Though Adam McKay’s disaster comedy “Don’t Look Up” realistically traverses a global reaction to the potential end of the world, its choppy cinematography and randomly inserted scoring disconnect the audience from the film. Released on Netflix on December 5, 2021, the movie follows Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), an astronomy PhD candidate at Michigan State University who discovers a comet heading towards Earth alongside her professor, Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), who calculates the comet’s velocity and trajectory. Through his calculations, the pair then discover that the comet will hit the planet in just six months and fourteen days. Caution: spoilers ahead.
“Don’t Look Up” uses its depiction of a tragedy-stricken world to shed light on climate change. While the comet hurdles towards Earth, politicians and the media are too infatuated by rumors and their own capitalistic agendas to recognize their planet’s demise until it is too late. This distraction mirrors the current global reaction to climate change. McKay wisely uses his film as a social commentary piece, criticizing the world for its unwillingness to combat the climate crisis. Meryl Streep and Jonah Hill as President Janie Orlean and Chief of Staff Jason Orlean (who, yes, is her son), respectively, serve as politicians who prioritize their own best interest over the nation’s. The pair represents those in politics today who ignore science for their own political agendas, allowing McKay to criticize the politicization of natural disasters. With a touch of quippy humor from the film’s star studded cast, including actors such as Hill, Cate Blanchet, and Tyler Perry, McKay draws viewers into the movie to then project his social message.
However, the film’s camera work is messy and robs “Don’t Look Up” of its serious moments. In what should have been an emotionally prominent scene between Dibiasky and new love interest Yule (Timothée Chalamet), the camera abruptly pans out of the intended frame, accidentally revealing the entire film crew. Throughout the rest of the scene, the camerawork is shaky, using a compilation of cut-and-paste filming that would confuse and distract any viewer. Earlier on in the film, when Dibiasky and Mindy meet with the President, the camera juts back and forth from the whole room, to characters’ faces, to characters’ shoes. Though this film style may have been intentional, conveying senses of chaos, it builds a distracting atmosphere that takes away from the important conversation within that scene. Hence, with choppy shots and blurry frames that create a dizzying effect, the film’s cinematography deters the plot itself.
Alongside its filming, “Don’t Look Up”’s strong message does not make up for its almost abysmal scoring decisions. While music used in the film, on its own, is well written, it is used randomly and ruins the mood of the movie. After Dibiasky’s boyfriend breaks up with her, a jazzy melody plays in the background as she bawls her eyes out. Normally, a combination of jaunty music and sad imagery can brighten the tone of a scene. However, the music does not improve the mood because its abrupt entrance and transition takes the viewer out of the compelling emotional spiral that the scene had the potential to create. At the end of the film, after the comet has struck Earth, a melody in the background accompanies the dark imagery with a well-suited tone of loss. Then, suddenly, the music stops and changes entirely, switching to a soft and deep song as the world burns away. As the songs switch, the audience is thrown into a jarring moment of auditory discomfort, as if the film scorers switched tracks at the very last minute. Though both songs fit the scene very well, they lacked a smooth transition that would have carried forth the movie. Once again, a brilliant scene is stripped of its impression due to poorly integrated music and lack of transition between scores.
In its entirety, “Don’t Look Up” is a convincing and much needed political commentary on climate change. By symbolizing climate change as a comet, the film sends an overt message regarding the timely manner in which the world must take action against the planet’s impending doom. However, it is difficult to appreciate good writing when both the scoring and film alike disrupt the overall cohesion of the film.
“Don’t Look Up” receives a 3.5/5 for its apt social commentary but messy visual and auditory execution.