There has been something on my mind for some time now so bear with me. I’ll get to the film in a moment but first I have to talk about the posters they do for Netflix original movies. I know they don’t have to publicise their films in the same way but the design of them is samey, uninspired and sometimes quite cheap. This one for Don’t Look Up is not as bad but it still fits the pattern of just having the main characters faces, often in close up, with the title laid somewhere over the top. Do look down at these examples from some of the studio’s biggest recent releases:
Now check out these famous posters:
You see the difference.
You don’t even need to revisit the classics, look at these three from just last year:
They need to up their game, that’s all I’m saying. It looks like it’s the same team of four people doing all of them on Microsoft Word.
Okay, I’ve got that off my chest, let’s talk about the movie. I’d not been in a rush to see this. It came out on Christmas Eve and I’ve only caught up with it now, largely because I’ve not been a fan of director Adam McKay’s work in the past. I don’t love Anchorman and I really took against The Big Short. The chatter around this film has been really positive though so I gave it a go. I also really rate Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence who take the leads amongst the impressive ensemble cast so that was a reason to watch it too.
Sure enough Lawrence and DiCaprio are both excellent and as it is I was impressed by the film, in places. The story centres around the discovery of a new comet, and you can probably guess where this is going, that it turns out is on course to hit the Earth and destroy all life on the surface. This is not a disaster movie in the style of Deep Impact or Armageddon though, it is a dark satire on humanity’s response to a planet wide threat to our existence. Knowing this was another reason for my hesitation. Is this the movie we really want to watch right now?
That’s kind of the point though. The script was started before the pandemic but it has most certainly been shaped by the current global situation. With its comet deniers, political manoeuvring and fake science it is a very much a heavy metaphor for the world’s reaction to COVID-19.
At first this is actually quite unsettling. It is all too believable how the government fails to protect the people due to a focus on their own agenda and how they spin the story to manipulate the public. It highlights how prey we are to those that control the narrative through their positions of authority and dictatorship of the media, and that is scary right now as we all hang on to every thread of news and information about case numbers and the virulence of each variant given to us by the authorities. Hell, it didn’t only worry me that everything we are being told about COVID might be a total lie but that there might be dangerous aliens and monsters out there too, because the notion that modern communication will make sure the truth is known is clearly utterly naive. I’ve got a few manageable stresses going on in my life at the moment but I was beginning to obsess over these and I realised that watching this film in instalments on my daily commute was actually increasing my anxiety levels generally.
Then around half way through it just got silly and it became much easier to watch. This may have been deliberate so that audiences could handle it, but I suspect it is just because the writers let it get away from them. By the end it is just another broad comedy and in becoming so it loses and gains in equal measure. There is a family scene at the end that is robbed of much of its strength for being further on in the film.
Like all of McKay’s films this screams out for just a modicum of subtlety and it isn’t as smart or as funny as it thinks it is. Hidden in the failed ambition is a strong message that is initially very powerfully delivered though. It is a step forward for the director and I tentatively hope that he may do good things in the future. It is worth sitting down with, not least to see the actors involved doing fantastic work, but in lots of places they do carry it. I’m the end it doesn’t quite achieve maximum impact but some devastation is caused. It wants to be Dr. Strangelove but it’s more like Casualty, only evidently it isn’t the woman wearing headphones while cycling toward a cement truck or the kid bouncing their basketball near the chip pan that is heading for trouble – it is us.
It still could have had a better poster too.
The Ripley Factor:
The reason I hated The Big Short is because I found it sickeningly sexist. Read my rant about that film here if you like. McKay does better this time but his female characters are still marginalised or caricatures. It is Jennifer Lawrence’s character that discovers the impending disaster and there could be some commentary on her sex and her age in how she is removed from the government’s narrative but I’m not sure this is the case.
The film does give us a female POTUS in the form of Meryl Streep but there is nothing done with this beyond giving her the top job. Maybe the point is that the gender of the President should be irrelevant but it really isn’t yet and this just shows that the film has no intention whatsoever of making any comment on gender issues.