Film * Dean Devlin * COUNTDOWN TO GEOSTORM * 2017
Here’s a quick window into my decision-making process when it comes to selecting movies to write about.
NORMAL BRAIN: I should watch a movie tonight. I’ve noticed quite a few streaming options that I’ve been meaning to watch.
TIRED, LAZY BRAIN: NO I HATE IT. Let’s just watch something we’ve seen ten thousand times so I can fall immediately asleep to it.
NORMAL BRAIN: No, it’s a day off, I should really catch up on this huge list of important films. Look, A Clockwork Orange is streaming.
ANXIOUS, SLEEPY BRAIN: Noooooooooooooo, I don’t want it. Stressful.
NORMAL BRAIN: Ugh, fine. But I insist we watch something new.
DEFENSE MECHANISM BRAIN: Okay but I don’t want to think or feel any kind of way about it.
NORMAL BRAIN: You are the worst. Fine, let’s see what there is.
Twenty minutes of scrolling through the menus of four different streaming services later:
NORMAL BRAIN: EVERYTHING IS EITHER TOO LONG OR TOO STRESSFUL!
TIRESOME ANXIETY BRAIN: Stop yelling I hate you and just want to hide – oh, let’s watch that!
NORMAL BRAIN: Geostorm? What even is that?
JERKASS DUMB DUMB BRAIN: Remember that amazing-looking awful disaster movie that came out… sometime? Whatever, it’s called Geostorm and we’re watching it.
NORMAL BRAIN: I can’t believe you’re in charge, how is this my life?
And that’s how I ended up watching Geostorm, this ridiculous-yet-forgettable disaster movie instead of an actual film. I’d apologize, but I obviously can’t deny that I have a deep and unabiding love of cornball disaster movies. It actually makes me pretty happy that nonsense like Geostorm is somehow still getting made. On paper, Geostorm has it all. A patently ludicrous premise. A cast of vaguely recognizable actors hamming it up real good. Poorly rendered CGI destruction scenes that are immediately dated. What else could you possibly want? Now, as an actual movie, Geostorm is obviously terrible. You don’t need me to tell you that, it’s called Geostorm. The real question is, how does it rate as a cornball disaster movie?
Unfortunately, I would say Geostorm is closer to The Core than Deep Impact on the scale of disaster movie radness. Now, it is a staple of these kinds of movies to exploit a kernel of scientific truth and spin it up into some kind of hyperbolic worst case scenario. That’s why we’re here. Some of these premises are more tortured than others, with something like The Core being way out on the bleeding edge of improbability. If anything, Geostorm is more a spiritual successor to classic of the genre, The Day After Tomorrow, which I’ve somehow not written about, in that it’s a movie about death-weather destroying the planet. Unfortunately, Geostorm isn’t quite in the same league.
Geostorm begins with a nice montage of stock footage of various weather-related disaster while a child gives us a synopsis of the state of the world. Apparently, in 2019 the climate breaks down and kills a bunch of people, to the point where the nations of the world decide to set aside their bitter differences to unite and save the day. They end up building a literal net of satellites that can regulate the weather, which they call “Dutchboy.” Before Geostorm even begins, the disaster has already been averted by the combined ingenuity of the human race. The crux of the plot is political, which makes Geostorm more of a human-versus-human thing instead of a human-versus-nature story. It’s a curious choice which doesn’t really end up working. There’s a formula to these things, and you alter them at your own risk. Still, a tidal wave hits Dubai, so whatever.
I appreciate the impulse to do something a little different with the genre. I’m not sure the idea to try and cram a taut political thriller in the middle of my schlocky disaster flick was a good one, but that’s what Geostorm does. As mentioned, Geostorm begins at a point where the natural disaster has already been averted. The first real scene is where we learn that Gerard Butler is the gruff, “tell it like it is” science man that’s too real for you no-account politicians, man. He’s also the genius who built and perfected Dutchboy and essentially saved the world. But that’s humans for you, already know-nothing Senators are calling for Gerard to get fired because he refuses to play the game. Coincidentally, the one who fires him is his own brother, a very sweaty Jim Sturgess, who is trying to advance his own career in the State Department under Ed Harris, who plays Ed Harris in this movie.
Right from the jump Geostorm is more about these political scenes than it is about various geostorms. Generally in these movies, the pig-headed politicians are there to stonewall our rebellious hero scientist from saving the day. Here, the day is already saved and the politicians are there to break down the social progress made due to the disaster. It’s a slight modification on the formula, which has the unfortunate effect of shifting focus from the common cause of surmounting a threat of death-weather to the more specific threat caused by one villain. Far more time is given to solving the mystery of who is behind the sabotage of Dutchboy than the threat posed by the titular geostorms, which honestly feels a bit like a bait and switch situation. I’m not exactly sure why, but the fact that all the weather-related disasters depicted in this movie are caused by sabotaged satellites is something of a bummer.
All that said, Geostorm finally delivers on its promise of absurd geostorming. Well, kind of. Probably one of my favorite things about this movie is its insistence on using the world “geostorm” as many times as possible, which I clearly cannot blame them for. One of the best bits is the giant command center screen which just has a progress bar on it counting down to geostorm. Turns out, according to the movie, we never actually get a proper geostorm, which sucks. Sure, there’s the aforementioned (and not actually weather-related) tidal wave in Dubai, and Orlando gets lightening-ed to death and some dog is dramatically threatened by multiple kill-nadoes in India. But in the end, we never see the full force of a geostorm. That’s actually the fatal flaw, now that I think about it.
You see, in “good” disaster movies, the thing everyone is scared about happens. The asteroid hits in Deep Impact. The volcano erupts in Dante’s Peak. The earthquake happens in San Andreas. The drama is watching humans band together to survive incredible odds against the fury of nature. In Geostorm, the drama is watching people figure out that Ed Harris is evil and is weaponizing the ability to control the weather, like a proper goddamn supervillain. So when Geostorm hits the familiar “we’re all in it together” beats of a disaster movie, it feels weird. Most disaster movies have left-leaning, ecological messages. Geostorm is a little more blatant. The president is heroic and presidential, and specifically a Democrat, which is a weird move for a disaster movie. It’s not quite as on the nose as the ending of Volcano (which I’ve also not written about? What is wrong with me?), but it’s close. Anyway, the point is I didn’t sign up for a movie called Geostorm with the expectation of a bad political thriller. I’m here for a bad disaster movie. There’s a huge difference.