The new comet flick “Don’t Look Up” hits theaters this Friday, before Netflix on Dec. 24.
Joining us to break down the movie is WTOP Space Reporter Greg Redfern, who has served as a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Solar System ambassador since 2003.
“The basic story line is two astronomers discover a very large comet that, once they calculate the orbit, they determine that this thing is headed to Earth and it’s almost 100% certain it’s going to impact with an extinction-level event,” Redfern told WTOP.
He calls the film more scientific than its genre peers, like “Deep Impact” or “Armageddon.”
“Unlike the other ones, this one really gets into the way they discover it,” Redfern said. “We actually get to see a real ground-based telescope in action. We get to see real comet images from one that we reported on that passed a couple of years ago … it shows them going through the process of determining, uh oh, this thing is going to hit.”
The astronomers are played by Oscar winners Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence.
“Leonardo as the astronomer and Jennifer Lawrence as the Ph.D. candidate were wonderful,” Redfern said. “How can you not love Meryl Streep or Jonah Hill, for goodness sake? Ron Perlman comes in as a space cowboy. What was really fun was to watch Tyler Perry and Cate Blanchett as two anchors in a take-your-pick of a variety TV trash show.”
The film also stars Oscar winner Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies”) as a tech tycoon.
“We really see the power of social media,” Redfern said. “(Rylance) does a great job as the third-most rich man in the history of the planet as Big Technology. He has all of humanity in his hands. People are going to see some parallels to current thoughts on Big Tech.”
He says the social commentary is also laugh-out-loud funny thanks to comedy filmmaker Adam McKay of “Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights,” “The Big Short” and “Vice.”
“This is set in the modern day and how society, politics and people react in terms of our present-day condition of humanity — quite the commentary there, I have to say,” Redfern said. “This movie reminded me of ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still,’ the 1951 version … as well as ‘Dr. Strangelove,’ both of which were commentaries on the state of humanity.”
The theme of scientists warning the public about a cataclysmic event recalls COVID-19.
“There is a president played by Meryl Streep,” Redfern said. “‘Don’t Look Up’ is the response of the politicization of this political party that has members wearing red-and-white-lettered hats saying, ‘Don’t look up, don’t look up.'” They finally realize when the comet appears in the sky at a political rally, ‘Hey, you’ve been lying to us!'”
It all builds to a thrilling climax — that we won’t spoil here.
“I’m not going to give away the ending, but I have to say, I was touched,” Redfern said.
If you look closely, you’ll even see an on-screen cameo by WTOP’s John Aaron.
“We sat two seats apart watching the movie,” Redfern said. “Where they have the crowd scenes, it was fast and furious. … We didn’t (see him), so we’re going to have to go back and do another review to see if we can pick him out, but he’s in the credits!’
Just make sure you stay all the way through the end credits for a bonus scene.
“Like the ‘Avengers’ movies, you have to stay all the way through the end of the credits to get a very, very important scene that adds to the movie,” Redfern said.
How likely is such a comet? Redfern asked the film’s astronomy adviser, Dr. Amy Mainzer.
“She got asked by NASA headquarters in 2019 to become the adviser,” Redfern said. “She is one of the most esteemed astronomers in the world on the threat of cometary-asteroid impacts and missions designed to detect and defend … The threat of a cometary impact is very, very, very minimal. To quote her, ‘You don’t need to go out and get comet insurance.'”