Advances in graphic design technology have led to disaster movies looking, if not more realistic, much bigger and more destructive than ever before. No longer will we have to wonder what the Statue Of Liberty or the Golden Gate Bridge would look like crumbling to pieces, because we’ve seen both rendered in passable, if smudgy, CGI on the big screen.
However, the one thing no movie can seem to get right, no matter how big the budget, or good the intentions, is water. Even the most advanced computer graphics in the world just cannot replicate it effectively, which usually renders the movie itself a bit of a wash.
For a film entitled The Wave, one suspects this little setback would be crippling. Happily, this entertaining Norwegian offering serves to highlight how, with a little ingenuity, and some clever editing, a massive tsunami ravaging an idyllic countryside town can be just as effective and convincing as crumbling buildings or towering infernos–arguably even more so.
The Wave (or Bølgen, in its native language) features the beautiful fjord of Geiranger, and the troublesome mountain pass of Åkneset, whose plates could move at any point, threatening the lives of those living directly below. One such townsperson is Kristian (Kristoffer Joner, kind of a softer, Norwegian Norman Reedus), a family man and geologist on the cusp of moving to the big city who senses that something terrible may be about to happen.
Naturally, since this is a disaster movie, he’s right and Geiranger is soon being lashed to pieces by a monstrous wave (which, it must be noted, looks pretty spectacular) while Kristian and his family rush to try to make it to higher ground in time (they have got, literally, ten minutes to do so).
Weirdly, in spite of the movie taking its title from it, the tsunami itself doesn’t feature too heavily in The Wave. Rather, Roar Uthaug, director of the terrific slasher Cold Prey (and slated to helm the new Tomb Raider), is more interested in what happens before and after it hits.
Staging the action, both grand and everyday, in expansive, often breathtaking wide shots, Uthaug and cinematographer/regular collaborator John Christian Rosenlund present Geiranger with a shiny, tourist brochure sheen before ruthlessly tearing it to shreds.
It’s a little while before anything catastrophic actually happens, but in taking some time to ruminate on Geiranger life in general, and Kristian’s family in particular, the carnage packs more of a punch when it does hit. And, although it’s reduced to rubble in the end, The Wave is an impressive advertisement for Geiranger as a tourist hot-spot.
A truly amazing slice of natural beauty, tucked away in a mountain, almost untouched by man, Geiranger would be unbelievable as a real location if the film wasn’t shot there almost in its entirety (aside from interiors, captured in Romania). As a disaster movie, though, The Wave has its finger on the pulse. Early on, the classic Jaws line is trotted out, with a colleague of Kristian’s scolding him for causing unnecessary panic in the middle of the profitable tourist season.
Disaster movies live or die on the quality of their effects, though, and The Wave is brave enough to choose a tsunami, as opposed to an earthquake, as its disaster. Water is near-impossible to computer-generate effectively (see: 2012, San Andreas, et al) but here it looks fantastic. There’s something in the motion of it, the attention to movement, that makes the gush of fluids completely convincing.
And it’s this attention to detail, to scale, along with an innate understanding of why we watch disaster movies in the first place (to see characters triumph in spite of the odds, as well as to glorify in the devastation of some far-flung place from the safety of our sofas) that makes The Wave so enthralling.
In the end, we’re rooting for Geiranger at large to survive this just as much as we’re basking in the horror of it all. The film will be in theatres and on demand March 4th.
WICKED RATING: (6 / 10)
Director(s): Roar Uthaug
Writer(s): John Kåre Raake, Harald Rosenløw-Eeg
Stars: Kristoffer Joner, Thomas Bo Larsen, Ane Dahl Torp, Jonas Hoff Oftebro
Studio/ Production Co: Fantfefilm
Length: 104 mins.
Sub-Genre: Disaster movie