It may seem counterintuitive but watching a natural disaster film during a global natural disaster can actually be uplifting. Greenland, starring Gerard Butler and Morena Baccarin, manages to do just that.
On the surface, the film is about a comet hurtling toward earth and its apocalyptic impact. But there are deeper levels to the film. At its core, Greenland is about a family coming together during an emotional and perilous journey through uncharted territory. Even as an entire planet faces an inconceivable threat, Gerard Butler’s John Garrity is resolute in keeping his wife and young son safe.
The film’s mix of intimate familial drama and catastrophic spectacle is as unexpected as it is captivating. The odyssey of the Garrity family resonates and makes the chaos enveloping them be all the more plausible.
Greenland is available for video on-demand streaming on most outlets. Ric Roman Waugh, the director of the film, spoke with SCINQ.
How did you get involved with the film?
Gerald Butler and I had just finished Angel Has Fallen and we really wanted to work together again. We’ve known each other for almost 10 years before that. Sometimes you get that opportunity then realize that you don’t have chemistry, that just doesn’t work out. We were very fortunate that it just fell in the sink right away so once we finish that movie, we were already talking about what to do next. We didn’t want to do a follow up Angel Has Fallen with another big summer action movie. We wanted to do something different.
I in my back of my head I always wanted to do something in the disaster realm around the sci-fi realm but with a different skew so that it’s more like A Quiet Place or Children of Men or even War of the Worlds.
I read this script, Greenland, that Basil was producing and it just blew me away because it was exactly what I was looking for. I called Basil and said “Look, I’d love to jump on this with you if you don’t mind, I think Gerald Butler is perfect for it. We got him to read over a weekend and he fell in love with it just as much as we did. It became this passion project and I think that’s how these movies have to happen. They have to come from passion.
When you read the script that was the original script as characters centric as the final product is?
It was. We never deviated from that. The only thing that we really changed was some of the ride. You know where I put my own stamp as a filmmaker. One of the things that I think a lot of these movies have that horror movies, usually like A Quiet Place has the benefit of a monster that can attack you at any time. Comet movies or asteroid movies are usually about the big one, you know, and you’re usually not dealing with that until the very end so you’re trying to get down all these other ways to throw the audience.
When we started doing our research into Near Earth Objects and also the extinction of the dinosaurs. What really took down the earth? How did all that go down? The thing that we discovered is how many of these Near Earth Objects wind up hitting each other. At some point, over millions of years and then start to break apart, and become fragments, and immediately it was like a eureka moment. I realized that we can take creative license because let’s face it a big movie like this is not trying to be a documentary. You’re not trying to have it 100% spot on but you’re trying to give enough authenticity.
Now you can have a monster with the earth spinning on its axis that can smack you any given time. You’ve given the audience a thrill ride and once the fragments start hitting, they can come at any given moment just like a monster in a horror movie. And you’re still going to have that final impact that could actually take out the earth and extinction event. Science worked to our advantage in finding creative ways of having a construct of the movie that can give us that. In the end though, it was always from the family’s point of view, and trying to get to Greenland where the rip was the you know the bunkers until the Air Force Base,
Early in the process before you found your fragmented monster. And what were your options before that?
We didn’t have any options. There wasn’t any Near Earth Object option. It was more about the things that would happen prior — people panicking and trying to get to safety and so forth. When we started doing the research is when we came up with the idea of fragments, where we can have them start melting the Earth and in all kinds of shapes and sizes that can devastate cities or can be so small that if it hits your car sparks but nothing happens to the other ones.
The other thing that was very apparent to me that I didn’t want to lose, that I wanted to go hand in hand with our main monster (The comet), was the other monster in the movie — humanity. It’s about the moment facing life or death when we turn on one another or we help each other. We’re dealing with these issues in our society today.
How deep into the science did your research go for the comet?
We went far enough to understand how comets act and behave, to the point of how they change course by the heat of the sun as they’re passing into our solar system to the idea that they become fragments. We talked a lot about the difference between having something as a slow moving asteroid versus something like a comet that come out of nowhere.
When you start taking creative license you try to form a base of authenticity. You have to go in knowing that you’re not making a documentary. You’re trying to make something that can feel grounded and real. I don’t know if we’re ever gonna meet aliens, and I don’t think we’re going to be chased by monsters, but we’re gonna get hit by another rock it’s just a matter of when it’s happened before it’s happened a number of times, and will happen again.
There are moments in the film, like the molten rain to sequence, you mentioned earlier, where you really get a sense of helplessness. But it never actually descends into homelessness, was this by design?
Yeah, I mean, maybe I’m a romantic. I really wanted to show the resilience of humans as a society and that we can survive anything that comes our way. We also wanted to show the futility. We are very fragile and small as a species compared to what’s out there that can potentially harm us. We wanted to communicate a sense of futility but we never wanted to lose hope.
Were there any parts of the film that were particularly difficult to film?
I would say that the bigger pieces — the monster on the sky — because you’re dealing with something where you’re not giving the actors enough things to see on the ground. We had real explosions. We have real physical effects, a lot of things happening all the way throughout, but you’re still taking his creative license. Things are raining down from the sky or what the monster looks like in the sky.
It’s like the story you hear about the actors doing Jurassic Park for the first time when they’re looking at the tennis balls instead of a big monster big dinosaur not to eat them. You have to infuse your imagination with the cast and crew. You have to have them kind of seeing the same monster, seeing the same vision for our work, our concept art, and all the things that we had in our production office. What the bunkers look like, what the monsters look like, what pyroclastic clouds look like, what the map of clouds look like.
What is it like promoting and bringing a disaster film to market during a pandemic?
At the very beginning in March, COVID really scared me. Putting a disaster movie in the middle of a disaster. And then a month and a half went by, because we were all stuck at home and we were trying to finish this movie from our couches, basically on our laptops. When it finally came around to where we can get back into Technicolor in Los Angeles to finish the movie. I remember watching the playback of the movie. I got emotional because all my fears went away about the movie.
Greenland is truly a love story about humanity, and it’s also about hope it’s about that. Humans are strong enough and resilient enough to overcome any obstacle that comes our way.