 during filming and who plays the family’s son, is not only adorable, but an incredibly assured actor for someone so young! He is incredibly cute, but he holds his own on the acting side of things throughout the film–he’s amazing. And so are the other lead actors, Gerald Butler and Morena Baccarin, who play the family’s parents. Director Waugh keeps things tight and taut, and the film moves like a speeding train–and, thankfully and happily, there’s a happy ending for our leads, and a glimmer of positivity, optimism and hope amid the tragedy at the end. (This isn’t really a spoiler.) The message is, even amid the worst of catastrophes, there can indeed be some semblance, some possibility, and even some assurance that hope remains alive and we can survive even the worst disasters. And that’s a great message of hope during these trying times of 2020.
And, yes, the fact that “Greenland,” which–much like the very recent and, yes, very similar “Songbird,” which was about people struggling to survive in 2024 amid a mutated version of Covid-19–is about people also struggling to survive amid a worldwide disaster and is being released while the world of 2020 is struggling to survive, this set of parameters does add to the immediacy, urgency and relevance of the movie. It’s impossible to watch “Greenland” and not see the many parallels to life in 2020. In the movie, as huge parts of the overall comet barrage batter, smash, disintegrate and flat-out exterminate large swaths of Earth even before the big one arrives to literally wipe out much of the planet (that’s not really a spoiler, either, so don’t worry), people lose it, freak out, suffer mental breakdowns, get sick, get separated, forget how to simply function normally, and die. Sad to say, and it’s not being flippant at all, this is actually what’s happening in real life, in reality, throughout 2020 as, let’s face it, much of society has broken down, too, and we’ve seen how many people simply cannot function with, deal with, fight and survive the virus pandemic. When people in a store or restaurant start to fight each other about wearing a protective mask; when people fight on the street about health restrictions; and when people defy health officials, health warnings, public safety and official laws to simply have a party, a political rally, a political reception, a concert, a wedding, a church service or a holiday party at the White House, or a holiday party at the headquarters of the U.S. Department of State that ultimately result in superspreader events that infect, sicken and even kill people–well, you know that real-life society has indeed broken down, much like the broken-down and broken societies depicted in “Greenland” and “Songbird.”
All of which makes these current apocalyptic movies incredibly important. Many of the best movies throughout film history–of course–insightfully and perceptively mirror, reflect, comment on, analyze, dissect and moralize the times in which the movies are made, offering a filmic instant study on human culture, society and history. This indeed occurs with “Greenland” and “Songbird.” When you concurrently watch these movies and then watch the nightly news and see horrifying and terrifying real-life scenes that literally reflect what you see in the movies, well, that itself is horrifying, frightening, fascinating–and incredibly entertaining–all at once. All of this occurs with “Greenland” and “Songbird.” It’s similar to when film audiences watched films about World War II, or watched movies with war-oriented themes, during World War II, or how filmgoers watched films about the Vietnam War during that disaster, or how, in recent years, viewers have watched disaster films about the Bush and Trump administrations during those horrific eras. When movies accurately reflect the real-time times they are portraying, while those times are occurring, the filmgoing experience is enhanced and improved in countless ways, on countless levels.
In the always-gripping, always-suspenseful “Greenland,” Gerard Butler plays John Garrity, a steady, sturdy, down-to-earth, successful architectural engineer in the Atlanta area. He’s soft-spoken, laid-back, smart, and grounded in normalcy, common sense and intelligence–basically, a nice, likeable guy. More than anything, he loves his cute and smart son, Nathan. Little Nathan, too, is grounded, smart and likeable. He’s a regular little kid, except he does have type-1 diabetes, which, in this movie, is not cliched, is not melodramtic, is not hokey, and works because it adds a level of normalcy and caring to little Nathan. This also adds some suspense to the story–imagine trying to survive the coming apocalypse while living any one of hundreds, or thousands, of diseases or medical afflictions. Millions (billions?) of people the world over suffer from some type of medical ailment. Imagine, then, if we’re suddenly taken out of our real lives and comfort zones of health insurance, health care, doctors, pharmacies and prescriptions, and then hurtled on a trek of survival without that medical safety net. It’s a terrifying notion–and, again, it’s also a very real terrifying notion in 2020 real life as millions of people worldwide are losing their jobs, livelihoods, businesses, salaries, health insurance, health care–and their medical and pharmacy safety nets. This is very real in 2020, and it’s happening everywhere–in your town, city, state and country. Everywhere. So filmgoers can relate to little Nathan as he and his parent struggle to survive, keep in contact with needed medicine supplies, and get to safety–while comets literally reign down on Earth to an unavoidable, inevitable apocalyptic disaster.
