For over forty years the American public has had a strange relationship with a specific type of movie, the disaster film. the seventies was the golden age of flicks depicting groups of people placed in mortal danger by threats ranging from high rise fires to meteors careening down from the depths of space. The undisputed grand master of the genre had an alternate name for the cinematic category he made famous, the survivor film. all of this becomes moot when the true disaster is not what the characters have to frantically overcome but rather the ordeal of siting through the movie. This is the case with the film under consideration, ‘Geostorm’. every generation a film stands out that pervades the zeitgeist becoming synonymous with bad cinema. ‘Geostorm’ takes it places beside such ‘’Razzie’ winners as ‘Battlefield Earth’, ‘Catwoman’ and ‘Waterworld’. I fully realize that there are people that consider themselves fans of these movies. Personal experience has provided me with the basis of a theory that members of the Baby Boomer Generation are more acceptant, or at least tolerant of these movies. The basis of this observation is that we grew up with the schlocky science fiction and horror movies of the fifties. We sat their entertained despite seeing the tears and zippers on the monster or the stick pushing the alien creature across the set. Then, we graduated to more mature faire with the advent of grindhouse films. Still, my current concerns are to examine the cinematic merit of the movie by the currently accepted criteria.
There is one tradition that ‘Geostorm’ manages to retain from the classic disaster movies of years ago. The movie does boast an incredible cast of A-List stars including Gerard Butler, Ed Harris, Abbie Cornish and Richard Schiff. Each of them have proven their talents and versatility throughout their careers. This raises the question as to why such illustrious artist would sig on to a movie with a budget of $120 million and a domestic box office of merely $33 million. The reason is frequently one that most of us can understand, financial. Actors, like most people, need and want to continue working. In their trade it is important to keep your name in front of the public. The adage, "any publicity is good publicity", appears to have a degree of truth. Before judging these professionals too harshly ask yourself if you ever took a bad job? Another tradition upheld is the basic thematic content of the story. Traditionally the ultimate antagonist in this type of movie is nature. One popular source of the requisite devastation concerns the insignificance of humanity, reminding us how powerless we are compared to the force behind natural events like tsunamis, earthquakes or giant pieces of rock falling. The other side of the same coin is the hubris constantly exhibited by our species. In this variation scientist tamper with the forces of nature or attempt to exploit the marginally understood fundamentals of nature. The scientist is frequently driven by benevolent motivations intent on helping humanity, but things go widely awry. This story attempts the juxtaposition of both sets of plot devices. Unfortunately, the results are an example of what can best be described as anti-synergism. The individual components combine resulting in less than the sum of their contribution.
The world has been repeatedly assaulted by a series of exceptionally powerful natural disasters that have extracted a substantial loss of life and property. Commissions from several countries banded together forming a cooperative coalition to investigate the issues to devise and implement as solution or at least a means to ameliorate the impact. As noted above it never works out as planed when humanity attempts to stop or lessen the brunt of nature’s fury. The commission announces their solution, ‘Dutch Boy’, a system of satellites capable of effecting climate control. The first real test occurs and ‘Dutch Boy’ successfully neutralizes a massive typhoon before it can hit Shanghai. The designer of the system, Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler), is subpoenaed before a Senate sub-committee. Anxious to prove his system and justified by the potential massive death, he activated ‘Dutch Boy’ before obtaining permission. Jake is removed from his position as project director replaced by his brother, Max (Jim Sturgess). It is extremely common in this genre to exploit sibling rivalry as a source of human based drama. Within context of disaster flick storylines, the inexorable cataclysm is dwarfed by relationship issues. Under the best conditions this is a tremendously arduous to successfully achieved. In this instance, the believability of the circumstances exasperating the intra-family jealousy is incredulous.
Skipping ahead three years a United Nations field team stationed in Afghanistan comes across the impossible, a village frozen solid, borrowing a plot point from a somewhat better film\of the same ilk, ‘The Day After Tomorrow’. Through a series of blatant plot contrivances, the narrative is infused with the trappings of espionage. On the International Climate Space Station (ICSS)an astronaut from India steals the data set from the satellite monitoring Afghanistan immediately followed by his ejection into space. Max convinces United States President Andrew Palm (Andy Garcia) to launch a formal investigation followed by asking Jake to go to the ICSS to investigate the evidence that the frozen community was caused by the misapplication of a ‘Dutch Boy’ satellite. On cue, another anomalous disaster strikes, the temperatures in Hong Kong drastically increase spawning tunnels of whirling combination of wind and fire referred to as a firenado. A supposed it was fortunate that the movie didn’t worsen the scenario by having Cajun blacked sharks fall from the skies, a flaming Sharknado.
The danger escalates as the supervisor of the Hong Kong division of Dutch Boy and college friend of Max, Cheng Long (Daniel Wu), losses his computer authorization at a critical moment before being murder in a rather mundane fashion. The project is out of control inevitably speeding to a full global apocalyptic event referred as a Geostorm. If more time had been spent on designing safeguards, overrides and systems checks instead of sound bite ready names for humanity’s doom, the whole thing could have been avoided. By that I mean the film, not the in-context disaster. There are a muddy myriad of side plots whose only purpose is to provide some modicum of justification for the character portrayed by the list of readily recognizable names. In several instances a character may carry more than one narrative function. For example, U.S. Secret Service Agent and Max’s fiancée, Sarah Wilson (Abbie Cornish) or Hannah Lawson (Talitha Bateman), the tween daughter of Jake and naturally Max’s nice. This talented burgeoning actress fills another slot for cast members in a disaster film, a actor in the midst of breaking out. Moving away from the requisite science fiction elements by including political intrigue permitted manufacturing parts for award winning actors with considerable gravitas. This cleared the way for Ed Harris as U.S. Secretary of State Leonard Dekkom and Richard Schiff as Virginia Senator Thomas Cross. Just don’t blame them for the shortcomings of the film, actors do have the driving desire to act.