Shitty Movie Sundays: Geostorm

What a putrid mess of a movie. Geostorm is an action thriller of grand scale, yet dumbed down in an attempt to give it mass appeal. It’s a film full of the promise of spectacle, without a viewer ever having to worry if any of it makes sense.

From writer/director Dean Devlin (in his directorial debut after a long career in Hollywood), Geostorm is a mess of the Roland Emmerich school of filmmaking. Which makes sense, as Devlin is a graduate and not just an admirer from afar, having screenwriting credits on four Emmerich features. Being so Emmerich-like, a viewer can expect vast scenes of ruin and destruction, tortured science, and simple dialogue. One can expect a film where everything is presented in a sort of short form, where even pivotal scenes are rushed through in order to get to the next calamity. There’s never any time to stop and breathe, or, more importantly to the film’s success, to stop and think.

Geostorm takes place in the near future. After an increasingly violent string of disastrous weather, the United States led an international effort to construct a net of satellites that bring the planet’s weather under total control. These satellites don’t just influence weather. Rather, they are capable of creating it with accuracy down to the area of a building. What a technological marvel. Weather, the thing that scientists and experts cannot predict with any reliability more than a few days in advance, has, through the magic of a Hollywood film, been tamed completely.

Attacking the plausibility of a film like this is futile, but I can’t resist pointing out something totally ridiculous — the weather satellites. The satellites number in the thousands. They are all connected by cables, in a grid pattern covering the entire earth, from pole to pole. And all of these satellites are in low Earth orbit. Space junkies will look at that short description of the satellites’ properties and think, “that’s impossible.” Because it is. In low Earth orbit — say, around 250 miles up, where the International Space Station currently orbits — orbital speeds are around 17,000 miles per hour. Creating a network of thousands of physically connected satellites around a spheroid, and keeping them uniformly spaced, while traveling quickly enough to maintain orbit, is impossible. There is no configuration whereby all the satellites have uniform speed and motion, meaning the whole system could never be built to begin with, much less maintain integrity. Were it to suddenly pop into existence out of nowhere, the satellite network would rip itself to shreds instantly.

It looks as if Devlin and company were simplifying the idea of GPS satellites. Those orbit at around 12,000 miles up, and are not physically connected to anything. So, a little rocket science here, a little lay orbital dynamics there, and Devlin coughed up something that works in silly movie land, but not out here in the real world. Like I wrote above, calling Devlin and company out for this bad science, in a film that wouldn’t be possible without its bad science, is a waste of time. It’s just a movie.

Anyway.

Something bad has happened in Afghanistan. It appears that a malfunction in the satellite array has caused an instant freeze in a desert village, killing every poor person who lived there. (If this scene looks familiar to viewers, that’s because it’s ripped straight from The Seventh Sign. That’s The Seventh ‘Sign’ and not The Seventh ‘Seal.’ Devlin ripped off Carl Schultz and Demi Moore, not Ingmar Berman and Max von Sydow.)

The people in charge don’t know why the malfunction happened, but they do know there is only one person who can fix it, and that’s Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler).

Lawson is the man behind the satellite array. He designed it, supervised its construction, and led its operations until a few years in the past, when he stormed into a Senate hearing and berated the chairman of the committee. It’s a silly intro to the character, and in keeping with the overall simplicity of the film. It’s a shortcut to establish Lawson’s independent bona fides and get the audience on his side. It does that, in the same way that dropping an egg onto one’s kitchen floor demonstrates the pull of gravity.

After some tinkering around aboard the massive space station that controls the satellites, Lawson determines that the malfunctions are the result of sabotage. Someone has programmed a string of weather events into the satellites that will eventually cause all world weather events to coalesce into a single event — the geostorm of the title. The geostorm will cause worldwide destruction, and leave the United States in a position, somehow, to lead the world. It’s convoluted, sure, and sucks up the talents of Ed Harris and Andy Garcia as Secretary of State Leonard Dekkon and President Andrew Palma, respectively, but one should expect nothing else of this flick.

With all these political and outer space machinations going on, there’s not much time left for all the destruction we viewers were promised in the trailer, but Devlin managed to cram it all into the film’s agreeable 109-minute running time. Paris gets it. Dubai gets it. Hong Kong gets it. Moscow gets it. Even Orlando, Florida feels the wrath of the CGI team. Towering waves, gigantic tornados, whirling firestorms, collapsing buildings, lightning strikes aimed like laser-guided bombs, and more. The CGI is respectable if a little too cartoonish, and it’s also been turned up. By that, I mean the pace of the animations is quicker than what viewers are accustomed to, and I think this was done to cram as much shit into every scene as possible. It has the bizarre effect of feeling like spectacle and filler at the same time.

I could go on and on about this film. It is an excellent example of what can go wrong when Hollywood execs overestimate an audience’s willingness to accept junk. The film takes way too many shortcuts in every one of its core aspects. Technology, science, politics, and characterizations, all come off as dumb, and it’s somewhat insulting that we’re supposed to just sit back and accept it. We are better than this movie, and so is Alien: Resurrection.