A family struggles for survival in the face of a cataclysmic natural disaster. (from IMDb)
Let’s be honest; the disaster genre is a troubled one. If you’re looking at any number of Roland Emmerich films, like 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, or Independence Day, you’re going to get big budget action and destruction, some big name actors doing some extraordinary things, and… terrible dialog and over-the-top sequences. Most of these wide-scale disaster vehicles, be it any of Emmerich’s entries or other “classics,” like Earthquake, Mars Attacks, or Armageddon, try to stuff a great deal of characters and special effects into what is usually a bloated running time. Sure, some of these make for good, cheesy popcorn-munching entertainment that you wouldn’t take too seriously, but they usually lack heart, meaning and a sense of believability. Enter Ric Roman Waugh’s Greenland. While I’m not sure a global, cataclysmic natural disaster movie is what a world in the midst of a pandemic really needs right now, Waugh gives audiences something different with Greenland.
The curiously titled new action drama hones in on just one specific family in Atlanta, GA. John Garrity is a building specialist who is struggling to keep his marriage together (for reasons unbeknownst to the viewer yet), while he tries to be the best father he can be to their 7-year-old diabetic son. When a comet approaching the Earth makes the news, John receives a Presidential Alert that his family has been selected to be included in a limited group of survivors who will be protected in an underground bunker in–you guessed it–Greenland. After the first piece of the comet impacts Florida, sending out a shockwave that reaches the Garrity home, literally knocking John off his feet, the family realizes this is serious business and they hit the road to meet up with a transport to safety. The journey ends up being a complicated, heart-wrenching and harrowing experience.
After the hot mess that was 2017’s Geostorm, which also starred Gerard Butler, it seemed odd to see Butler return to the disaster genre. However, Butler is great here as Garrity, while Morena Baccarin (Firefly, Deadpool franchises) brings all the emotion neccessary for her role as his wife, Allison. Little Roger Dale Floyd is also perfect as Nathan Garrity. It seems to be a difficult task to find child actors that can really pull off the emotion and believability needed for dramatic roles, and Roger knocks it out of the park as Nathan. He’s likable, believable, and adorable here. When tense situations befall the Garrity’s, it’s easy to care about these three.
Waugh keeps the feel of the movie small and intimate while still managing to capture the weight of this being a global event. M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs really kept things intimate and secluded by basing almost the entire film around one smalltown farmhouse and the family that lives there. Greenland keeps this intimacy by following the Garrity trio exclusively for the whole film, but he takes it on the road, much likes Spielberg’s 2005 remake of War of the Worlds. Greenland often reminded me of that film, but with the biggest differences being that the main characters are actually likable here, and there isn’t this constant familial drama between the father and the kids (Oh, and there are no aliens this time). Most disaster films rely heavily on special effects to drive the film’s action, but Waugh actually has a lot of the thrills and action involve people-on-people violence. It makes this much more emotional and distressing, as our main characters are often fighting just to surrive against other people who are just fighting to survive. (And it can be scary and disturbing, because we can believe that people might actually act like this if this were a real life situation.) Some of the story beats might seem a little too familiar — whether it’s something that you may have seen in World War Z or the overall journey-to-safety that drove 2012, or even the pending doom of movies like Knowing and Deep Impact — but it’s interesting to see a different take on these situations and an arguably more grounded feel to it. Waugh employs the shaky cam technique that Paul Greengrass largely took flack for with his Jason Bourne sequels, but it largely works here to give the movie a slightly more gritty, documentarian feel. (The raw handling of the camera often adds to the terror the characters are experiencing.) Emotion fuels Greenland, and as a family of three myself (with a wife and a 10-year-old son), I couldn’t help but find myself empathizing with the Garrity’s and other desparate families they came in contact with.
The movie embraces all that the PG-13 rating will allow for these days (for the most part). There’s at least 1 use of the “F” word, muttered by Scott Glenn’s character, and almost 20 uses of the “S” word, as well as frequent uses of God or Jesus’ name as an exclamation; it feels like the language is rather frequent. Other than using the Lord’s name in vain, the Garrity’s don’t seem to exhibit any faith in God (clearly their hope is not in Him), but Allison’s father makes a comment to her about it being the Good Lord’s will for him to be where he is. There are also passing comments on the news and such to praying during the tragedies, but otherwise, the film doesn’t offer much by way of spiritual content. There’s a good amount of violence here, particularly when some characters struggle over a regular household hammer and swing it at each other. The scuffle ends when we see the sharp end embedded in a man’s head (much to the suprise of everyone involved), and then that man drops over dead. It’s not extremely gory, but it’s definitely surprising when it happens, and rather unsettling. Other scenes show pieces of the comet striking land and causing massive shockwaves that level cities and knock people off their feet. And in one scene, pieces of firey comet fragments rain down on cars and people running in the streets and we see some people get hit and catch on fire. There are some other bloody scrapes and scratches throughout the film, and one scene shows John rescuing a bloodied victim from a crashed, burning car (and we see burns on John’s hands as a result). There isn’t really any sexual content, but we hear about a character having had an affair while married, but we don’t see it or hear much else about it (and it isn’t glorified or approved of).
