“Don’t Look Up” director Adam McKay talks about comets, climate change and total catastrophe


Director Adam McKay spoke to Space.com about his upcoming film “Don’t Look Up”. (Image credit: Netflix)

Warning: spoilers ahead

What would humanity do if a giant space rock crashed straight at Earth? According to director Adam McKay (“The Big Short”, “Anchorman”, “Step Brothers”) we might not care.

In McKay’s latest film “Don’t Look Up”, a dark comedy Netflix Debuting on December 10th, two astronomers make the shocking discovery that a large comet they call a “planet killer” is heading straight for Earth. But in a series of surprising (and unfortunately not surprising) events, humanity does not really see (or believe) the imminent danger of the situation.

In an exclusive interview with Space.com, McKay spoke about his inspiration for the film, its not-so-secret meaning, and what he thinks could happen if a comet really did head for Earth.

Related: NASA’s DART asteroid impact mission explained in pictures

“What I liked about the idea so much is that it brings instant memories to all of us of films we have seen,” said McKay of the film, which is one in a long line of films that revolve around an asteroid or comet that wants to destroy the earth. But McKay added, “When you’re watching a movie [like this] … the scientist makes the discovery, the scientist tells someone, they go to the White House, they work on the problem. We all know this routine, “he said.

McKay decided to do things from a more realistic perspective. “It made me laugh and it horrified me to imagine what this routine would look like now and see how it plays out,” he said. “I bet if they went to the White House we’d keep them waiting six or seven hours.”

“And I think that would happen,” he said. “I think when an astronomer is one [dangerous] Comet and notified the government and wanted to meet the president, I bet you’d wait all day. “

“I’m going 50/50,” said McKay about whether, in his opinion, humanity would be doing the right thing if there really was a giant space rock on its way to Earth.

He compared the situation with the development of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I wrote the script before COVID, but you are seeing an incredible amount of COVID denial dragging its feet because there is [are] Concerns about the economy, people who make politics, “he said.

But the pandemic isn’t the only connection that becomes apparent while watching the movie.

Related: The greatest comet encounters of all time

A not-so-hidden meaning

“It’s a Clark-Kent-level disguise for the climate crisis,” McKay said of the film, referring to Superman’s Clark-Kent “disguise,” which was mostly glasses.

By showing how humanity might react (badly) to news of its impending demise by a giant comet, McKay holds up a mirror of how our species is responding to climate change. In essence, we know it’s happening, we know how serious it is, but we don’t act like that.

“We’re not trying so hard to cover it up [climate change]”, he said. The movie is a “riff about how people would react to it … it’s denial, it’s distraction. They hear the news don’t mention it and then they go straight to an advertisement for a gasoline car or an oil company. It’s a conflict of interest, it’s careerism. Many people are financially insecure. And it takes a lot of courage to raise your hand at that newspaper meeting and say, ‘Why don’t we have a huge headline that says,’ Oh my god we’re all going to die! ‘”

The film conveys a message about climate change without preaching or lecturing, using tools such as humor, storytelling, and a giant comet. While the film has a strong message to it, McKay has a simple hope of how it might affect viewers.

“I’m not expecting religious, earth-shaking, mind-altering results from this movie, but if you could just look at the world and see the distractions, you see the profit motive, you see the careerism, you see the disputes, the … profits a bit apart of what’s important, just a little bit better, I’d be happy with that, “said McKay.

Although this is a film that shows how poorly humankind is responding to climate change, McKay is optimistic about planet Earth.

“Ultimately, I’m very hopeful about the future when it comes to the climate because we have an Excalibur, we have a secret weapon,” he said. “It’s science! Science can do incredible, incredible things. Look at all the millions of lives that have been saved by a vaccine that was developed at record speed.” McKay mentioned a number of scientific climate protection efforts and new developments in carbon capture technology, renewable energy, and more.

“I just hope that people – by laughing, by engaging in the movie – see things a little differently and feel the urgency of the climate crisis and feel the urgency of the moment, maybe just a little more. ” he said.

Science fiction becomes fact

McKay’s passion for science also came through when discussing recent NASA reports ARROW (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission where the agency actually launched a spaceship to practice what it could do if a giant space rock actually threatened Earth.

ARROW started on November 24th for a 10 month trip to an asteroid system where it will practice hitting a space rock to change its orbit. In “Don’t Look Up” a similar mission is started with a similar planetary defense technique and goes hilariously wrong.

“I think it’s great,” said McKay. “It’s an example of science, for scientists, using collective action and empirical thought to potentially save billions of lives in order to stop one great catastrophe.”

Email Chelsea Gohd at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @spacedotcom and on Facebook.


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