Every so often, Hollywood attempts to recreate the 1970s by releasing another high-concept disaster movie that vies to emulate the silly, yet thrilling fun of films like The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and Earthquake, putting high-profile, ensemble casts in mortal peril as they battle against the elements of whatever the current theme is of their particular film. In recent years, disaster films have not been particularly successful, with the advent of big-budget effects films that put more stock into spectacle, rather than thrills. Films like 2012 (2009), San Andreas (2015), and Geostorm (2017) all have been buried under the weight of their own CGI, and have relegated disaster films to B-grade, throwaway studio films to make a studio a quick buck. This is the exact reason I wrote off Greenland as just another mid-budget disaster vehicle for Gerard Butler to just be Gerard Butler…but with a comet this time. I had every reason to believe this would just be another stupid mid-budget throwaway film.
And I was wrong. I am very happy to be wrong.
Initially slated for a theatrical release in June of last year, Greenland was one of the many films whose release was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and was eventually released direct-to-VOD on Dec. 18. I didn’t check it out because of what I described above…I simply didn’t think it looked very good, but it’s solid reviews upon release surprised me, so my interest was at least a little bit piqued when Universal Studios Home Entertainment announced its forthcoming Blu-ray release, which I decided to check out.
John Garrity (Gerard Butler) is a structural engineer living in Atlanta with his wife, Allison (Morena Baccarin) and his son, Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd). When a comet’s trajectory passing near Earth is miscalculated, a storm of devastating space rock rains from the sky causing mass destruction around the globe. When John and his family are selected for relocation to a classified bunker in Greenland due to his structural engineering skills, he and his family must journey through the chaos on a journey to make it in time to their transport before all life on Earth is wiped out.
It might sound like Greenland is an effects-heavy B-movie focusing on hell raining from above, but at a modest $35 million budget, Greenland actually uses its big-budget effects sparingly to create a much more intimate, grounded film about the ways in which humans will figuratively eat each other alive for survival. It’s actually a wonderful parable of the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has been exacerbated, particularly in America, by individualism and entitlement, without all of the “realistic” implications of actually making a movie about a pandemic when no one wants to watch that…Songbird (2020).
I was taken by how emotionally charged Greenland was, and this is due widely in part to Butler, Baccarin, and Floyd’s performances in the film. There is a genuine sense of family that this trio has that many disaster films don’t care to expound upon, leaving many to wonder why we should even care. In the case of Greenland, we care. Butler is an actor who frustratingly finds himself in things much less worthy of his actual talent, which always makes me associate his talent level with the level of quality of those other films. It’s refreshing to see Butler, even in the midst of a disaster film, be able to flex his dramatic bone and deliver a performance worthy of a leading man. It also helps immensely that Greenland is a film that finally lets Butler be Scottish, and that in itself provides a whole heap of charm that you just can’t buy.
On the technical front of Universal’s Blu-ray release (unfortunately no 4K release for this title, as Universal rarely produces 4K releases for STXfilms titles), the 1080p transfer is a stunner when it wants to be, but due to the film’s restrained use of visual effects, this is a primarily muted transfer that relies heavily on dark blacks and neutrals. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a great transfer by any means, but this is not a film you break out to show off the power of Blu-ray to your family with (and without a 4K release, is a bit pointless in 2021 anyway).
However, the film’s DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound mix is what I would break out to show my family the power of my sound system. Even lacking a true Dolby Atmos or DTS: X mix, this still showcases the true power of surround sound in its use of atmospherics, a sweeping score, and the deep boom of a lot of deadly comets. It’s not as bombastic as any superhero film’s transfer would be, but the audio’s wonderful balance between the intimate and the grandiose was impressive in its wonderful attention to detail.
Special features, as expected from a mid-budget Universal Blu-ray release, are scarce, but the inclusion of a commentary from director Ric Roman Waugh and producer Basil Iwanyk was a welcome surprise. Special features are as follows:
- Deleted Scenes with Introductions by Director Ric Roman Waugh.
- Humanity – Gerard Butler, Morena Baccarin, Director Ric Roman Waugh and VFX Supervisor Mark Massicotte take audiences behind the scenes of the exhilarating story.
- Feature Commentary with Director Ric Roman Waugh and Producer Basil Iwanyk.
Does Greenland reinvent the disaster movie genre? No, nor do I imagine it reinvigorating the desire for more of them from Hollywood, but what it does do is create a truly thrilling, emotionally engaging film that is character first, spectacle second. This isn’t to say the film isn’t technically impressive, but what I am walking away with is far more focused on how engaged I was with the entire thing because of the efforts of the screenplay and cast to make us actually care about what happens, as opposed to merely watching destruction rain down on the human race. Universal’s Blu-ray release, while lacking in substantial supplemental material, as well as a proper 4K release that this film is more than worthy of, does make the best of the 1080p format, with a truly reference-level audio track that only makes the film more thrilling as a whole.
Available on digital January 26th, 2021.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD February 9th, 2021.
For more information, head to the official Greenland website.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.