Here's How Disaster Flick "Geostorm" Broke My Science Brain
Then, there’s Geostorm, the new Gerard Butler action flick. I’ve not got anything against Mr. Butler, even if he has accidentally overdosed on bee venom. I do, however, feel like I must say something about Geostorm, a cli-fi movie that seems to somehow be more ludicrous, daft and scientifically offensive than the colossal monument of awfulness that’s 2012 – where neutrinos rebel and people can outrun pyroclastic flows – or even that cli-fi goof titled The Day After Tomorrow, where people can outrun the freezing atmosphere by closing a door.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t sit in cinemas and heckle the screen from the back, wondering why spaceships can turn in space when there’s no frictional forces acting upon them. The Millennium Falcon is awesome, and I don’t give a flying flamingo that the physics makes no sense.
However, when a film trailer starts with references to the International Climate Space Station (ICSS) and Butler’s astrometeorologist complaining that he was late because he “literally had to fly in from outer space,” then you’ve piqued my interest. So, in the name of all that is silly, I decided to go through the final trailer for Geostorm and be as picky as heck, because I’m a scientist and this is what some people refer to as low-hanging fruit.
After that rather novel opening sequence, a series of NASA-like space shuttles – which I’m pretty sure aren’t in operation anymore – the ICSS is shown. Judging by the flags adoring its hull, it appears to have been built by a plethora of spacefaring nations, although Russia is notably absent. The US President, played by Andy Garcia (of course), talks about a series of interconnected satellites than can control the weather, meaning “natural disasters are a thing of the past.”
Also, I’m confident in saying that volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis are essentially independent of weather systems. It’s not clear how a satellite would stop any of these things from happening. I suppose you could solidify a tsunami just as it begins to hit the shore if you had some sort of freeze ray satellite, but you definitely can’t do the same with the other two geological beasts.
Anyway, as you’d expect, things go wrong with one of these satellites – one of them “malfunctions” and freezes a village in Afghanistan from space. (Oh, so I guess you could freeze a tsunami then. My bad.) The only way to do this is to create a zone of extremely low pressure around the village – like in the eye of a hurricane – which would cause local temperatures to dramatically plunge. No such superweapon exists, nor would anyone in their right mind allow such a thing to be built for this exact reason, but hey.
Shut down all the satellites, an advisor to the President says. No, says another, before it cuts to a clip of a tsunami washing over what I think is the Brooklyn Bridge. This clip is superimposed with the words “I don’t need to remind you how many people died from catastrophic climate conditions.” Just as a reminder, climate change – which is what I think this is an oblique reference to – makes hurricanes worse, makes wildfires worse, and even causes rises in incidences of war, famine, violence and economic ruin. It will not lead to an incident in which New York City experiences a veritable megatsunami.
Unsurprisingly, Butler’s character promises his daughter that he’ll come back from space shortly before he’s sent up there to solve the problem. After arriving and engaging in a bit of terrible, terrible dialogue with the other crew, it’s revealed that the malfunction was (gasp!) intentional, and some nasty piece of work wants to cause extreme weather events on a global scale.
That’s when one of the President’s advisors leans into a computer and says, as dramatically as possible: “A geostorm.”
A geostorm isn’t a thing. You have geomagnetic storms, which are sudden spikes in the magnetic and electric field strengths of Earth’s magnetosphere and ionosphere. They’re dangerous, and can cause worldwide electrical shortages at best, and ecosystem damage at worst. Otherwise, they are not, as the trailer implies, things that causes hailstorms, tsunamis, mass tornado outbreaks and thunderstorms all over the planet.
It’s a truly breath-taking term. It’s like calling climate change an “atmohell,” or a mass extinction event a “globodeath.” There is even a countdown clock to when the geostorm will "hit."
At this point, the President is kidnapped in a self-driving cab because he’s the only one that has the “kill codes.” Then Dubai get washed away by a tsunami – again, not sure how this is possible, or why this is the satellites’ fault. The trailer then ends with the satellites/ICSS exploding, which seems like a far easier way to stop the madness than trying to get Butler to shut them down from the inside.
I know, I know. Compared to the first trailer for this movie, which was set to a haunting acapella version of “What a Wonderful World” as everything got murdered by nature, this one is generally set to upbeat rock music. Clearly, they’re aiming for a more tongue-in-cheek tone. That would be fine if it wasn’t both catastrophically ridiculous, and, in case you were wondering, an all-round rubbish movie too.
Reviews have even told me that the eponymous catastrophe in this movie isn’t even global, which is clearly false advertising. If you want to see a film about extreme weather events that’s actually good, try Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs. Apart from being adorable, you’re far more likely to have food and animals rain down from the sky than, well, literally anything that happens in Geostorm.