Dont Look Up Review
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Introduction To Don't Look Up

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“At a certain point I knew I needed to make
a comedy, because I felt like after these last few years, we really, really needed to laugh”

-Adam  McKay

Launched on Netflix in December 2021, written and directed by Academy Award winner Adam McKay (The Big Short, Anchorman) and stars Mark Rylance, Ron Perlman, Timothée Chalamet, Ariana Grande, Scott Mescudi (aka Kid Cudi), Himesh Patel, Melanie Lynskey, Michael Chiklis and Tomer Sisley.  Don’t Look Up is part disaster movie, part satire.

Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), an astronomy grad student, and professor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) make an astounding discovery of a comet orbiting within the solar system. The problem — it’s on a direct collision course with Earth. The other problem? No one really seems to care. Turns out, warning mankind about a planet-killer the size of Mount Everest is an inconvenient fact to navigate. With the help of Dr.Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), Kate and Randall embark on a media tour that takes them from the office of an indifferent President Orlean (Meryl Streep) and her sycophantic son and Chief of Staff, Jason (Jonah Hill), to the airwaves of The Daily Rip, an upbeat morning show hosted by Brie (Cate Blanchett) and Jack (Tyler Perry). With only six months until the comet makes impact, managing the 24-hour news cycle and gaining the attention of the social media obsessed public, before it’s too late, proves shockingly comical — what will it take to get the world to just look up?!

Don't Look Upast

DON’T LOOK UP (L to R) Jonah Hill, Jennifer Lawrence, Scott Mescudi, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tyler Perry, Meryl Streep, and Adam McKay. Credit: Mark Seliger/Netflix ©2021

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The Script/Screenplay

Rating 8/10

8 out of 10

The opening sequence of Don’t Look Up reminded me of 1990s Astronomy smash hit ‘Contact’

A remote observatory makes a ground-breaking discovery, and then all hell breaks loose. That’s where the similarities end; whilst Contact ebbs into the realms of science fiction, Don’t Look Up stays grounded in the science and stupidity of humans.

McKay’s script turns political and social satire up to 100, and takes aim at world leaders and the media. Its easy to see why so many of Hollywood’s finest were attracted to McKay’s script. Written at the height of Trump-mania, Don’t Look up asks the question, what would you believe if the evidence hits you in the face? and then runs wild with the answer.  You have actual credible scientists (all high on anti-depressants) attempting to inform the population that the world is ending.  There is a president bouncing from one scandal to another and just thinks about her numbers, a multibillionaire thinking about his bottom line while pretending to be a philanthropist, news about a celebrity couple overshadowing the comet, the general public being split into believers and non-believers even when the Comet is visible, and you know its satire when a news outlet only wants to show ‘Happy’ news.  The scary thing is though, the Covid Pandemic has shown that what unfolds on screen is all totally believable it could happen.

Not content with just providing satire McKay also set out to make sure the science was spot on.  He reached out to NASA and brought on board Dr. Amy Mainzer, an astronomer and climate change scientist, who became an advisor to the production.  Dr Mainzer was able to guide the actors playing scientists and work with McKay to help flesh out how asteroids and comets are discovered and communicated to the government/public.

“Adam was really respectful of the idea that those of us who do work on the asteroid and comet stuff — we really knock ourselves silly trying to get that information out as quickly and as efficiently as we possibly can. The system is designed for transparency. In fact, I can give you an example of that. There was an asteroid discovered in 2008 that was found to be within about 24 hours of impact. And inside that space of 24 hours, the whole world was immediately notified, and more than 500 observers submitted hundreds of observations. It impacted over the desert in Sudan. Turned out the object was really tiny — about the size of a VW bus — but the astronomers do try. And you see that in the movie. They try really hard to get the information out to the rest of the world. The rest of the world doesn’t necessarily deal with that information all that well in the movie, but in real life there are actually systems set up to automatically collect the observations, process them, and notify everybody”

-Dr Mainzer

As you would expect with an Adam McKay film, there are a lot of gags in Don’t Look Up mostly the type that make you laugh at a person rather than with them.  It’s the kind of satirical swipe that Charlie Brooker would be proud of.

It’s not all good news for the script though, this film is about half an hour too long as the dreaded middle act drag kicks in. At around the half way mark the film goes off on a tangent changes tone and focuses on personal relationships, rather than the scientific message. Its at this point, the repetitive nature of the jokes becomes a little grating, such as a gimmick with the FBI placing a hood over people’s heads, and the President’s blithering idiot persona shows no sign of abating. The scientists also stop being scientists for a bit too.

