Never let it be said that the Hollywood disaster film formula is not easily transposable to other nations. This Friday, March 4, the Norwegian film, “The Wave” rides into US theaters and on demand and for better or worse, Roar Uthaug’s epic disaster film perfectly apes any number of similar projects here.
It all starts out simply enough as Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) is saying goodbye to his work monitoring the mountains around a fjord, knowing—as all his colleagues know—that one day a portion of a mountain will break off into the sea, creating a tsunami that will destroy the small town beneath. It isn’t that he is leaving because he doesn’t care anymore or because he burned out, he’s leaving because an oil company has given him money to go and work elsewhere.
Naturally (please check the name of the film), before Kristian and his family can get out of Dodge (not the actual name of the town, but that would be excellent), he realizes that the terrible day in question has come – the mountain is about to move and the town is about to be submerged. People are going to die.
Do his colleagues listen? No. Does he get his wife, Idun (Ane Dahl Torp), to bail a little early? No. Does it rest entirely upon Kristian’s shoulders to save the day? Sure, as much as the day can be saved when an unstoppable wave is coming and is going to kill people.
This is a disaster movie after all so there has to be a disaster. It is not preventable.
So, Kristian does what he can to get his daughter, Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande) to safety before going to save Idun and his son, Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro). There are sequences of terror and of heartbreak and of near misses and of reunion (for some) and joy (again, for some).
Some of this is done very well. The effects (this was watched streaming and not a big screen) re impressive and there are definitely harrowing moments as Idun and Sondre do their best to, literally, keep their heads above water.
Uthaug successfully manages to tell a small story about one family during this major disaster. He never loses track of them, even if it might play to audiences’ voyeuristic desires to see more destruction and death. Joner also throws himself fully into the role of concerned scientist whom no one will believe.
The bits that are done poorly, however, have a tendency to overshadow the better moments. Specifically, the whole “concerned scientist whom no one will believe” thing. Kristian isn’t alone in monitoring the mountain, he isn’t even at the top of the totem, but, as stated, he’s the only one whose smart enough to work it out and he has to drag his (former) colleagues to acceptance. Worse, the event that he thinks will precipitate the tsunami will, he assures everyone, have no warning. Then, when it happens, there’s ample warning but those same scientists who didn’t believe Kristian don’t sound the alarm soon enough.
“The Wave” offers up a series of the most standard disaster movie tropes, and never to good effect. The setting is beautiful and the destruction is great and the final struggle quite heroic, but it’s all pretty standard in a movie that one wants, especially as its made outside Hollywood, to find a different way of pursuing the tale than a big budget studio movie would pursue it.
In the end, if you like standard disaster movies, you’re going to like what you get here. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for something new and different, or at least a similar story told in a different fashion, you’re going to be disappointed.
photo credit: Magnolia Pictures