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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Gerard Butler about what went on behind the scenes in new film Geostorm

Dean Devlin’s troubled natural-disaster epic is set for release after an extended production process

Gerard Butler plays scientist Jake Lawson, who creates a high-tech satellite system to control the weather. Courtesy Warner Bros
Gerard Butler plays scientist Jake Lawson, who creates a high-tech satellite system to control the weather. Courtesy Warner Bros

Independence Day writer and producer Dean Devlin’s much-delayed feature-­directing debut, the epic disaster movie Geostorm, finally reaches our screens this weekend. The release comes more than 18 months after its original March 2016 release date, after a host of delays, production hitches and even the taking on of a new writer, producer and director, for what were believed to be extensive reshoots, in December of last year, following poorly received test screenings.

Devlin has previously worked as a producer or writer on hits including Stargate, Godzilla and The Patriot, with Independence Day director Roland Emmerich as a regular collaborator. When it came to his own directorial debut, however, things seemingly did not run smoothly for Devlin, despite his extensive Hollywood experience.

Geostorm’s star, the Scottish actor Gerard Butler, insists the movie’s troubled journey from script to screen wasn’t particularly unusual, however: “Whenever anyone questions the movie, I know it comes from such a pure place because Dean’s daughter gave him the idea,” he reveals. “She said: ‘Dad, can’t we put something up in the sky that’ll fix this [natural disasters]?’ And that’s where Geostorm comes from. It’s a story of ‘what if?’ That cautionary tale of hope.”

As for bringing in new crew for sections of the movie, Butler is adamant that the finished product is still very much Devlin’s film: “I think he wrote a beautiful script and directed a great movie, but listen, this movie is an epic undertaking and a surprisingly complex plot involving all sorts of computers, corruptions, satellites, weather systems going on, part of it’s going on on the earth and part of it in space, and you’ve got to be sure that it all makes sense. You want to make it challenging, but ultimately you want the audience to understand it, so that’s what it was. It just needed a bit of finessing.”

Nonetheless, Butler admits that the initial test screenings could have gone better. “You don’t really know until you show a movie to an audience and you can go: ‘Oh, OK, they’re not really understanding that bit’ or ‘this bit isn’t landing as it should’. You can be like: ‘How can they not get that?’ Maybe it’s a case of we said it in the script, but we didn’t show it to the audience. It’s crazy how that can happen, but it’s just one of those learning experiences.”

The actor adds that the process of reshooting sections of the movie is far from unusual in today’s Hollywood, particularly with big budget blockbusters. “I’m having the same thing with two other films I’m working on right now. I don’t think there’s any movie over about US$80 million [Dh293.8m] that doesn’t have reshoots, and in the end, we got [director] Danny Cannon in, who did a great job and just kind of answered some of the questions that were left. But Dean wrote a beautiful script and directed a great movie.”

Dubai’s skyline is among the victims of a formidable natural disaster in Geostorm. Courtesy Warner Bros
Dubai’s skyline is among the victims of a formidable natural disaster in Geostorm. Courtesy Warner Bros

The film sees Butler playing scientist Jake Lawson in an impressive cast that also includes Andy Garcia as the United States president, Jim Sturgess as Lawson’s younger brother Max, and Abbie Cornish as secret service agent and love interest Sarah Wilson. Lawson is the creator of a high-tech satellite system that is used to control the weather in a fictional future, but when things start to go wrong with the system, they go drastically wrong, unleashing a host of VFX-heavy natural disasters that decimate the planet. Dubai’s iconic skyline is among the victims of a formidable natural disaster – in the trailer, a giant wave engulfs the city. And Lawson is left with the simple task of saving the world.

The Scot insists that Lawson isn’t your typical movie hero, however. “He’s not an action hero, he’s a scientist, an unlikely hero,” he says. “His heroics come through his mind rather than his physicality. His mind and personality have got him into as much trouble as they have done good. There’s some weirdness there because that’s who my character is. I know how to build a space station and I know how to think outside the box, but that intelligence brings an arrogance and social awkwardness and a childish stubbornness, and that’s where the meat lies, where the journey kind of begins.”

In many ways, Lawson is the antithesis of the kind of heroes that Butler has played in the past, particularly in films like 300 and Coriolanus. “Most characters I’ve played are much more together and focused than Jake, which I love about this role. There’s a vulnerability to him, and he’s trying to come together as a scientist, as a father, as a brother. There’s all that to climb into and, at the same time, the future of the planet rests with this flawed guy who has to take on this challenge, despite knowing the personal challenges and challenges to his family, which are going to come from this.”

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Geostorm: Hollywood disaster film starring Dubai set to open in UAE

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The film may have taken it’s time to reach its audience, but Butler insists that he saw the potential for a great movie as soon as he read the script, and seems confident audiences will agree, now the task of making it is finally complete. “When I read this, I loved the idea. It had epic proportions and ideas, and I knew that if it works, and sure, it doesn’t always work, that you’re gonna scare the audience, they’re gonna go for a ride and have a great time, and they’re gonna come out with a message about people overcoming difficulties and working together to make things better,” he says.

“It’s about governments having to come together and get over their egos and their search for power to fix the situation, and about two brothers having to get over their issues and work together to make things better. There’s a really positive message about humanity in there.”

Geostorm is in cinemas from this weekend