Where Dean Devlin’s Geostorm saw a by-now familiar everyman played by Gerard Butler getting shot into space in order to save humanity from a catastrophic natural disaster, Ric Roman Waugh’s Greenland keeps him earthbound, focusing on his efforts to ensure his family’s safety as an enormous interstellar comet races toward our planet. As Scottish structural engineer John Garrity, Butler swaps out the hyper-masculine heroics that defined his characters in Devlin’s disastrous disaster film and Waugh’s own Angel Has Fallen with a more downtrodden gallantry. After all, and unknown to the audience at first, John recently cheated on his wife, Allison (Morena Baccarin), and they’re in the midst of mending their marriage when news of the world’s impending doom begins to spread.
Right out of the gate, Greenland gets points for consistency, as John and Allison’s marital issues are pushed to the side as pieces of the “planet killer” begin to fall from the sky, a preamble to an apocalypse whose magnitude surprisingly plays second fiddle to this family’s struggle to simply stay together. Perhaps this decision was motivated more by a modest budget and less by any artistic impulse, but the relative dearth of high-drama disaster porn throughout the film, as well as a lack of interest in geopolitics, is refreshing for how much room it makes for small-scale family drama. The intense focus on the intimacy between John, Allison, and their diabetic son, Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd), is rare for a film such as this.
Greenland certainly understands the self-serving impulses that grip most people in treacherous times. From the violent looting of a pharmacy to the after effects of gridlock on the highways, the breakdown of human civility is, like the destruction raining down from above, only ever seen from the main characters’ blinkered point of views. Waugh, then, sets his film in what feels like a recognizably real world, and in limiting our knowledge of the impending, planet-destroying event to only one family’s eyewitness observations, he provides his characters’ onerous quest with a sense of urgency and gravitas.
Of course, the conceit of a family getting separated and reuniting in the midst of a world-ending disaster is hardly a novel cinematic experience, but Chris Sparling’s script inserts enough left turns into the proceedings to allow us to shake the impression that we’ve been to this rodeo before. While the reason behind John and his family being separated early on is contrived, it allows for the film to gawk in horror at and wring tension from the sight of people reverting to their most base instincts in times of crisis. During a particularly fraught and lengthy stretch of the film, a well-meaning couple (David Denman and Hope Davis) offers Allison and Nathan a lift in their car after they’re separated from John only to then kidnap the boy upon learning that his wristband will presumably allow them entry onto one of the evacuation planes headed toward Greenland and safety within an underground bunker.
In its final 15 minutes, Greenland leans into the rote spectacle-driven action that one expects from the average modern-day disaster flick, shifting its focus entirely to John and his family’s treacherous plane ride toward potential safety and the damage caused by the meteors lighting up the sky. And once the “big one” finally hits, we’re treated to the obligatory montage of some of the world’s most recognizable cities reduced to ash and rubble. But the film’s prevailing attention to character-building up to this point allows some of the more hackneyed, late-in-the-game moments of chaos to go down smoother than you might expect.
Greenland isn’t a particularly handsome-looking film, but with the exception of a few scenes that skew a tad too dark, this disc’s image presentation is flawless—so flawless, in fact, that you might have an easier time now spotting the matte shots. Black levels are rich and healthy, while skin tones, especially as the film progresses and humanity moves closer to annihilation, take on increasingly warmer tones, and without sacrificing accuracy. The film is also no warhorse in the sound department but the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix is seamless, boasting crisp and clear dialogue levels and nicely localized surrounds, with the occasional jolts caused from the meteors crashing to the ground reverberating robustly across the entire soundstage.
Ric Roman Waughn provides intros to three scenes that were deleted from Greenland, at least one—a considerably more hopeful ending than the one we got—for the better. The filmmaker also teams up with producer Basil Iwanyk for a feature-length commentary track that’s intensely fixated on the film’s relevance in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, and on all the work that went into the script to ensure that its focus remained less on the apocalypse’s death rattle and more on its toll on humanity’s soul. (Good luck, though, trying to tell the men’s voices apart.) Rounding out the disc is a puff piece, titled “Humanity,” in which actors Gerard Butler and Morena Baccarin sing the film’s praises.
Ric Roman Waugh’s Greenland is, for better and worse, the most subdued disaster movie ever made featuring Gerard Butler and a humanity-killing comet.