Street Date 2/9/21;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of disaster action, some violence, bloody images and brief strong language.
Stars Gerard Butler, Morena Baccarin, Roger Dale Floyd, Scott Glenn, Hope Davis, David Denman, Andrew Bachelor.
The excellent Greenland plays like a cross between Deep Impact and 2012, but manages to be better than both by stripping away the traditional trappings of the disaster film genre. Where most films about a potentially world-ending event would focus on the people trying to prevent it, or how it impacts a wide variety of stock characters, Greenland stands apart by personalizing the doomsday scenario to its effect on a single family and their efforts to survive it.
Gerard Butler (who in 2017 starred in the lousy Geostorm as one of the people trying to stop the global disaster) plays John Garrity, a building engineer who is estranged from his wife, Allison (Morena Baccarin), with whom he has a 7-year-old son, Nate (Roger Dale Floyd).
The news is buzzing with reports of a comet field passing close near Earth, and when a smaller fragment is projected to hit the middle of the Atlantic, several families, including the Garritys, hold parties to watch it.
However, the fragment misses the mark and ends up wiping out Central Florida instead. In the confusion, the Garritys receive a message from the government to head to a military base for transport to a shelter, leading to one of several heartbreaking scenes as they leave the other families of the neighborhood behind.
Soon the news turns much more grim. The comet field is larger than anticipated and will slam into Earth over the next few days, culminating with the impact of a giant comet bigger than the one that wiped out the dinosaurs.
Those familiar with the general framework of these kinds of disaster films can guess what happens next, as similar depictions of the breakdown of society in the face of extinction have been the subject of many a project, but as noted earlier, the ones that seem most similar to the story of Greenland are 1998’s mostly well-regarded Deep Impact, about society preparing for a comet impact, and 2009’s awful 2012, an action spectacle about various people trying to reach shelters to survive a global disaster.
Director Ric Roman Waugh for the most part eschews the big-budget visual effects sequences these kinds of movies have become known for, instead focusing on the humanity of the situation, reminding us what it means to be a family when times get tough.
John, Allison and Nate make it to an airbase, but their plans to board a plane hit a snag because Nate is diabetic, and the military doesn’t want to take sick people. When the base is overrun by a mob, John is separated from Allison and Nate, and separately they begin to make their way to a fallback meeting place — a ranch in Kentucky owned by her father (Scott Glenn).
Through their journeys we get street-level experiences of the societal impacts of the global disaster, from gun-toting gangs taking over stores, to desperate strangers trying to steal John’s travel credentials or kidnap Nate to further their own survival plans. By keeping the focus on a single family, the audience feels every moment of heartbreak and triumph.
Ultimately, John, who learns he was selected because his profession was deemed desirable to rebuilding the world, gets word of private planes smuggling people to the shelters, which the U.S. military has built in Greenland, and becomes determined to get his family there.
The film is beautifully shot, from simple shots of the comets haunting the night sky, to the devastating effects their impacts have on the landscape. It’s a bit surprising the film isn’t being made available on a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray in its U.S. retail debut.
The Blu-ray includes a smattering of extras, including a simple, one-minute featurette called “Humanity” in which the filmmakers and cast discuss the movie.
A bit more substantial are a couple of deleted scenes and the film’s original ending, which run a total of about five minutes. Each includes an optional introduction with Waugh discussing why they didn’t make the final cut. The original ending is a bit more hopeful, which didn’t sit too well with test audiences, leading to the final version that takes a bit of a cue from 2012, but not in a bad way.
The best extra is the commentary with Waugh and producer Basil Iwanyk, in which they discuss the whole process of making the movie and conveying the motifs they wanted to explore with it.