At a cinema near you: Dubai destroyed, again
Emirate offers tax-free shooting location, futuristic skyline as backdrop
As a mammoth wave from the Gulf rises up to drown fleeing beachgoers and wash over the world’s tallest building, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve seen this before.
The coming film “Geostorm” marks the latest Western movie that puts Dubai in its crosshairs.
The city-state offers a tax-free shooting location and a futuristic, skyscraper-studded skyline as a backdrop. Amid all the computergenerated destruction, viewers are also offered rare glimpses of Emiratis, while learning little about the country or the region.
“It’s just kind of like this futuristic city that exists only to be destroyed in a very dramatic way,” observed Dale Hudson, an associate professor of film and new media at NYU Abu Dhabi. “For audiences in the U.S. used to Hollywood, it’s just another city … It’s not the Middle East, where they assume it’s going to be religious conflict or oppression of women or all the different stereotypes they have. It just kind of normalizes it.”
Starring Gerard Butler, “Geostorm” is set in a world where satellites stop all natural disasters. Then something goes wrong. Dubai is then apparently swamped by the Gulf – whose warm waters are rarely more than 90 meters deep.
Previews for the film show major cities around the world being destroyed. The Dubai Film and TV Commission offered an excited, exclamation-pointed tweet about the footage of the Gulf tsunami, in which the spire tip of the 828-meter Burj Khalifa – the world’s tallest building – is visible in the background.
The commission did not respond to a request for comment.
It’s not the first time Dubai has featured in a Western blockbuster. Tom Cruise dangled off the side of Burj Khalifa in the 2011 film “Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol.”
The world’s tallest building escaped being destroyed in Mission Impossible 4, but Dubai was engulfed in a computer-generated sandstorm of epic proportions.
In 2016’s “Star Trek Beyond,” Dubai stood in as Starbase Yorktown and was attacked by the forces of the lizard-like dictator Krall. The port town was again the target of vengeful aliens in the 2016 film “Independence Day: Resurgence,” in which gravity-defying extraterrestrials picked up Burj Khalifa and slammed it into London.
The “Star Trek” film’s producers picked Dubai because of its spaceage look.
“We came searching for the future and found it,” co-executive producer Jeffrey Chernov said in 2015. However, the cast later acknowledged having difficulty casting a gay husband in Dubai for the character Sulu.
Traditionally dressed Arabs often show up for a moment in such films. A family dines as a Lebanese made sports car, the Lykan Hypersport, plunges down an Abu Dhabi skyscraper in “Furious 7.”
Hudson said that moment – like a brief reference to Abu Dhabi as a global city on a map in the 2011 plague thriller “Contagion” – separates the UAE from the Middle East stereotype of “chaos” seen in other films. “It puts [the UAE] on the same political side as London and New York,” he said. “It definitely tries to make it a global player.”
“Geostorm” is not the first time Dubai has featured in a Western blockbuster.