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A husband must get his estranged wife and son to safety before a disaster strikes that will destroy the whole world. It sounds a lot like the plot to 2012, or any other number of spectacular, global-scale disaster movies. Greenland, which comes out on VOD on Dec. 18, follows a similar formula. The difference is, unlike 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, or Armageddon, Greenland isn't exactly fun to watch — but that's kind of the point. Greenland is a much more serious sort of disaster movie than something like Geostorm, even though Gerard Butler played the lead in both films.
"What?" Butler asks with a laugh in mock-disagreement when SYFY WIRE makes the comparison between the two films during a Zoom interview. "Geostorm is one of the classiest ever made."
Jokes aside, Butler agrees that Greenland is a different sort of disaster movie than the popcorn fare viewers might be used to. The Scottish actor stars as John Garrity, a fairly normal man living near Atlanta, Georgia. He and his wife Alison (Gotham's Morena Baccarin) are temporarily separated, but they're making an attempt to make things work at a big neighborhood party where they'll watch fragments of a massive passing comet safely enter the Earth's atmosphere. Except the astronomers made a mistake, and there's a chunk of the comet set to destroy all life when it hits in just a few days' time — and smaller pieces are raining down in the meantime. John, however, gets a notification that he and his family, including his young son Nathan, have been invited to a top-secret bunker in Greenland where they'll be able to survive. The three of them just need to get there as society falls apart in the face of an apocalypse.
There's destruction in Greenland, but it's the Garritys' journey, rather than voyeuristic cutaways to famous landmarks getting obliterated by space rocks, that make up the vast majority of the movie.
"I think that's why we were attracted to this role," Butler says. "Firstly because of the script and the fact that it does go much deeper and more intimate — it was about character and seeing this journey through the lens of the family. So, from that perspective, you knew it could be incredibly powerful, compelling, and intense. Not always 'fun,' but much memorable and unforgettable."
"When I first read the script, I loved the idea that it was never about the event itself," director Ric Roman Waugh, who also directed Butler in last year's Angel Has Fallen, tells SYFY WIRE. "It feels very much similar to me like A Quiet Place or Children of Men. Both have their own sort of big high-concept engines, but they're always told from the inside out, from a personal point of view. And I love that. I think that our eyes have all sort of glazed over a little bit with [movies that are] all spectacle and no heart and no soul."
When the meteors do strike in Greenland, it's exciting, but the explosions and destruction are almost a relief compared to watching the Garritys' struggle. Disaster movies tend to have pretty thin characters as a rule, but even if John and Alison can't escape every cliche, their characters have enough depth that it's hard not to feel for them or relate to their struggle. "We spent a lot of time building our backstory and talking about these characters," Baccarin says. "A lot of the things are not in the film, but you feel it in the relationship."
"He gets to play a mortal man," Waugh says of Butler. "He gets to play a guy who's not 10-foot tall and bulletproof. He's not a secret agent, he's not an ex-Navy SEAL. He's just a normal guy, he's like every one of us."
Moviegoers who watch disaster flicks while rooting for gnarly kills and a high body count might be shocked at the more intimate, gripping nature of the trauma in Greenland. One especially upsetting scene that Baccarin describes as "one of the worst things a parent can imagine," and "pretty awful to shoot," might unsettle even jaded viewers.
"Whenever I hear Morena speak about that part, my hands get tighter," Butler says of that particular moment.
Yet, despite the intense nature of Greenland, both the stars and the director say it's ultimately a hopeful movie. "By the end of this movie you are just shaken out — 'What have I just been hit by?' — and yet full of hope and love," Butler says.
"When we made Greenland, there was no such thing as a pandemic or COVID," Waugh says. "As much as it's a big action-thriller with big spectacle and there's a lot of parallels with what's going on with the heinous things of today, it also reminded us how much love and care and hope in humanity we have for one another."
Greenland will be available on VOD on Dec. 18.