“I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.”
— Andy Dufresne
In 1998: It was the battle of the Earth-destroyed-by-asteroid epics Deep Impact vs. Armageddon.
In 2008: Award-winning Spanish director F. Javier Gutierrez got Hollywood’s attention with Before the Fall (Tres días, aka Three Days), his debut feature film produced by Antonio Banderas. The Daily Telegraph‘s Rebecca Davies opined in her review of the film’s U.K. theatrical release that Gutierrez’s lower-budgeted, introspective disaster-drama sci-fi, thriller, and horror amalgam proved armageddic meteorites crashing into the Earth could be both intelligent and moving.
And Davies was right, for the brilliance of Before the Fall was in its reality of a fait accompli-world: In 72 hours — it was all over. There would be no retrofitted space shuttles delivering drilling teams to plant nuclear warheads. No satellite grids of the Geostorm variety would repel the devastation. No “planet engines” of The Wandering Earth class would be built. There would be no secret nuclear weapon platforms from the Star Wars dropping Meteor* to save us. Instead, Gutierrez asked us the deeper, non-CGI question (sans Liv Tyler’s ever-perfect glycerin tear drops): What would you do in those last three days of your life? And, if you’re besieged by evil during that time, would you go to any lengths to save yourself and your family? During the inevitable end of all existence on Earth, would you still fight back?
Before the Fall was a box-office smash across Europe, so much so that Wes Craven — courtesy of the film’s horror-cum-slasher elements — wanted to remake it. And, as with most Hollywood projects (whatever happened with the 2008-announced prequel and the 2012-announced sequel to I Am Legend?), the remake met with the usual project development problems. However, as a consolation prize, F. Javier Gutierrez booked a mainstream Hollywood gig with Rings (the 2017 one that starred The Big Bang Theory‘s Johnny Galecki). And Gutierrez, with modern-horror maestro James Wan, co-produced the Maria Bello-starring Demonic.
And as our consolation prize: Instead of a remake of Before the Fall, we get this less introspective, more CGI’d and somewhat similarly-plotted — and unfortunately COVID-scuttled and PVOD-saved** — Greenland starring Gerald Butler, he of the previously mentioned world-disaster romp, Geostorm. And as with Geostorm, Greenland deserves — needs, as with Tom Hanks’s recently streaming-scuttled Greyhound — the BIG SCREEN for its art to be fully appreciated.
Now the smarmy critic inside will say: Goodbye, introspection. Hello, CGI.
And the fan of the always-delivers Gerald Butler will say: Hello, best of both worlds.
So, while we have a bona fide action star with our leading man, gone are the physics-defying, space-bound feats of strength. What we do get with Butler’s heroic-father John Garrity is John Cusack’s Jackson Curtis from Roland Emmerich’s 2012, as the gruff, straight-laced Garrity attempts to transport his family to safety with the world falling apart. However, unlike the cartoonish improbability tropes of 2012 (e.g., long black limousines jumping highway crevices), we have a patriarch that deals, not with the ubiquitously cocky, mission-compromising astronauts or failing nuclear warheads (or, in Gerald’s case: planet-killer storms, terrorists, or angry Egyptian gods), but the best and worst of humanity as he attempts to reach the film’s titled landmass that offers sanctuary to those intelligent enough (and their lucky family members) to rebuild society.
So, is Greenland as weird, i.e., unique, as Before the Fall?
Is Greenland disaster-trope laden with the check-off-the-list characters we’ve seen before — and expect — in an A-List world destruction?
Before the Fall was War of the Worlds of the Tom Cruise-remake variety — sans the aliens and a lower budget — with Cruise’s Ray Ferrier dealing with Tim Robbins’s deranged, inferred-pedophile Harlan Ogilvy for the entire film. And while many reading this review may not know of the film, this reviewer is reminded of the philosophical talk-cum-action of No Blade of Grass*˟, with that film’s John Custance (a great Nigel Davenport) who flees with his family from a devastated London on a Mosesesque quest to a Scottish-bordered safe haven, as well as the equally-obscure Richard Harris-starring Ravagers. However, courtesy of its $35 million budget, while we get a little bit of the “why we’re here and what are we gonna do now” yakity-yak in the proceedings, we get a lot of the CGI set-design scope of the I Am Legend variety — sans the we-didn’t-mean-them-to-be-campy Beatles’ Blue Meanies blood-suckers-who-always-manage-to-keep-their-pants-on tomfoolery.
Butler’s John Garrity, a Scottish structural engineer living in Atlanta, Georgia — with an estranged wife and diabetic son, natch — attempts to reconcile with his family as they host a backyard party to watch the “harmless” passing of Clarke, a recently discovered comet. Only, Clarke turns out to be not so harmless. And courtesy of John’s knowledge — which will be needed in a post-apoc world, natch — he receives an automated phone call, informing him that he and his family have been selected for emergency sheltering.
Then a comet fragment hits Tampa, Florida, and the state is laid waste — for starters. And the natural disaster logistics race to the world’s largest island — against the freaked-out, greedy hoards of humanity — is on.
Written by Chris Sparling, who wrote Gus Van Sant’s (Last Days) Sea of Trees, as well as the Spanish horrors Buried, The Warning, and Down a Dark Hall, Greenland was to be directed by acclaimed South African director Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium). Then the film fell into the equally-capable hands of reformed stuntman Ric Roman Waugh (Universal Soldier, Gone in 60 Seconds, Days of Thunder). Waugh came into his own as a screenwriter and director with the Gerald Butler-starring Angel Has Fallen. The duo is currently in production on the latest Mike Banning adventure, which begun with Olympus Has Fallen, titled as Night Has Fallen. And to Waugh’s credit: based on the trailers and poster that forgoes artsy-impact images, he may have given us a large-scale B-Movie, but one that ditches the grandiose and the bombast for realism that harkens back to Before the Fall. This ain’t no Bay-os strewn Armageddon or Deep Impact, my fellow apoc rats.
Making its theatrical debut in Belgium in July 2020, Greenland exceeded its COVID-era box office expectations as it rolled out across France, China, and Mexico. Here, in the U.S., we can watch Greenland as a $19.99 PVOD beginning December 18. Those bypassing the PVOD platforms will have to wait until the early months of 2021 to watch it as a HBO Max exclusive, and in the U.K., Canada, and Australia via Amazon Prime.
Disclaimer: We didn’t receive a screener or review request. We just love apoc-cinema and Gerald Butler around the B&S offices and wanted to kibitz about the film.
* Be sure to check out our “Exploring: After Star Wars” featurette with links to over 30 reviews of post-Star Wars films.
** A fate also suffered by Aneesh Chaganty’s recently released and reviewed Run.
*˟ Be sure to join us in our month-long tribute to apoc-cinema with our two-part “Atomic Dust Bin” round-ups with links to over 70 film reviews.