Thursday, February 23, 2017

Two Booms: The Wave & Deepwater Horizon

I could say I watch a lot of disaster movies, but we are in a lull of them these days, so I watch em when I can get em. Or grab them from The Shelf. Why do I watch them, when they are traditionally badly done and formulaic? I suppose it is the same reason I love post-apocalyptic films -- that when the worst is happening, we can dispense with the treacheries of day to day life and just focus on what needs to be done; survival. And things are pretty bad IRL right now, so naturally...

The Wave, 2015, Roar Uthaug (Tomb Raider) -- Netflix

Bølgen as it is called in Norway, is one of those rare non-American disaster movies. Set in a region of the country that I was recently introduced to by the Slow TV "episode" Northern Passage. In case you haven't experienced it yet, Slow TV is a Norwegian phenomena of utterly glacial TV shows that are airing (in part) on Netflix in Canada. Northern Passage highlighted the best parts of a show that originally ran 24 hours a day for 6 days, as a cruise ship went from Bergen to Kirkenes.

One of the places the ship stopped was Geirangerfjord, with its famously monitored hunk of mountain that could fall at any moment, dumping so much rock into the fjord, it would cause a tsunami that would engulf the towns below it. This movie is about that event actually happening.

This is a classic formula disaster movie. Intrepid hero scientist Kristian Eikjord is about to retire from the monitoring station, and move his family from the small village to the big city. He's a little obsessive and a little paranoid about what could happen, thus a little nervous about abandoning his post. But he has to do better for his family.

I always like the slow build ups these properly done movies give us, as we learn the science or the warning system we know will come into play. Our main character has to be flawed but admirable, tightly connected to his family and the people of his community. Kristian is both those, admired by but constantly annoying his team and family. I also like the little bits of this movie, the regional bits that expose me to Norway and its people & traditions. The cheese on bread, the sitting in a large window watching the sky never get completely dark,

Eventually the rock does fall, the wave does happen and the town is engulfed. Kristian does his best to save the townsfolk, but really, he has to focus on his family. Being a condensed disaster, as in not a section of a country or a continent or even a city, it has to heighten the tragedy by having key characters die unexpectedly. I was rather upset the tourist bus didn't make it. In the end, he does succeed in saving some people and his family, and we get some fantastic post-wave disaster footage that reminded me of The Impossible.

P.S. Uthaug is doing the new Tomb Raider movie.

Deepwater Horizon, 2016, Peter Berg (Hancock) -- download

And from natural catastrophe we move onto completely and utterly manmade disaster. I wondered how this movie would deal with the real details of the oil derrick explosion & the BP oil disaster, when almost 5 million barrels worth of oil were released into the Gulf of Mexico. Surprisingly, the moving is not compromising on the culpability of the oil companies but not surprisingly, the movie focuses on the actual explosion and the men & women affected.

Marky Mark is Mike Williams, the every man, the family man, the lead electrical tech on the oil rig. Our introduction to him makes him the nice guy, the popular guy and the guy willing to open his mouth to the big bosses about how much of the rig is falling apart around them. They say they appreciate his honesty, but you know they don't. Everyone wants the already late drilling job to pay off soon, so they can get what is left of their bonuses. Screw the every man and his desire to do his job right.

One of the key decisions they make is to send home the crew that tests the concrete that surrounds the drill site. They pour concrete under water? I guess they do. And of course, they should have been allowed to complete those tests. The rig blows, the oil ignites and people die.

The drama focuses on Mike and his heroism and calm in the face of danger. Around him are his coworkers and friends, drillers and techs and even oil & drilling executives. Once the blow happens, he wants to rescue as many as possible, especially Mr. Jimmy (Kurt Russell) who is the one man who can quickly asses how bad things are. Things are bad.

This is by the books tension, dread and gut wrenching excitement. That's not a bad thing, and considering the subject matter, the movie does exactly what it intends on doing. Berg handles his cast well and the performances are good, a very clear example of the difference between Straight To and big studio productions. I especially liked the little touch at the end, where ever calm and in control Mike finally collapses on the floor with his wife and daughter, the tension pouring out of him like the oil filling the Gulf, ready to ignite at any moment.