Thursday, December 14, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: Geostorm

I'm woefully behind on my movie reviews, and this one's probably only playing in second-run theaters at this point. I sat through the damned thing though, so I'm gonna make you all share my pain.

Geostorm was written by Paul Guyot and Dean Devlin, and was directed by Dean Devlin. Wellllll, sort of. A bit more about that later.

Guyot has worked primarily in TV, writing episodes of Felicity, Judging Amy, Leverage and The Librarians, which of course makes him the perfect choice to pen a global disaster movie. Geostorm appears to be his first theatrical script.

Devlin is a prolific writer, produce and sometime actor. He previously wrote Universal Soldier, Stargate, Independence Day, Godzilla and Independence Day: Resurgence. It's honestly amazing how his output seems to decrease in quality with each successive project. Geostorm is his first theatrical directing gig. It's also most likely his last.


Back in the 1970s, disaster movies were relatively small-scale affairs, typically confined to a single location. For example, the Airport movies all took place aboard various planes. The Poseidon Adventure concerned the survivors of an ocean liner that was flipped upside down by a tidal wave. The Towering Inferno was all about an out of control fire inside a high-rise office building. Earthquake featured a tremor hitting downtown LA.

Sadly, low-level catastrophes such as those don't fly in this brave new century. These days disaster movies have to endanger the Entire Planet, else there's no point in making them!

Geostorm is the latest entry in this "Worldwide Disaster Movie" genre that's infested the cineplex the past couple of decades. Once again we don't get the destruction of a well-known landmark or a single city, laws no! Instead the entire goddamned planet is threatened with annihilation! Think Independence Day, Deep Impact, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012 and San Andreas, and you'll have a pretty good idea what this movie's like.

In fact, Geostorm may be the first disaster movie that looks like it was cobbled together from the trailers of other similar films!

I have a feeling that Geostorm may mark the end of the Disaster Movie trend. In the past it was fun to see the entire world go boom in films like 2012. But here we are in 2017, where we're seeing large scale, real life geologic and meteorologic disasters on a daily basis. Movies like this were entertaining to watch when it was all fake, but now that such destruction is a very real possibility, well... suddenly it ain't quite as much fun any more.

The story behind Geostorm is honestly more interesting than the film itself. Principal photography began way back in October of 2014 (!) and wrapped in February of 2015. After a disastrous test screening in December 2015, Warner Bros. decided to reshoot and retool the film.

Jerry Bruckheimer was brought in to produce the reshoots. Bruckheimer previously produced Armageddon, the National Treasure films and the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies, among many, many others. He brought in Laeta Kalogridis (Alexander, Shutter Island and Terminator Genysis) to pen the rewrites, along with Danny Cannon (Judge Dredd, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, various CSI TV series) to direct.

Many scenes were reshot, subplots were dropped or changed and several new characters were added to the story. Warner tried to damage control the situation by claiming the reshoots were just traditional "pick-up shots" that all films do these days. Nice try, guys. Pick-up shots are usually always built into the film's schedule, and are part of the overall budget. They typically don't cost the studio extraGeostorm's extensive reshoots added an extra $15 million to the film's $82 million budget. 

Geostorm was set for release on March 25, 2016. Warner Bros. later cancelled that date and replaced it with Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice (!). Wow, so they substituted crap with an even bigger turd. Impressive! Geostorm then bounced around the Warner release schedule like a pachinko ball, as it was rescheduled to October 2016. It was then bumped to January 2017, and finally October 20, 2017. 

As we all know by now, any time a movie is rescheduled multiple times, it's always a bad, bad sign.
 
Geostorm is a shockingly huge box office disaster (no pun intended) here in the States, where it only managed to gross a ridiculously low $33 million, against it's $120 million budget! WOW! Now that's embarrassing!

Fortunately for Warner Bros., the film's inexplicably done much better overseas, where it's grossed $174 million. That gives it a worldwide total of $207 million. Despite that, it STILL hasn't turned a profit yet. Due to marketing and other hidden costs, these days a movie has to gross twice its production budget just to break even. This means Geostorm needs to pass the $240 million mark before it starts actually making money. At this point, that seems unlikely. In fact, Warner Bros. has estimated they could lose $100 million on the film! Just think, if they'd dumped the original "bad" version to theaters instead of wasting $15 million on reshoots, they'd probably have made a bit of their money back!

