Synopsis: An oil platform dramatically goes down on the Norwegian coast, and researchers try to find out what happened when they realize this is just the start of something even more serious.
Stars: Kristine Kujath Thorp, Rolf Kristian Larsen, Anders Baasmo, Bjørn Floberg, Anneke von der Lippe
Director: John Andreas Andersen
Running Length: 104 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: For a while, Hollywood seemed to be getting the hang of the disaster film. Going back to the grandparents of the genre, The Poseidon Adventure in 1972 and 1974’s The Towering Inferno, there’s been a push-pull in the effort to balance dramatic situations with the large-scale action set pieces that get audiences to buy a ticket. The movie can’t be all special effects, so those interstitial scenes have to count for something. Otherwise, you’re just watching characters you don’t have any feelings for getting rocked by an earthquake, consumed by lava from an exploding volcano, or swept out to sea by a tsunami ripping through a seaside town. Reaching its apex in the early ’80s and then remerging when CGI was all the rage, these films are cycling back into favor, but Hollywood hasn’t quite landed on the right formula to make them as exciting as they were before. I mean, Moonfall was not a great movie, but it had its moments.
At least our friends overseas are happily still finding ways to destroy things at the same pace as ever before. The difference between them and us is that the dramatics come more naturally to our foreign friends, and it’s why their films are often a real thrill because, by the time the Big Event takes place, you can easily track the characters you want to see survive. That’s what drives the new Norwegian disaster on the ocean film The Burning Sea into a higher gear than others of its ilk, allowing screenwriters Harald Rosenløw-Eeg and Lars Gudmestad to use the real-world situations as a framework and only marginally coloring outside the lines into the outlandish to create intense suspense.
A brief history of the oil business in the North Sea nestled close to Norway opens the film, showing the benign beginnings of what eventually becomes an environmental concern and danger to the men and women working on the rigs stationed miles offshore. William Lie (Bjørn Floberg, Kingsman: The Secret Service) started his career as one of those workers and has seen it all, making him a good representative of the blue-collar worker. As an executive at the oil company, he’s more aware of the bottom line than ever before; so when the unthinkable happens, and a huge platform rig collapses and sinks, trapping crew members on board, he’s forced into making decisions on saving lives or saving money.
Attempting to work his options, he calls in Sofia (Kristine Kujath Thorp) and Arthur (Rolf Kristian Larsen), local experts specializing in robotic submersibles that can go to extreme depths and report back any signs of life. Familiar with the risks taken not only because of the job but her relationship with a single father (Henrik Bjelland) working on a rig further down the line, Sofia can help the company get the answers, but not without raising more questions on future drilling in the area. All signals point to imminent dangers for the rest of the crews still out at sea, and when Sofia and Arthur’s theory proves correct, Sofia’s new love is placed on a deadly path with no outside means of help. Now they’ll need to work together to save the man before the government is forced into making a desperate decision that’s bigger than just their lives.
Building off the surprise success of 2015’s The Wave and its 2018 sequel The Quake, writers Rosenløw-Eeg and Gudmestad don’t let the pace of The Burning Sea (titled Nordsjøen in its home country) slack for a moment, even in land-based scenes. The decisions going on behind closed doors have equal amounts of tension, and with the eerie similarities to other natural disasters involving oil spills over the last four decades, it’s not hard to picture this fictional scenario in the realm of future possibility. The special effects that create the visual of this spectacle go a long way in the convincing as well. It’s not often you see the ocean cave in and swallow ships and other seemingly immovable objects from the surface into its abyss.
The performances often take a back seat to the action and effects in these films, but director John Andreas Andersen gets a stoic realism from his cast that never strays into mawkish dramatics. It could have quickly gone the other way, too. With the eyes of a fawn, the son of Sofia’s new boyfriend gets the closest to tipping the film into oversentimentality when everything seems to be at its bleakest, right around the time the government decides to set the oil slick on fire to prevent it from spreading inland. The rest of the cast valiantly rallies against having their “noble hero” moment, though the inevitable sacrifice for the life of another is eventually made.
It’s entirely possible audiences will find The Burning Sea and not know until it starts that it’s a foreign film, and I hope they keep with it. That’s how I found The Wave and while that one had its famously awful English dub to contend with, make sure to watch this one in its original language to get the full effect and for the beauty of the speech. More than your average disaster of the week extravaganza, The Burning Sea has a fiery intensity to its production and truth in its corner to offer viewers a rare voyage of genuine excitement.