Without giving away any plot details, John, Nathan and John’s equally steady, intelligent and likeable wife, Allison, are thrust into a unique, rare, and somewhat rarified opportunity to survive the ongoing disaster. However, their trek to safety and survival is not easy, and, as one would expect, they encounter numerous, dangerous, horrendous and life-threatening roadblocks–figuratively and literally–obstacles and hindrances on their trek to a safe haven. It’s not a spoiler to say that John, Nathan and Allison do not die–if they did, the movie would mean absolutely nothing and would be trashed–and it’s perfectly fine, workable and satisfying that they survive–of course! The movie is centered around their fight to survive, and their noble struggle is a symbol of hope, positivity and optimism amid the literally very worst of times–just as the characters will, strength, grit and determined efforts to survive in “Songbird”–and, yes, thousands other dystopian, apocalyptic movies, television shows, books and comic books through the ages–are also a symbol of hope, positivity and optimism.
What saves so many of these types of films is when the director, screenwriter, production and art and effects crews and the actors all work together to actually succeed in presenting a film that not only works as an entertaining suspense-action thriller, but also works as, basically, a message of hope, life and love. This same message keeps re-appearing in so many apocalyptic-dystopian-sci-fic-action-suspense-thriller movies–and thank goodness for that. For when the real life around us seems to be stumbling and crumbling and falling apart in so many ways, when people are as demoralized, depressed, down and frightened as they’ve ever been in life, well, what the holy heck could be more important, healthy, life-affirming–and hopeful–than a good movie that suggests that eventually, realistically, and finally, there indeed will be a light at the end of the tunnel–a light amid the darkness.
This last phrase is what Will Smith’s character Robert Neville, a virologist also struggling to survive a virus pandemic that has wiped much of Earth’s population in 2007’s quite good apocalyptic thriller “I Am Legend,” clings to–a hope for a light to light up the darkness. This is also another message of hope. In that apocalyptic action-thriller–which also centers around a virus pandemic and its horrific aftermath–and is in turn based on scores of previous versions, including author Richard Matheson’s classic 1954 novel of the same name and the 1971 film “The Omega Man,” with a more relatable and sane Charlton Heston before he lost his mind–Neville holds onto, and holds close to, a simple, but wise and eloquent message from one of Neville’s heroes, musician Bob Marley. “Light up the darkness,” said Bob Marley.
As Neville tells fellow survivor Anna in “I Am Legend,” explaining Bob Marley’s philosophy, “He had this idea. It was kind of a virologist idea. He believed that you could cure racism and hate… literally cure it, by injecting music and love into people’s lives. When he was scheduled to perform at a peace rally, a gunman came to his house and shot him down. Two days later he walked out on that stage and sang. When they asked him why, he said, ‘The people who are trying to make this world worse are not taking a day off. How can I? Light up the darkness.'”
So that is what films like, to name only a few, “The Omega Man,” “Battle for the Planet of the Apes,” “Soylent Green,” “Logan’s Run,” “28 Days Later,” “I Am Legend,” “Songbird” and now “Greenland” are trying to do, to their credit: They’re offering a message of hope. They’re offering some light amid the darkness. Because, whether it’s a plague or a virus or a comet or an environmental disaster or a zombie apocalypse or a lunatic-fringe, far-right, dictatorial presidential administration that wipes out much of mankind or tries to wipe out much of mankind, there has to be some vestige of hope, and if we can find that hope at the movies, well, so be it.
We’re all better off for the flickering, hopeful light that movies provide in the darkness of the theaters of our lives.
Even amid the darkest times, the darkest days, the darkest theaters, there has to be a promise that we can, in the end, light up the darkness.
“Greenland” opens everywhere on premium video-on-demand on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020.