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
We open with a prologue, as Hannah, who'll we'll meet a bit later, helpfully informs us that in the far off year of 2019, climate change becomes so bad that entire cities are actually destroyed by violent storms. Eighteen nations then banded together to build "Dutch Boy," a series of weather satellites orbiting the planet, controlled by the International Climate Space Station. Whenever a destructive storm is detected, Dutch Boy launches a series of weather-altering probes into the area to neutralize it. For some reason, the United States government is given control of the Climate Space Station and Dutch Boy.

Jake Lawson (played by Gerard Butler), the creator of Dutch boy, is summoned to Washington DC to testify before a Senate committee. His younger brother Max (played by Jim Sturgess) tells Jake to play it cool and not anger the senators. During the hearing, Senator Thomas Cross is angry that Jake took it upon himself to activate Dutch Boy before it was scheduled to go online. Jake claims he did it to neutralize a hurricane heading for Shanghai. Dutch Boy worked perfectly and the city was saved, so he doesn't see why there's a problem.

This flusters Senator Cross so much that he places Max in charge of Dutch Boy (just why he'd hire the brother of the man he doesn't trust is never explained). As Max's first action, he's forced to fire Jake, which causes a rift between the two brothers.

Three years later, in the even farther off world of 2022, a team of American soldiers check out an Afghani village in the middle of a 120 degree desert. Somehow all the inhabitants of the village have been inexplicably frozen solid in their tracks, which seems unlikely. Meanwhile, onboard the Climate Space Station, an engineer named Makmoud accidentally discovers someone's sabotaging Dutch Boy for unknown reasons, and begins gathering evidence. He hides it in his locker for safe keeping, just as someone blows out all the windows in the room, causing Makmoud to be sucked into the vacuum of space.

President Andrew Palma (played by Andy Garcia) meets with his staff about these alarming incidents. Secretary Of State Leonard Dekkom (played by Ed Harris) says it was probably just a simple glitch in one of the Dutch Boy satellites that hovers over Afghanistan. Dekkom talks to Max, and says since Jake invented Dutch Boy, he's the only one who can fix it.

Max reluctantly drives out to Jake's trailer in Florida, where he lives with his daughter Hannah. Max pleads with Jake to help, and he rightly so tells him to piss off. Max appeals to the humanitarian in Jake, saying Dutch Boy's gone nuts and has the potential to kill millions. Jake sighs and finally agrees. He says a tearful goodbye to Hannah, as she makes him promise to return.

Cut to Cheng Long, the head of Dutch Boy's Hong Kong division, as he exits a grocery store. He wonders why it's so hot out (um... because it's Hong Kong?), and as he wipes his brow he accidentally drops a carton of eggs. He looks down and is stunned to see the eggs frying. 
Did you get that? It's literally hot enough to fry and egg on the sidewalk! Thanks, movie! 

Cheng realizes that Dutch Boy's targeting Hong Kong, and he has to get out of the city now. Just then gas mains erupt and blast through the pavement as a massive earthquake hits. Cheng jumps in his car and races through town, narrowly avoiding explosions, gaping chasms and falling buildings. He makes it to the safety of a bridge, which earthquakes apparently can't cross, and he and several others stare at all the greenscreen destruction in awe.

Jake then enters a space shuttle and sees he's the only passenger aboard. He's then flown (at great taxpayer expense) to the International Climate Space Station. There he meets the station commander Ute Fassbinder and her international crew: Duncan Taylor (white British male), Ray Dussette (French male of vaguely Arabic descent), Eni Adisa (Nigerian female) and Al Hernandez (Mexican male). Obviously one of these people is the saboteur, but which one? Welp, the Social Justice Warriors in the audience will howl if we make one of the ethic characters the villain, so Duncan it is then!

Jake and the crew use a robot grappler to bring the faulty Hong Kong satellite into the station to examine it. Once inside, the robotic arm goes crazy and whips around the hangar, nearly killing everyone. It also destroys the satellite, meaning they can't examine it for glitches. Gosh, that's not the least bit suspicious at all!

Just then Tokyo's hit by a massive hailstorm, complete with chunks of ice large enough to obliterate cars and buses. In Hong Kong, Cheng warns Max that if these events continue, a massive and destructive weather event will soon cover the entire planet— a GEOSTORM! if you will! Just then Cheng discovers he's locked out of the Dutch Boy satellites. Suddenly his office is invaded by armed mercenaries who try to kill him, and he barely escapes.

Max approaches Dana, a hacker in the Department of Defense Cyber Security Department (which I guess is a thing), and asks her for help. She discovers that Max is locked out of Dutch Boy as well, meaning the entire system's somehow been hacked.