Then, just as things are becoming noticeably boring, someone looks up and then it finally remembers what it is all about and ramps up the satire. The film jumps forward with montages of political point scoring, with the ‘Don’t Look Up’ movement. Then the ‘Look Up’ movement kicks off with a massive concert at Wembley, and the philanthropic Billionaire shows his true colours.  But all of this is a rushed last act that doesn’t really make much sense, you just have sit back and witness the assault to your senses.  The film would have benefited from losing the relationship focus and spending more time exploring the movements it introduces.  Maybe McKay couldn’t find the comedy?

I won’t spoil the end few scenes of the film, but I will say the mid-credit sequences seems to be a different tone to the rest of the film, as if it was written and added in last minute and the post credit sting, just sums up the satire

Q&A With Director Adam McKay

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Standout Casting

Rating 10 out of 10

10 out of 10

This film has a plethora of amazing actors, it would be a long list if I talked about everyone, so I have picked out a few stand out performances

Leonardo DiCaprio As Dr. Randall Mindy

DON'T LOOK UP, LEONARDO DICAPRIO as DR. RANDALL MINDY.

DON’T LOOK UP, LEONARDO DICAPRIO as DR. RANDALL MINDY.
Cr. NIKO TAVERNISE/NETFLIX © 2021

When we first witness Dr Mindy work out the comet’s trajectory, he comes across as a brilliant astrophysicist. However, it is not long before it becomes clear that Dr Mindy is actually a low – level scientist, with a nervous disposition and an unhealthy appetite for Xanax. A family man with a wife and 2 rather grown-up boys, who are also on the pills. As Mindy’s story progresses, he finds himself ignored by the President and thrust onto The Daily Grind whilst trying to get his point across. Its at this point he meets co news anchor Brie Effantee (Kate Blanchett) and this leads to an affair.  Yes this is a satirical movie but is DiCaprio’s character that weak? It seemed an odd choice for this homely scientist who clearly loves his family to hook up with a woman that seemingly beds everyone she meets, including several Presidents!. All this distraction aside DiCaprio is having a great time playing Mindy, and reminds us all of what a great actor he is. His performance has echos of his early career in ‘The Beach’ whilst really homing in on the nuances that a reclusive, nervous professor might have. You can tell he listened to Dr Mainzer’s schooling.  DiCaprio is adept at making Dr Mindy fumble and quote science. Unusually for DiCaprio he lets his character slip into a Steve Martin like comedy scientist at times. I feel DiCaprio’s performance gives Dr Mindy more depth than was otherwise intended and you can’t help feeling for the man who tried to save the world. Overall, a fantastic performance from DiCaprio

Jennifer Lawrence As Kate Dibiasky

“Kate’s a truth teller. So when she tries to tell this news to the rest of the world and is met with resistance, or just complete and utter disbelief, it’s really upsetting. You can really see the way she gets a hard look at life in the public and on social media.” — JENNIFER LAWRENCE

Don't Look Up Jennifer Lawrence As Kate Dibiasky

Don’t Look Up Jennifer Lawrence As Kate Dibiasky

Lawrence’s description of her character is spot on. Once Dibiasky finds the comet, she is burdened with not only the fact that the killer rock now carries her name, but also with the knowledge of the impending doom.  Just like Dr Mindy though she has a penchant for drugs and Xanax and resorts to them at every opportunity.  Unfortunately, once Lawrence’s character spotted the big rock, she reminds us frequently of the time remaining for doomsday, and shouts at everyone else.  When nobody will listen and take her seriously, Dibiasky is reduced to hanging out with stoner skateboard stereotype (Timothée Chalamet). Lawrence though is a lot of fun to watch and is throwing everything at the screen to make her character work especially in scenes with DiCaprprio where she fights not to be outshone

Meryl Streep As President Orlean

DON'T LOOK UP, Meryl Streep as President Janie

DON’T LOOK UP, Meryl Streep as President Janie Orlean. Cr. Niko Tavernise / Netflix © 2021

In Don’t Look Up, Meryl Streep is metaphorically taking a shot gun, aiming both barrels at satire and pulling the trigger. She plays a president whose only thought in life is her own self-importance. She is wrapped up in an obscure political crisis, as well as the upcoming mid-terms and gives little regard to the scientists sitting in the oval office.  President Orlean only decides to act when she sees a political advantage and ultimately only cares about nothing but money. Streep’s interactions with the scientists are some of the funniest scenes of the film.  Streep seems to be paying careful attention to playing a totally bonkers female president with strong echoes of the Trump administration.

