MOVIE REVIEW: The Wave
"THE WAVE"-- 3 STARS
Plenty of disaster movies pretend to lean on real science to justify their cinematic ambitions in order to offer belief an audience can accept and exude some form of intelligence. Too often, the manic energy to entertain exceeds the science and a two-hour turd polishing clinic results. The decent ones can touch base with the right science and blend in the theatrics. As long as you can stand subtitles and tray of cheese samples, you have a mild winner in "The Wave (Bolgen)" from Norway.
History shows that earthquakes and landslides in narrow sea inlets have been known to produce cataclysmic tsunamis that have wiped out entire towns and killed hundreds. They have happened in Alaska and the threat is larger and ever-constant in the many spectacular fjords of Norway. The narrow shapes of the natural passes turn those fjords in a funnels that channel and increase a wave's strength, size, and intensity.
The country's top geologists monitor these threats and know that nothing can stop them from coming. Like tornadoes in our neck of the woods, all they can do is offer the earliest warning possible when the inevitable arrives. In most cases, once something like that hits, towns and people nearby have mere minutes to find safety. One of those geologists is Kristian Eikjord, played by Kristoffer Joner, who recently made his American debut in "The Revenant.” He is the first to notice the fluctuations in the data on the Akerneset mountain that could trigger one of these events in the popular cruise ship village of Geiranger.
True to cliche, "The Wave" fleshes out a human dynamic of threatened protagonists the narrative wants you to care about. Chummy co-workers and a family unit comprised of an oblivious teenage son, a cute little daughter with her stuffed animal, and a stalwart wife (Ane Dahl Torp of “Pioneer”) populate Kristian’s circle. Their interactions are cued with repetitive piano from composer Magnus Beite when the musical screws aren’t being tightened by the eerie and necessary “danger music.”
Once the rumble starts, "The Wave" can pack a punch. That central tsunami is jaw-dropping, even with lesser special effects from overseas. The film plays out this disastrous scenario of doom in riveting fashion that tries to overcome the pervading triteness. Like the Danes replicating American-style westerns to make a superior one of their own (“The Salvation”) recently, director Roar Uthaug has clearly seen a few Roland Emmerich and Irwin Allen films. Think the devastation of “The Impossible” mixed with a dash of “San Andreas” and the convenient expository science similar to “Dante’s Peak.” Even with the corniness and moments of disbelief, Uthaug crafts a leaner and often more intense homage that works more often than it does not.
LESSON #1: THE SCIENCE OF TSUNAMIS MIXED WITH FJORDS-- The aforementioned scientific facts bookend “The Wave.” They lay out the scenario that the film brings to hypothetical life. Water table shifts and avalanches are no joke. The movie blows a few things out of proportion for style purposes, but the foreboding phenomena are very real in these areas.
LESSON #2: LISTEN TO THE EXPERT WHO ISN'T CRYING WOLF—When the bad news is the unthinkable, less people want to believe it. Our man Ristian can see the signs and smell the smoke. The data backs him up, but too few people listen until it’s too late. Take precautions and prepare earlier during an impending crisis. Follow the experts.
LESSON #3: CHARACTERS IN MOVIES CAN MIRACULOUSLY HOLD THEIR BREATH FOR SUPERHUMAN LENGTHS OF TIME-- Either it's bad editing, bad writing, or both, but you'll be amazed how much current can be withstood, distance can be covered, and taxing actions are exerted by a non-Olympian fully clothed without goggles. GTFO!
LESSON #4: YOU CANNOT GET IN A FATHER’S WAY TO SAVE HIS FAMILY—Unfortunately, the film’s worst cliché of all is the archetype of the unstoppable father trying to rescue his family to safety in the third act. Kristian morphs from astute scientist to a borderline superhero, defying all challenges placed before him. As corny as it is, the stubbornness of us fathers can indeed be channeled into unrelenting drive and heroism to protect our family. The film isn’t wrong. It just overdoes it.