Onboard the station, Jake and Utte watch a surveillance video of Makmoud's accident. Jake sees a hard drive was ejected when the room depressurized, and it's stuck to the outside of the station (?). He dons a spacesuit and goes out to retrieve it. Suddenly the boosters in his suit go haywire, and he nearly flies off into deep space before being rescued.

Inside the station, Jake shows Ute that he successfully retrieved the drive, but warns her not to tell the rest of the crew. They secretly try to read the drive, but can't figure out how to retrieve the data. Jake then makes the incredibly intuitive leap that someone inside the White House is responsible for all of Dutch Boy's problems. For some reason, Jake suspects that President Palma is the culprit. Jake sends a coded message to Max, telling him to be on the lookout for a traitor in Washington.

In the meantime, Jake and the others attempt to neutralize the hundreds of Dutch Boy satellites before they can destroy the planet. They do this by sending out replacement satellites to crash into them (?). Um... how is replacing a potentially deadly satellite with another one going to fix anything?

Quick note here: If this particular recap seems more nonsensical than usual or reads choppily, as if whole scenes are missing, it's not my fault. It's just the way the movie played out! Blame the reshoots!

Cheng calls Max and says he's in Washington, and wants to meet in person. How the hell Cheng got from Hong Kong to DC in just a few hours is left to our imaginations. Maybe he teleported? Or did he take a space shuttle? Max arrives at their meeting place just in time to see a hired goon push Cheng into the path of a car. Max rushes to Cheng's side to comfort him. Before he dies, he tells Max about something called "Project Zeus." Max meets again with Dana, and she taps a few keys on her computer and discovers Project Zeus is a program meant to manipulate the world's weather and create a GEOSTORM!

On the space station, Jake and Ute find Makmoud's evidence in his locker. They discover that someone infected the station's computer with a virus to prevent anyone from logging in. Jake says in order to prevent Dutch Boy from triggering a GEOSTORM!, they need to reboot the system. The only way to do that though is with the "kill codes." Unfortunately, President Palma is the only one who has the codes. Even worse, the codes are biometric, and also require Palma's fingerprints and retina scan in order to work.

Jake relays this info to Max, who contacts his girlfriend, Secret Service Agent Sarah Wilson. He tells Sarah the entire planet's in danger, and he needs her help to convince Palma to use the kill codes on Dutch Boy. Unfortunately, Palma's currently speaking at the Democratic National Convention in Orlando, and is surrounded by hundreds of security guards.

Max and Sarah somehow travel from Washington DC to Orlando in a matter of minutes (maybe they teleported too?). They enter the Convention Center and try to contact the President, but they can't get anywhere near him. Max sees Dekkom and says he needs his help, as the massive GEOSTORM! is heading their way. Dekkom takes Max backstage and tries to kill him. Gasp! The guy we've seen in a total of two or three scenes is actually the traitor, not the President! How surprising, I guess?

Max somehow manages to escape from Dekkom. He and Sarah then create a diversion and kidnap the President to get him away from the area (!). They all pile into an electric cab and speed off (well... they drive off at the cab's top speed of a safe and sane twenty five miles per hour, that is). The second they're away, the Convention Center's destroyed by a massive lightning bolt (?). There's a big action setpiece as Sarah races through the city, narrowly avoiding explosive lightning bolts as well as Dekkom's goons.

Suddenly they spot Dekkom ahead, as he fires an RPG at them (?). Not to worry though— somehow Max, Sarah and Palma managed to leap out of the cab before it exploded (maybe they teleported again?). Luckily the police arrive, and Palma orders them to arrest Dekkom. Palma asks him why he did it, and Dekkam says he planned to use Dutch Boy to wipe out the country's enemies, and "Make America Great Again." With him as the new President, of course.

Meanwhile, the computer virus causes Dutch Boy to go completely nuts, as it initiates destructive weather events all over the world. There's a massive heatwave in Moscow, while a deadly cold front literally freezes people in their tracks in Brazil. A gigantic tsunami hits Dubai, threatening to topple the Burj Khalifa building. Jakes tries to stop Dutch Boy, but the virus has locked him out. According to the computer, they have just ninety minutes until all the various weather events merge into one, and the GEOSTORM! scours the world.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the virus also activates the Climate Space Station's self destruct countdown. Jake and Ute try to stop the sequence, but again, they're locked out.

