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Geostorm - eyeliner in space

szdfthSarah Day and Flo Bullough go beyond the call of duty to report on a meteorological blockbuster.

Regular Geological Society followers will know that we have a penchant for creating new and exciting outreach ideas by taking something that sounds fun and adding ‘geo-’ to the beginning of it. (I’ve attempted this in various forms over the years – from the wildly popular and much loved Geobakeoff, to the slightly less well-known and, frankly, underappreciated Geobingo. DM me for details of the latter - its time will come.)

So we greeted the appearance of the Hollywood blockbuster Geostorm with both excitement and suspicion. Had someone at Warner Bros. been carefully tracking our feed, looking for content ideas? Were we owed royalties for the use of this concept? (Having now seen the film, I feel that any claim, however legitimate, is unlikely to bear fruit.)


We felt similar forebodings over the film’s premise. A massive geoengineering project, designed to save us all from climate change, gets hacked and tries to destroy the planet instead.  Was this simply anti climate-change propaganda masquerading as entertainment? Should we prepare a stern letter?

Luckily, such a nuanced message would have required that the writers had paid careful attention to both plotting and script - neither of which is at all evident - so we need not fear that Geostorm is in any way a comment on global policy-making. Which isn’t to say it’s a total waste of 90 minutes – I can honestly say that they flew by, as I excitedly scrawled in my reporter’s notebook such comments as ‘FIRE ROAD! DOMINO CITY!’ ‘Umbrellas will not save you now Hong Kong!’ and ‘much flames very bad wow.’

Despite its title, readers should be aware there’s very little actual geology in Geostorm. At one point, my intrepid colleague and I got quite excited that we might have seen an evaporite deposit, but it turned out to be some ice in a desert. Geostorms, you see, are largely about making hot places colder, cold places hotter and dry places wetter. Hollywood can be ironic that way. And so we get to experience such spectacles as ice shards spearing bathers on a beach in Rio, Mumbai freezing over and a giant wave engulfing a desert somewhere.

The Butler dunnit

fdhOur hero is Gerard Butler (presumably his character had a name, but I forget.  Somehow it doesn’t feel important now). He is – hold your breath for this unexpected character trait – an unpredictable maverick scientist who refuses to play by the rules. Obviously therefore he’s just the guy to be sent to the International Climate Space Station to try to fix the mess his ‘Dutch Boy’ (!) satellite system thingy has got everyone into.

Picture: Sarah Day (right) and Flo Bullough are excited to find a cinema where Geostorm is still showing.

Gerard Butler isn’t the only unlikely object that we find flying around in space.  Several others on the space station, I felt quite strongly, should not have been there either. I question whether, for example, the costs of adding a make-up bag to the payload for each female astronaut would be considered worthwhile.

Unnecessary eyeliner can be dismissed as mere carelessness, however; the presence of several guns on board seems positively self-sabotaging. (Oh, sorry, I forget – it’s never the guns’ fault.) But the satellite weather-controlling system in question is, as the film opens, still under the control of the Americans; so it is at least conceivable that, three years into the Trump regime, legislation might have been passed declaring it unconstitutional to deny astronauts their God-given guns.

Secret Service Barbie

In short, Geostorm was everything I want most from a film. Joyfully silly, full of laugh-out-loud moments of implausibility, and Ed Harris. (There’s also a character referred to at one point as ‘Secret Service Barbie’ who I feel strongly should have a spin-off of her own under that very title.)

My only disappointment is that implausibility rarely manifests itself in moments of delightful pseudoscience. Unlike such Geological Society favourites as Dante's Peak, The Core, Volcano and (of course) Jurassic Park, Geostorm largely shies away from science. Perhaps this is something to do with the new world we appear to be living in, where facts and evidence, however inaccurate, no longer seem to be required.  The days of ‘now for the science bit’ are, it seems, behind us – which will come perhaps as a relief to the directors of hair-product ads.

And so, to explain away the film’s striking title, we hear some very hasty waffling about how ‘too many storms’ eventually create a chain reaction – a GEOSTORM - which cannot be stopped. But thanks to the cleverness, which doesn’t extend to doing anything about it once it’s happened, it is nonetheless possible to predict when this  tipping point will come - down to the last second. This is excellent news, because it means we get to see the words ‘TIME TO GEOSTORM’ emblazoned across a giant screen, while Ed Harris and friends stare anxiously at a big countdown clock.

It’s just like Apollo 13. Except, without the fact part.  

Reviewed by Sarah Day.  Sarah is Earth Science Communicator at The Geological Society.