Nestled in Norway's Sunnmøre region, Geiranger is one of the most spectacular tourist draws on the planet. With the mountain Åkerneset overlooking the village — and constantly threatening to collapse into the fjord — it is also a place where cataclysm could strike at any moment. After putting in several years at Geiranger's warning centre, geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) is moving on to a prestigious gig with an oil company. But the very day he's about to drive his family to their new life in the city, Kristian senses something isn't right. The substrata are shifting. No one wants to believe that this could be the big one, especially with tourist season at its peak, but when that mountain begins to crumble, every soul in Geiranger has 10 minutes to get to high ground before a tsunami hits, consuming everything in its path.
'The Wave' is a well-made special effects driven thriller, especially when considering its humble roots. The Norwegian film posits a frightening what-if scenario: What if an unstable piece of rock fell into a large, scenic mountain lake?
We're informed that one day, a large chunk of rock will splash into Norway's Geiranger fjord. An event that will likely send a 260-foot wall of water careening toward the idyllic tourist town of Geiranger. They know it'll happen, they just don't know when.
The region is watched closely by a group of geologists. In the film Kristoph (Kristoffer Joner) is one of the scientists asked to keep a vigilant eye on the mountain side in hopes of providing an early warning to the town's inhabitants. Kristoph is obsessed with the mountain, but with his wife's pleading he's decided to take another job out of town. They're just about to leave when the unthinkable happens.
What's so surprising about 'The Wave' is that you'd think a smaller film like this wouldn't have the resources to put together a believable destruction sequence. When your movie relies on the simple fact that a tidal wave is going to destroy everything in its path that wave, and its aftermath, better be believable.
As the wave comes barreling down on Geiranger it really is quite the site to behold. The wave reaches up to the sky, crushing everything it touches. It's an intense few moments as it relentlessly pushes its way forward. This scene, so easily, could've looked fake or hokey. It's not a $100-million film, but you can't really tell either. The tidal wave sequence felt every bit as realistic and impactful as 'The Impossible.'
Sure, as far as disaster movies go this one follows along with the same narrative tropes we've come to suspect. Unable to stop the calamity all Kristoph can hope for is getting his family to safety. They get split up, but remain witnesses to the carnage rather than victims. There is one harrowing scene where his wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) and son (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) are trapped in a bomb shelter slowing filling with lake water. It's impressively claustrophobic and intensely engrossing.
'The Wave' is more about the spectacle than anything else. Yes, it's a familial drama, but that comes second to the enormous wave crashing over a small town and the immense damage that follows in its wake.
Its intensity is its best asset. It never feels like it lets down after the wave forms. There isn't a moment to rest, not for the characters and certainly not for the viewer. As far as disaster movies go 'The Wave' holds its own. It understands the genre and plays it safe. There's no faulting it for that since most disaster movies do the same exact thing.
It does more with less, which is admirable, and ends up creating an unexpectedly satisfying experience. Whereas most disaster movies nowadays are focused on destroying everything, 'The Wave' thinks locally and packs more of a punch than say, 'San Andreas.'
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a single-disc release from Magnolia. It comes packaged in a standard keepcase and is provided a slipcover.
Here's where you'd expect a smaller budget disaster movie to suffer a little on Blu-ray. There's always the chance that the 1080p high definition will draw attention to subpar special effects. That's not the case here though. This movie looks every bit as good as any Hollywood disaster fare.
The surroundings are stunning, and Norway's beautiful mountain top wilderness is on full display here. Greens are rich and lush. The deep, crystal blue of the fjord is stunning. The clarity is superb for much of the film. Things get a tad murky when the sun sets and darkness covers the town, yet it's nothing to be overly concerned about.
Granted the wave's special effects are hidden slightly by the nighttime setting, but it still looks menacing as it bears down on the town. The special effects never look low budget or somehow lesser than. Black areas are solidly rendered. There is a bit of crushing here and there, though. Shadows, for the most part, are resolute. It's a good looking film on Blu-ray which presents some stunning natural views coupled with impressive CGI.
Surprisingly Magnolia has attached the theatrical Dolby Atmos track to 'The Wave' Blu-ray. I say surprisingly, because this sort of thing has been hit and miss as far as Atmos goes. There have been plenty of big name titles released with Atmos tracks in theaters that haven't gotten the same treatment when put on Blu-ray.
The Atmos track is a nice way to fill out the sound field here. The wave is monstrous so the height channels work very well providing realistic sound of a 260-foot wall of water rushing over your head. There's a nice scene where a flock of noisy birds fly overhead and the sound of distant squaking passes right above you. The rear channels are filled with all sorts of directional-specific sounds like car horns, far off explosions, crashing windows, and crunching metal.
Dialogue is cleanly presented, even amid the crashing sound effects. Panning effects, of which there are many, are smoothly constructed. I wasn't expecting a demo-worthy audio disc from 'The Wave,' but that's exactly what I got.
Behind the Scenes of 'The Wave' (HD, 4 min.) – Presented with English subtitles, this featurette shows us the soundstages constructed for the film and also many of the on-location areas where it was shot.
'The Wave' Visual Effects Breakdown (HD, 9 min.) – This is presented in three separate parts running roughly three minutes each. Part one discusses creating the immense rock slide, part two shows how the wave was created with CG, and the third part shows how they destroyed the town of Geiranger when the wave hit.
Interview with Director Roar Uthuag (HD, 4 min.) – A short sit down with the director talking about how the movie came about and what it was like making it.
'The Wave' is a diamond in the rough. It's one of those movies you might one day see sitting in the bargain bin and think about picking up. The cover looks cheesy and generic. The title is equally so. However, this is one that you shouldn't miss. Especially considering it's great video and demo-worthy Atmos track. 'The Wave' is recommended.