Jake then learns that Duncan was the one who infected the system with the virus (told you!). When Jake grabs him by the collar and asks him why, Duncan says he did it because Dekkam offered him a bigger paycheck. Jake and Duncan then duke it out for a few minutes. Duncan shoots at Jake, accidentally shattering a window. Jake manages to leap out of the room a second before Duncan's sucked into space. Take that, you cheap serial villain!

On Earth, Max and Sarah get Palma to send the kill codes to Jake. He and Ute get everyone on the station into the escape pods, while they stay behind and enter the codes. They manage to stop the GEOSTORM! with just seconds to spare. Just then the station begins to self destruct. Jake and Ute battle their way through the crumbling station, but all the escape pods are gone. They manage to make it to one of the remaining replacement satellites, and blast off just as the entire station explodes. Did they make it? Were they killed? What did the test audiences and the reshoots decide?

On Earth, Max is devastated, as he assumes Jake blew up real good along with the station. Jake's daughter Hannah watches the explosion on TV and bursts into tears, thinking her father's dead.

Just then a fleeing space shuttle gets a faint message. It's Jake and Ute, stuffed inside the satellite. The shuttle turns around (Nope! Not how they work!) and rescues them.

Six months later, Jake gets his old job back as he's in charge of rebuilding the Dutch Boy system. He, Max and Hannah then try fishing, which is something they've always wanted to do as a family, but never tried. After literally ten seconds, they decide fishing's boring and quit.

The young girl's voice (that we now recognize as Hannah's) tells us that no one can change the past, but we can all make the future better.

Thoughts:
• For a movie called Geostorm, there's really not all that much geostorming in it. Virtually every weather related special effects shot is in the trailer. Despite its high price tag, this isn't a very epic film, as it looks cheap and uninspired.

If this movie had come out back in the 1980s, the public would have lost its collective mind at the amazing visual effects. Here in 2017 though, scenes like these are a dime a dozen. Who'd have thought the end of the world could look so... dull?


• In the opening narration, Jake's daughter Hannah says that in 2019 the Earth's climate went wild, wiping out entire cities. She then says, "The world came together as we fought back." 

That's an interesting choice of words. The Earth isn't an evil entity using its storm powers to battle us. The world's extreme weather is just the end result of our own carelessness. We did this to ourselves.

• One nice touch in the film: when Max visits Jake at his quirky trailer in Florida, we see the place is covered with solar panels. That's exactly what you'd expect from such an aggressive environmentalist like Jake. Well done!

• I'm assuming the weather controlling system is called "Dutch Boy" after the legend of the same name. In the story, a young boy in Holland is walking to school when he notices a small leak in a nearby dyke. He plugs the leak with his finger, preventing it from becoming bigger and eventually flooding his town. Eventually the authorities arrive and are able to seal the leak, and thank the Dutch Boy for his quick thinking.

The moral of the story is that disaster can be averted if it's dealt with quickly enough, which fits in nicely with the theme of the movie.

The story comes from the book Hans Brinker, Or The Silver Skates, which was written in 1865 by American author Mary Mapes Dodge. Oddly enough the tale of the Little Dutch Boy is very popular in the U.S., but is virtually unknown in the Netherlands! Weird!

• According to Geostorm, in the incredibly distant year of 2022 we'll have entire fleets of space shuttles that regularly blast off into orbit and back like commuter buses. Impressive!

Also in just five short years we'll have Holo-Frames— devices a little smaller than an ink pen, that can be unrolled into a smart phone. 

Note that the Holo-Frame screen is transparent. Sigh... Why do producers always equate transparent with "futuristic?" I see this all the time in sci-fi movies and TV shows. Characters constantly squint at transparent monitors as the background interferes with what they're trying to read. Good luck trying to see that black text when it's in front of a dark wall!

Who thinks a transparent screen is a good idea?

• When Jake arrives at the Climate Space Station, Ute introduces him to her international staff. Among them is Duncan Taylor, the film's Designated Asshole™. Duncan's a proud and arrogant Brit, and objects to a "gung ho" American like Jake taking over the station. For no good reason, Jake explains that he and his brother Max were born in the UK, but immigrated to America when they were young.

This is called "lampshading" in the writing biz. It's a way to deliberately call attention to a story flaw before the audience has a chance to do so. In effect it robs the audience of their ammo. In this case, Jake's immigration line was a bit of lampshading, presumably to try and explain actor Gerard Butler's dodgy attempt at an American accent.

• When Hong Kong starts to heat up, Cheng realizes he's got to get out of the city immediately. He jumps in his tiny Hello Kittymobile, er, I mean his electric Smart Car and races through downtown Hong Kong, narrowly outrunning massive underground eruptions and collapsing streets.