Mark Rylance As Peter Isherwell

Mark Rylance As Peter Isherwell

DON’T LOOK UP (L to R) JONAH HILL as JASON ORLEAN, PAUL GUILFOYLE as GENERAL THEMES, MARK RYLANCE as PETER ISHERWELL, MERYL STREEP as PRESIDENT JANIE ORLEAN. Cr. NIKO TAVERNISE/NETFLIX © 2021

Irshwell is a caricature of modern-day billionaires. You know the ones, they invent innocuous looking technology, to make the world a better place while simultaneously funding their own personal Space adventures. Bringing this character to life is the fabulous Mark Rylance.  Rylance gives Isherwell a personality that appears to be a cross between Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Elon Musk. He has the utmost belief that his technology can solve any problem. Rylance also gives Isherwell some strange personality traits such as not being able to look anyone in the eye or appearing timid, that is until he is threatened and then his true temperament is on display, when he gives a tirade on how people will die (according to his technology of course).

I thought it was a really great performance from Rylance and shows once again that he can handle comedy moments as well as anyone else.

Sound/Music/Score

Rating 8 out of 10

8 out of 10

Mckay turned to two-time academy award-nominated and Emmy award-winning composer Nicholas Britell for the score to Don’t Look Up

Britell recorded at AIR Studios in London with a full orchestra, a choir and multiple days of big band sessions.

Britell states

“There’s a motif that you’ll notice which shows up and evolves and goes into many different guises. I called it my ‘Overture to Logic and Knowledge’ and it was designed to represent science and structure and mathematics and order and then obviously the big band piece represents everything that isn’t that.”

Riiiight. There is one BIG problem with this statement. It’s a score that has more ambition in its production than in it has in its execution. Despite featuring so many different instruments including the big band, the score is not the least bit memorable. Now, normally I would say that a score not being memorable is a good thing as it means the score did not feel out of place while watching the movie. Only when you have a composer like Britell giving it the big plug, then my expectations are set higher.   It’s been a few days since I watched Don’t Look Up and the only thing that I can remember about the score is Ariana Grande singing “Just Look Up”. A song that is used for great effect within the movie.

The Don’t Look Up soundtrack has been released across the various music streaming platforms. Having listed to the soundtrack standalone I quite like ‘Don’t Look Up Main Title Theme’ with some samba inspired notes. There are some fun touches too, such as the Bash Company lift music that sounds like a rogue Nokia ringtone.  ‘The Launch’  a big band track which starts off brash and moves into a lighter techy sound, foreshadowing Isherwell’s involvement.

Video Quality

Rating 9 out off 10

9 out of 10

Top marks go to McKay’s long-time editor, Hank Corwin, whose video vision is as bonkers as McKay’s satirical script. The film is punctuated throughout with a variety of stock images, and fixed freeze frame shots. The overall effect helped Corwin nail the tricky tone of the film.

 “Initially, we were going to be very serious and have it punctuated with moments of comedy, but that didn’t work. What I found was by putting in little moments of nature instead, you were able to have moments that showed it’s not really humour so much as folly, which is well disguised as comedy. When you show birds flying, when you show an ocean, it grounds it into reality. We spent months trying to figure this out. I’ve never worked on a movie that was quite as bedeviling or rewarding as this one,”

-says Corwin.

Oscar-winning Director of Photography Linus Sandgren shot the film using typical anamorphic 35mm film. Sandgren tends to favour both close up and wide shots, and seem eager to capture even the smallest nuances of comedy such as facial expressions or character mannerisms.  Shooting on film enabled Sandgren to capture the emotions of the film with greater intimacy. He used a macro Penelope camera in order to get extreme close-ups of the actors’ faces. The effect is seen most notably in a scene where DiCaprio’s character is having an anxiety attack.

As you would expect from a top Netflix title, the film is presented in 4k Dolby vision. This creates a super, bright sharp image.

Visual Effects

Rating 9 out off 10

9 out of 10

Don’t Look Up was one of the first productions of its size and scale to go into production after the pandemic had hit. According to Hartley, “I think just working during that time was tough on everyone. But Adam wrote a weekly letter to the crew that I felt was so instrumental in getting us all through those crazy days. It would include a different song each week, a wonderful lift for us all.”

