The Burning Sea is comfort food for disaster movie fans. It hits all the familiar story beats. There’s nothing really unexpected on offer, but at the same time, what is here is executed really rather well.
Director John Andreas Andersen also brought us another Norwegian disaster movie in the form of The Quake, and writer Harald Rosenløw-Eeg worked on both The Quake and it’s prequel, The Wave (both of which are really solid slices of Scandi-flavoured disaster porn), so they know exactly how to deliver a movie like this. It could, though, be argued that perhaps they’ve played it a little TOO safe here.
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The main thrust of the story follows remote submarine expert Sofia (Kristine Kujath Thorp – Sick of Myself, Blank), her co-worker Arthur (Rolf Kristian Larsen – Cold Prey, Max Manus: Man of War) and Sofia’s love interest Stian (Henrik Bjelland – Hoppetau, Now It’s Dark), who works out on the rigs. Drafted in to help investigate the sudden collapse of an oil rig, Sofia and Arthur discover that there might be a bigger problem than just one rig collapsing. The only problem is that thanks to a pesky little non-disclosure agreement, all they can do is sit back and watch, unable to do anything to warn about a possible impending disaster.
The “villain” of the piece, if there is one, takes the shape of oil company exec William Lie (Bjørn Floberg – Insomnia, Black Sheep). William is a company man to the core, every decision and every action is first examined through the lens of “Is this good for the company?”. A viewer might call his decisions heartless, but they’re always driven by cold, unfeeling logic, facts and numbers. It’s always a pleasant surprise when film writers remember that not every “bad guy” has to be an overblown prima-donna in a cape. Sometimes it’s just all about the money.
Story-wise, this film is less about the spectacle of the disaster than it is about the people involved in it. The focus is very much on Sofia’s quest to rescue Stian, and of the impact his father’s apparent death will have on Stian’s son, Odin (Nils Elias Olsen). In that sense, perhaps they would have been better sticking with the original title of The North Sea rather than changing, it as both title and trailer suggest there’s going to be a lot more explosions and fire than there really ends up being.
In terms of a physical release, The Burning Sea is a disappointment. There’s not a single special feature to be found on this single disc release. Your only options are audio ones, with the film being available in its native language (with or without subtitles), or in a not entirely convincing English dub. The Wave had a decent selection of making-of features, and even The Quake managed one behind-the-scenes featurette, but it seems The Burning Sea spent all its budget on making oil rigs collapse and didn’t have anything left over to even record a commentatry track.
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So how does The Burning Sea stack up in this little triumvirate of Norwegian-flavoured disaster flicks? It’s the most Hollywood-like of the bunch in terms of production quality, but also the least interesting in terms of actual disaster. The focus is far more on the relationship between Sofia and Stian rather than on oil rigs collapsing and seas burning. Hell, the sea doesn’t even start burning in The Burning Sea until the film is almost over.
It’s not a bad film by any stretch, but it’s not a particularly engaging one either. If you fancy some Norwegian-themed disaster, then you should go and watch The Wave. It might not be as polished an offering as we find here, but it’s a whole lot more fun.
The Burning Sea is out on DVD and Blu-ray on 25th July.