Yeah, I don't think so. That little wind-up car couldn't outrun a pensioner in a Rascal Mobility Scooter, much less  an exploding city.

For some reason, any time Jake needs to contact Max back on Earth, he does so by entering a special room and standing in front of a massive, wall-sized video screen. 

OK, so maybe there's no cell phone reception in space. But surely there had to be a less elaborate and clunky way of contacting Max. Couldn't Jake have just Skyped him on his computer?

Technology tends to become more convenient over time. There's nothing convenient about having to stand up in front of a giant video wall and yell back and forth to one another. 

• Apparently the world of Geostorm is a small one, as characters flit back and forth across the globe in minutes.

At one point, hired goons try to kill Cheng in Hong Kong to shut him up. A couple hours later he meets with Max in Washington DC. Hmm. Average travel time from HK to DC: at least eighteen hours. Did he teleport there?

Later Max and Sarah— still in DC— discover Dekkom's going to kill President Palma at the Democratic Convention in Orlando. Before you can say "floo powder," the two of them show up in Florida. OK, that one's only about a three to four hour flight, but it seems to happen a lot faster than that in the film.

I suppose we could hand-wave this plot hole away and just say travel's just a lot faster in the future. The future of five years from now, that is. It still seems mighty suspect to me though.

• At one point the Climate Space Station's self destruct sequence is activated, and parts of it begin exploding. Hannah (that's her pointing at the TV at lower left) tearfully watches the even on live TV, knowing her father's somewhere inside the doomed station.

So... how's the TV network getting this perfectly framed shot of the Climate Station hanging in outer space? Does Channel 3 in Atlanta have their own satellite.

• In the third act, Dutch Boy starts going crazy and causing unusual and destructive weather events all over the world. Moscow heats up to dangerous levels, India's ravaged by tornadoes and Orlando is hit by a massive lighting storm. At one point the Convention Center's hit by a single lightning bolt, which causes the entire building to violently explode, killing everyone inside.

Pretty sure that's not how lighting works. Maybe the Center was filled with thousands of barrels of napalm for an upcoming weapons convention?

• In Brazil, Dutch Boy causes the temperature to drop so quickly that beachgoers are literally frozen solid in mid-step (!).

This is obviously meant to be horrifying, but the way it's filmed it's downright cartoonish! Seriously, it looks for all the world like something you'd see in a Roadrunner cartoon!

• In Dubai, a massive (and I do mean massive) tidal wave wipes out the city.

Yeah... I don't think so. See, tsunamis are caused by underwater earthquakes. They have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with any known weather phenomenon. So unless Dutch Boy could somehow cause an earthquake...

By the way, were you wondering (like I was) how the hell a desert city like Dubai could be menaced by a tidal wave? Welp, I checked with Google Maps, and it's right on the coast of the Persian Gulf. The Burj Khalifa is about two miles inland. So at least they got that part right.
• When Dekkom is captured, the heroes ask him why he sabotaged Dutch Boy. He says he wanted to wipe out America's enemies and "turn back the clock to 1945," when the U.S. was a shining beacon on a hill, and not a bank disguised as a country." 

Credit where it's due, that was a damn good line of dialogue!


• Once the GEOSTORM! is averted, fires go out, tornadoes dissipate and flood waters recede as things go back to normal. Well, almost. Apparently the tsunami in Dubai knocked the Burj Khalifa tower over at an alarming 30ยบ angle, but somehow it didn't collapse or fall over. Eh, no worries. I'm sure it'll be just fine like that from now on.

• I don't know for sure which scenes were original and which were reshoots, but I'll bet anything the ending was changed. I have a feeling Jake probably died in the original version of the film, and his improbable survival was added during the reshoots.

I'm betting Jake's relationship with Ute was likely beefed up as well in the reshoots. From the minute she introduces herself to Jake, the two of them are laughing it up and working together like they've known each other for years. When the station starts to self destruct, Ute even offers to sacrifice her life to save Jake's!


There's little or no romance in the film, so it wouldn't surprise me if this was a lame attempt at giving Jake a potential love interest.

Geostorm is yet another entry in the "Worldwide Disaster" movie genre, and feels like a pastiche of at least five or six similar films. The scenes of "epic"destruction are obviously meant to wow us, but feel uninspired and downright dull. Warner Bros. reportedly spent millions on reshoots to improve the film, but they needn't have bothered— no amount of cash could save this soggy disaster. I give it a middling C.

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