Directed by Norwegian Roar Uthaug, “The Wave” is 100% big budget disaster movie, its moves well in the emotional tradition of a Steven Spielberg (family melodrama, swelling emotions, someone looking at some enormous horror, then waiting a bit before cutting to it) and the destructive tradition of Roland Emmerich (“The Day After Tomorrow,” “2012”)
Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) is a somewhat spacey geologist about to (somewhat reluctantly) sell out — he is taking his wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp), son Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) and young daughter Julia ( Edith Haagenrud-Sande) away from their home in the staggeringly beautiful coastal resort town Geiranger to the big city so he can work in the oil industry. Sondre is reluctant, Idun, who works at the local hotel, is supportive. Kirstian is ambivalent; he clearly adores the mountains and fjords he works with and his crew at the mountain surveillance station.
Except a small anomaly in the readings the geologists are taking of the mountain crevices is bugging Kristian. Or maybe he is just looking for zebras where there are just horses — he is that kind of guy.
Until, of course, one rockslide and shift in the mountain/fjord/tectonic plate relationship later, and Geiranger has 10 minutes to evacuate before a 100 meter wall of water smashes into the town.
Uthaug reminds us that Geiranger is one of the most gorgeous places on the planet with sweeping aerial shots (the tracking shot of the car on the mountain road is only the first of a few small shout outs to “the Shining”) that contrast nicely with more claustrophobic moments (rapelling into a crevice, various small spaces filling with floodwater, etc.)
And while Kristian and his family might be soaking up the midnight sun before the disaster, everything goes dark and cold afterwards. Between the endless destruction and the lack of light, the post-tsunami environment has a distinctly nuclear winterish cast.
There is something nice about a big budget disaster movie that doesn’t have an actual, American-style big budget. Fifty million Norwegian krone, the alleged budget for “The Wave” comes out to about $5.8 million, which one could imagine as Emmerich’s craft services bill for one of his flicks. “The Wave” isn’t soaked to the gills with bloated CGI; only the titular wave is flagrantly digital and well, since the movie is based on the 1934 real-life tsunami in Norway’s Tafjord, which left 40 people dead, you can imagine the reluctance to go all “Fury Road” with that one. Norway’s idea of a popcorn distaster flick is a very good one indeed.
“The Wave” plays again 9 p.m. Monday.