The visual effects in Don’t Look Up range from great production design to good looking vfx.

Production Designer Clayton Hartley went to extreme lengths to get the design spot on.

When designing the White house set Hartley made sure that the glass came from the same company that supplied the actual white house. McKay’s political satire was not lost on Hartley either when he lined the shelves are copies of President Orleans’ book How to Manage Your Money Even When You Have None. There is also a clever extinction reference running through the film. Look out for large fossil art in a restaurant, a dinosaur handing out flyers in the street, a restaurant called “Finis” with a dodo bird logo.

The telescope that kicks off the film is the Subaru Telescope .. The production team created  half a model of the telescope, fitted with hydraulics built on a stage at the old Weymouth Naval Air Academy. VFX Supervisor Raymond Gieringer and his team completed the rest in post-production. It’s a great opening scene.

Overall Thoughts

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Buried deep within the satire of Don’t look up there is a message about how the media can. shape our perceptions of life. This is a film that bases its satirical observations on how we place our attention on the insignificant thing, such as the latest celebrity breakup, we allow ourselves to be distracted from the obvious.
So if humour based on Social Political and social satire is your cup of team you will find much to enjoy In Don’t’ Look Up.  If you like serious thrillers, or slapstick comedy then its not the film for you.

I give Don’t Look Up a Recommended rating, what would you give?

The Silver Hedgehog: Rating

The Script/Screenplay - 7
Casting - 10
Sound/Music/Score - 8
Video Quality - 10
Visual Effects - 9

8.8

Recommended

So if humour based on political and social satire is your cup of tea you will find much to enjoy In Don’t’ Look Up.  If you like serious thrillers, or slapstick comedy then its not the film for you.

Find Out more about our ratings here

Credits

Words Garry Llewellyn

Editor JJ

Images: Netflix

End Credits

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DIRECTED BY ADAM MCKAY
SCREENPLAY BY ADAM MCKAY
STORY BY ADAM MCKAY & DAVID SIROTA
PRODUCED BY ADAM MCKAY, P.G.A. & KEVIN MESSICK, P.G.A.
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER JEFF WAXMAN
CO-PRODUCERS RON SUSKIND, DAVID SIROTA,
JENNIFER MANDELOFF,
CATE HARDMAN

STARRING

JENNIFER LAWRENCE (KATE DIBIASKY)
LEONARDO DICAPRIO (DR. RANDALL MINDY)
MERYL STREEP (PRESIDENT ORLEAN)
ROB MORGAN (DR. OGLETHORPE)
JONAH HILL (JASON ORLEAN)
CATE BLANCHETT (BRIE EVANTEE)
TYLER PERRY (JACK BREMMER)
MARK RYLANCE (PETER ISHERWELL)
TIMOTHÉE CHALAMET (YULE)
HIMESH PATEL (PHILLIP)
TOMER SISLEY (ADUL GRELIO)
ARIANA GRANDE (RILEY BINA)
SCOTT MESCUDI (DJ CHELLO)
RON PERLMAN (COLONEL DRASK)
MELANIE LYNSKEY (JUNE MINDY)
MICHAEL CHIKLIS (DAN PAWKETTY)
ROBERT JOY (CONGRESSMAN TENANT)
HETTIENNE PARK (DR. CALDER)

DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY LINUS SANDGREN, ASC, FSF
PRODUCTION DESIGNER CLAYTON HARTLEY
EDITORHANK CORWIN, ACE
COSTUME DESIGNER SUSAN MATHESON
MUSIC BYNICHOLAS BRITELL
MUSIC SUPERVISOR GABE HILFER
MAKEUP AND HAIR LIZ BERNSTROM, PATRICIA DEHANEY
VISUAL EFFECTS SUPERVISOR RAYMOND GIERINGER
VISUAL EFFECTS PRODUCER DIONE WOOD
CASTING BY FRANCINE MAI

Meet Garry

An office worker by day and blogger by night. Garry is the creator and writer of The Silver Hedgehog.  A Sci-Fi geek (don’t mention Terry Pratchett or Isaac Asimov unless you have a spare hour) and avid film fan (noted for watching Titanic 8 times at the cinema 🤩).  Enjoys writing reviews and blogs in his spare time, and is waiting for the day he gets paid for it!

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