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Greenland. For a disaster movie, it’s a cut above the usual outings. Those looking for big budget destruction sequences with falling buildings and debris everywhere may be bored by the more human and emotional focus of this story (for a decent disaster spectacle, you may be better off with San Andreas), but those looking for a deeper world-ending disaster movie, Greenland delivers a moving, engaging, and harrowing disaster drama.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 2/10/21)
iTunes / Digital Copy Bonus Features Review
Greenland is now available on Blu-Ray, DVD, and Digital HD. Along with the feature film in a Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack, there are a few bonus features:
Greenland in Digital 4K! (1:59:29) – I was pleasantly surprised that, when I redeemed my iTunes digital code for Greenland, I was immediately gifted the 4K UHD copy of the film, despite it only being available in regular HD on the Blu-Ray disc. It makes for a lovely and crisp 4K transfer and, while I’m not sold on 4K streaming over 4K discs (I still believe the discs are much crisper and more colorful), it’s definitely a solid UHD picture.
Humanity (1:21) – The lone featurette is a tiny one and is basically a short promo with cast and crew talking about the film. We get to see a little bit of behind the scenes footage here. (1 “Oh my G-d”) It would have been nice to have a proper behind-the-scenes featurette, but I guess this is better than nothing.
Deleted Scenes (7:52) – There are 3 deleted scenes with introductions from Director Ric Roman Waugh for each one. In the “Director’s Intro,” Waugh laments that there were a few scenes he had to cut. “Colin” takes place in the back of the truck John rides in, with Colin talking to him about his regrets in life. “Poker” is a short additional moment when John meets up with Dale and his buddies playing poker. (1 “F” word) Lastly, “Original Ending” takes place 9 months later, just like the final film, but instead of the bunker opening, we see that the survivors are already out of the bunker and have been spending months building a new colony with a farm and small structures. Overall, I think the ending they used was better and most of what was cut out wasn’t needed.
To round out the features, there’s the inclusion of a Feature Commentary with Director Ric Roman Waugh and Producer Basil Iwanyk (1:59:29).
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 2/13/21)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: Allison shows some cleavage in her sports top while on the treadmill (and has some cleavage in some of her other outfits in the film); A man confronts another man about how he cheated on his wife, telling him he can’t just hop into bed with another woman when his marriage gets difficult (the man shows remorse for his mistake)
Vulgarity/Language: 1 “F” word, 18 “S” words, 2 “J-sus,” 2 “Oh J-sus,” 4 “g*dd*mn,” 13 “Oh my G-d,” 4 “Oh G-d,” 1 “My G-d,” 1 “G-d,” 1 “For Chr-st’s Sake,” 3 “d*mn,” 3 “h*ll,” 1 “p*ssed”
Alcohol/Drugs: John goes to get beer while at the store with his son Nathan (but they’re interrupted by the news)
Blood/Gore: We see an older woman who has been shot lying on the ground with blood on her and her husband crying over her; After a vehicle accident, John wakes up in the grass by the side of the road with blood on his head and face; A man threatening another man is accidentally hit in the head with the sharp end of a hammer. We see the hammer sticking out if the side of his head and he falls over dead (with the hammer still sticking out of his head, which we see a different angle of); John sees a dead man lying on the ground with his eyes open and blood all over his head; Ali has blood on her head; John rescues a man from a burning car. His hand has some burn marks. The man has some blood on his head; We see blood on a car seat in an empty car; A plane crash lands and we find that the pilot and co-pilot are dead and have blood all over their faces. The pilot appears to have been impaled by a large shard of ice.
Violence: An impact wave blows through a neighborhood and knocks John down on his front lawn; We see impact footage on the news that levels a city in flames; John looks up to see an ominous orange sky; A woman hysterically hits the Garrity’s car for them to stop and help her; John drives by some stores where we see rioting, looting and fires; We see the city horizon with small pockets of fires lighting up the sky; People rush large planes on the runway and soldiers fire at them to try to control the crowd. One soldier gets hit and drops a fuel hose he is holding, spilling it all over the runway. There’s mass panic with people being shot. The fuel then catches fire and blows up the plane (most likely with still some people on it or nearby; We hear shooting inside a pharmacy and pandemonium as people scatter. We see an older woman who has been shot lying on the ground with blood on her and her husband crying over her; We see another big comet impact; A man threatens a woman with a knife and drags her out of a car, kicking and screaming and throws her to the ground in the grass on the side of the road. They take her child and drive off (a very emotional and intense sequence); A man threatens John with a hammer and they struggle over it, with hitting and kicking in the back of a truck. The truck then goes off the road with all of the people spilling out the back of it. John wakes up in the grass by the side of the road with blood on his head and face; John struggles with a man to get control of the hammer. Two men then flank him and taunt him. John swings the hammer around to defend himself. He accidentally hits one of the attacking men in the head. We see the hammer sticking out if it and he falls over dead (with the hammer still sticking out of his head); John sees a dead man lying on the ground with his eyes open and blood all over his head; We see more comet fragments in the sky entering the Earth’s atmosphere; John breaks into a house by smashing the window in the door to get in; On the news, we see cell phone video of fire hitting the person filming. We see other homemade footage of destruction from around the world, including fires and devastation; We see another comet impact and wave and some minor destruction; Mini flaming rocks hit the highway and blow up cars and cause people to run and fall. Some get hit and catch on fire. We see a helicopter crash, as well as a large number of impacts from these smaller flaming rocks. A car gets hit and crashes into another car; John rescues a man from a burning car. His hand has some burn marks. The man has some blood on his head; We see the horizon with lots of fires spread across for miles; There’s a big comet impact with a shockwave that hits a plane carrying people, causing major turbulence, jostling everyone inside. The plane crash lands and we find that the pilot and co-pilot are dead and have blood all over their faces. The pilot appears to have been impaled by a large shard of ice; We see a massive flaming comet in the sky; We see the impact image on a computer screen; We see many views of massive, cataclysmic city decimation imagery from various known cities across the world.