Actually, just skip the new movie and dive into the old.
Most weeks, my movies to watch list is tied to a new release that’s either worth seeing or is likely to be popular. This week, it’s tied to Geostorm, the feature directorial debut of Independence Day writer/producer Dean Devlin. Unsurprisingly, it’s a disaster movie, and a disastrous one at that. I can’t recommend it even for a laugh since it’s not even so bad it’s good bad.
But I would still like to recommend eight other movies worth seeing, not all of them great but each still worthy of familiarity, in relation to and as alternatives to Geostorm. Most of them, like the new movie, also involve the concept of controlling the world’s weather via satellites, showing just how unoriginal Devlin’s movie is regardless of its poor execution.
Eyes in Outer Space (1959)
As heard in the trailer for Geostorm, President John F. Kennedy proposed, in a 1961 address to the UN General Assembly, “further cooperative efforts between all nations in weather prediction and eventually weather control.” Two years earlier, Disney put out this short documentary film about satellites through the cooperation from the US Department of Defense.
Released theatrically as man-made objects in space were still news and later broadcast on the Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color TV series, the Paul Frees-narrated science program recognizes plans to not just have satellites that help predict the weather but also to control it — one illustrated example is focused on the manipulation of hurricanes with rockets.
Our Man Flint (1966)
While scientific and military interests in controlling the weather go back at least to the 1950s in America (did you know we weaponized weather during the Vietnam War?), its appearance in fiction is rooted in ancient mythology and ritual. After a while, it was also seen as a tool or scheme for villains to threaten specific individual ships or the entire world.
The most notable movie to feature weather-controlling bad guys is this James Bond parody starring James Coburn as the heroic spy Derek Flint. His mission is to thwart the plot of Galaxy, an organization of mad scientists using a machine to cause deadly storms plus earthquakes and volcanoes in a plea for Earth’s superpowers to end production of nuclear arms and energy.
The Noah’s Ark Principle (1984)
Geostorm seems like an exact remake — better described as a rip-off — of this German feature, which is also about the weaponization of a space station initially constructed with the positive intention of merely monitoring and altering potentially disastrous weather. Like Gerard Butler’s character in Devlin’s movie, the hero of The Noah’s Ark Principle is a man on the station.
What’s interesting about Geostorm stealing its basic plot from this movie is that it’s the feature directorial debut of Roland Emmerich, who’d go on to partner with Devlin on a number of projects, including Stargate, Independence Day, and the 1998 Godzilla. The Noah’s Ark Principle is impressive mostly for being Emmerich’s college thesis, a $600K student film with decent effects that actually opened the Berlin Film Festival and was internationally distributed.
The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Twenty years later, after Emmerich and Devlin parted ways as collaborators (they recently reunited for Independence Day: Resurgence and Stargate reboot plans), the politically minded Emmerich tackled the issue of climate change with this ridiculously exaggerated disaster movie that surely did more bad for the cause than good.
Devlin, who has shown his own interest in environmental issues as a producer on the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? clearly means to be addressing climate change with Geostorm, which begins by expositing that a weather-controlling satellite system was implemented to save the world from further extreme weather disasters.
Like The Day After Tomorrow, it has a negative effect particularly on any possibility of an actual weather-controlling endeavor like the one on screen, but unlike Emmerich’s movie, Geostorm doesn’t really deal in depicting a worst-case scenario and so lacks its scale of disaster spectacle. There is a sequence where people run from cold in both, though.
Owning the Weather (2009)
Controlling the weather because of the impending doom of global warming’s effects is not just a fictional concept. Before he made acclaimed cinematic nonfiction films like Actress and Kate Plays Christine, director Robert Greene made his own feature debut with this more conventional documentary about the very subject addressed at the start of Geostorm: playing God through further (this time intentional) man-caused climate change.
Featuring interviews with climate scientists, meteorologists, environmentalists, authors, and other specialized experts, Owning the Weather concentrates on the study of what’s preferentially called “geoengineering.” Greene explores the history of weather modification schemes (including the Vietnam cloud-seeding mission) while also sharing some experts’ ideas on positive fixes for the future. Most of them are far more plausible and surely cheaper than the satellite system and space station shown in Geostorm though maybe wouldn’t be as effective.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
The same year as Greene’s documentary, this more widely seen feature directorial debut was released with its own story of geoengineering. Loosely based on the classic children’s book of the same name, the animated film is about a scientist (purposefully named Flint after Our Man Flint?) who creates a machine that produces food that rains down from the clouds.
Of course, things go wrong and the machine winds up causing extreme food-based weather like hurricanes, and just like in Geostorm the very scientist who made the thing has to now save the world. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller hilariously made their debut with Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which reflects the human greed and excess that led to climate change rather than ideas to combat the issue, though it’s very unlikely to have been inspired by real-world problems.
Surprisingly, there appears to be more outer space action in Geostorm than extreme weather sequences set down on Earth. Well, not so surprisingly once you realize Butler’s character is going to be orbiting the planet — alternating between IT work and conducting space-walk tasks — for the whole movie. The climax of the plot hinges more on his attempt to survive a self-destructing space station than on the threat of the thwarted titular “geostorm.”
So I was ultimately more reminded of Alfonso Cuaron’s Oscar-winning space-set disaster movie, which follows a woman attempting to survive a more realistic catastrophe, in the second half of Geostorm than The Day After Tomorrow. And I questioned why Warner Bros. would bother making something like Geostorm after having given us a masterpiece of spectacle like Gravity.
The answer is probably that Cuaron’s film, as successful as it was, didn’t cater to all mainstream moviegoers. Disaster spectacle may draw general audiences in, but what they really want more is plot and villains and heroes, so they’re given that in Devlin’s debut, which is more talky and involves more family drama than you might expect.
An Inconvenient Sequel (2017)
Principal photography began on Geostorm way back in 2014, long before either the greatest hope against climate change, the Paris Agreement, or its latest threat, the Trump Administration, were on anyone’s minds. Aside from its faith in someone like Gerard Butler to save the day, the movie doesn’t offer much hope that humanity can implement solutions without villainous people in power ruining them.
Meanwhile, this sequel to the Oscar-winning 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth was initially produced to show Al Gore and the world’s progress on combatting climate change leading up to the Paris Agreement, only to require a re-cut due to Donald Trump’s election and subsequent rejection of the accord. Aside from its faith in someone like Al Gore to save the day, the doc now fails to offer much hope that humanity can implement solutions without villainous people in power ruining them.