How the Air Force Went All-In on End-of-the-World Thriller 'Greenland'

James Barber

"Greenland," a Gerard Butler movie directed by Ric Roman Waugh, somehow takes the chaos inspired by an impending extinction-level comet disaster into a movie about family, community and hope for the future.

The film, which is being released digitally this week, would have been an excellent night out at the movies in any year but its story of the fear, uncertainty and doubt that grips the country as a comet plows toward the planet somehow cuts more deeply after all the pandemic chaos of 2020.

The United States Air Force gave unusually strong support to the production, allowing the movie to film at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia and letting the director use real personnel in the scenes shot on base.

Butler plays John Garrity, a construction engineer who's trying to work out marital problems with his wife Allison, played by Morena Baccarin ("Deadpool," "Gotham"). When the comet that's been racing towards earth turns out to be more than an interesting item on the TV news, Garrity gets notice to report to an Air Force base with his family.

It turns out there's a secret government program that's pre-selected individuals with the skills needed to rebuild society after a mass destruction event and they're all going to be hidden away in a secret bunker in "Greenland."

Not everyone believes the crisis is real and more than a few people are determined to get on those evacuation planes even if they weren't chosen by the government. This is an action movie, so things don't go according to plan, and John and Allison Garrity are going to have to work out their differences and perform a series of miracles to get their family to safety.

Director Ric Roman Waugh has a strong connection to the military based on his 2015 documentary "That Which I Love Destroys Me," a movie that follows veterans Jayson Floyd and Tyler Grey as they learn to deal with their post-traumatic stress as they pursue careers in Hollywood.

Related: Veteran Jayson Floyd Talks About PTSD & 'TWILDM'

He most recently made the excellent sequel "Angel Has Fallen," a movie where Waugh and Butler introduced some deeper elements to the Mike Banning character and explored the struggles caused by Banning's untreated PTSD.

Related: How Director Ric Roman Waugh Brought Veteran Issues to 'Angel Has Fallen'

That movie's success has created a strong working relationship between Waugh and Butler. They're next making a new Afghanistan CIA thriller called "Kandahar" and will follow that up with the fourth film in the Banning saga, called "Night Has Fallen."

Waugh is one of a new generation of directors who started their careers as stuntmen and he's got a true gift for the mechanics of filmmaking.

The Air Force must agree because they gave an enormous amount of support to "Greenland." The movie was filmed in Georgia and the USAF gave the production an enormous amount of access to the base and a full complement of military personnel for filming.

We've all seen dozens of movies where a production takes over an abandoned air strip and tries to dress it up like a military base, so it's always a jolt to see those military scenes when they're actually shot at a real and active facility.

The Air Force is overseeing the evacuation of chosen civilians and there's security to be provided, planes to be loaded and medical and humanitarian aid to be provided. "Greenland" used as many active duty personnel as possible in those scenes.

Waugh is especially happy with that part of the movie. He says, "I'm a very big supporter of the veteran community and do everything I possibly can to bring in veterans and put them in front of the camera and behind the camera. When 'Greenland' came about, I immediately knew that having the U.S. Air Force involved would be mission critical to what we wanted to achieve. Lt. Col. Nathan Broshear became our point person with the U.S. Air Force, and really understood what we were trying to make because this film was not really like the past military movies that we've seen."

"'Greenland' shows what kind of humanitarian efforts that the Air Force can make," he continues. "In fact, a lot of the Air Force people who appear in the film, were involved with Hurricane Katrina and other evacs and rescues around the world."

"It was really great to get their backing and all of those cool bells and whistles and toys out on the runways and on the tarmacs. I'm really proud of the military scenes in the movie at the Warner Robins Air Force Base, which we actually use as 'Warner Robins' in the movie. Ninety percent of the people in uniform were active duty military, aside from a handful of speaking roles."

"Otherwise, from the guard dogs to the special security forces to the flight jockeys, we had everyone be active duty. They did a phenomenal job and a lot of them brought their families to play civilian extras."

"I love the fact that it really shows a different aspect of the U.S. Air Force that we haven't seen before, showing what the humanitarian effort side would look like in a domestic crisis."

The CGI doesn't really kick in until the last reel of "Greenland" and one of the great things about the movie is that so much of it exists on a smaller, more human scale than most disaster epics. When we see the destruction that's taking place around the world, it's via newscasts in the background on TV screens. We know what's happening but the focus is on how people at the edges react.

Some of that is due to budget constraints, but Waugh and his team really make it work for the movie. He admits, "We never wanted to do the outside-in movie. We didn't want to make '2012,' 'Armageddon' or 'Deep Impact.' There have been a lot of these movies before. Instead, we wanted to really do it from the inside-out from this very intimate point of view. So it almost felt like a visual version of Orson Welles' 'War of the Worlds' where you're inside with this family and watching the world implode, but how they would see it from their eyes."

"We never wanted to cut away from that, never wanted to see the president addressing the nation," he continues. We didn't want to see NASA. We wanted to be from their point of view. When information was coming through to the characters, that was how the audience was getting information."

Is it weird that "Greenland," a movie about the end of the world as we know it, turned out to be one of the most calming pieces of entertainment I've seen during this disaster of a year? Maybe not, because Waugh, Butler and Baccarin somehow made a movie about how one family can survive and endure through one of the worst possible crises the universe could possibly throw at them.

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