Film Review: Geostorm & Co
How Hollywood narrative, and our perception, has drastically changed during the last decades
by Alberto Sclaverano for Citiplat
American producer and screenwriter Dean Devlin’s film debut, Geostorm (2017) was not well received by critics and audience alike. It is the typical Hollywood blockbuster disaster movie. Set in a fictionalized version of 2019, where severe natural disasters have become more common, it depicts the international community’s effort to find a solution through “Dutch Boy”, a hyper-advanced system of climate-controlling satellites created by scientist Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler). His brother Max (Jim Sturgess) is also involved in the management of Dutch Boy, but at the same time, he works for the US Department of State. The two brothers and their friends will be involved in a complex plot to replace the President of the United States at any cost, including the possibility of provoking a “Geostorm”: a global apocalyptic event generated by the malfunction of Dutch Boy. The film is of course not scientifically accurate, nor it is particularly meaningful or well-written, but it can be interesting to reflect on a specific topic in environment-related films: the damages and errors committed by the governments that often make dealing with the climate crisis more difficult.
The main recent example of this plot device is certainly Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up (2021), a brilliant satirical take on the climate crisis. While scientists in the movie try hard to avoid the collision of a comet with the Earth, politicians are depicted are cynical and denialists about the risks. In Don’t Look Up the comet is of course an allegory for climate change, while in Geostorm the danger comes from the malfunction of a system designed to tackle climate-related disasters. In both movies, one satirical and quick-pointed, the other one “serious” yet superficial, the political élite and bureaucrats are portrayed in the worst way possible. They are either corrupt or simply incompetent and uninterested in dealing with the seriousness of the threat. Many other movies seem to apply the same plot scheme. In films such as 2012 (2009) and Moonfall (2022), both by Roland Emmerich, Hollywood’s most known disaster films director, the government is useless at best and dangerous at worst, because it often tries to hide or dismiss the severity of the crisis. In Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic film Interstellar (2014) the mysterious plague that has destroyed Earth’s resources, a metaphor for climate change according to the majority of critics, requires humankind to find a new planet in which we can live. And yet this vital mission is left to a small group of heroes, while the official government is barely mentioned.
So much time seems to have passed from the times of Michael Bay’s Armageddon and Mimi Leder’s Deep Impact. Both films were released in 1998 and were about asteroids threatening Earth. But the government’s response seemed to be way more effective, and even when they failed, they were portrayed in a positive way. For example, let’s just compare the evil Trump-like US president played by Meryl Streep in Don’t Look Up with the good and compassionate White House leader portrayed by Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact. So, what happened in the pop culture narrative about governments and politicians’ efforts to deal with crises, especially the climate one? Perhaps the entertainment industry simply reflects a change in attitude towards the governments by the majority of people. Hollywood, being an effective money-making machine, follows the public desire to see what average persons perceive as an incapacity by the heads of states in confronting one of the most serious dangers humans have encountered. Today, more than ever, politicians seem to be paralyzed and incapable of correctly addressing the severity of the crisis. They appear to think only about electability and their chances in the following election cycle, so their promises of acting are not matched by their actions. Quoting Greta Thunberg’s famous speech at COP26, politicians’ discourses about climate change at this point are just a continuous “blah blah blah”. We are losing faith in our élite’s commitment to dealing with the environmental situation, and so movies simply reflect this sad reality.