Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 12, 2018

The Quake

Filed under: disaster,Film — louisproyect @ 4:40 pm

Among the most popular genres marketed to the youth-oriented Cineplex world is the disaster film. The natural disasters range from tornadoes, volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, meteor strikes to luxury liners capsizing from either a rogue wave or an iceberg. The plot is dictated by the necessity of survival and generally involves a strong male lead trying to unite with a daughter or wife who he has become separated from after the disaster strikes. Such films naturally require a major investment in special effects or computer graphics since that’s the only way to depict New York City being destroyed by a flood of biblical proportions or a fireball produced by a humongous rock from outer space striking the planet.

Hollywood generally dumbs down such films since they are intended to scare you like a roller coaster ride rather than make you think. When Rupert Murdoch’s 20th Century Fox produced “The Day After Tomorrow”, they wanted you to sit at the edge of your chair hoping that the paleoclimatologist dad (Dennis Quaid) would somehow make it across thousands of miles of ice produced by climate change to reach and rescue his son (Jake Gyllenhaal) holed up in the public library on 42nd street. Do you think that the film had much to say about how the new ice age happened? Don’t be silly.

Three years ago, I saw “The Wave”, a Norwegian film about how rockslides created devastating tsunamis twice in the twentieth century in the village of Tajford. The first tsunami occurred in 1905, killing 60 people. Thirty-one years later, another 74 lost their lives from the same natural disaster. Considering the fact that Norway’s population was only 2.5 million in 1905, the first tsunami would have killed the equivalent of about 7,000 people in the USA today.

Roar Uthaug, the director of “The Wave” (Bølgen), who admits to being a fan of Hollywood films like “Twister” and “Armageddon”, decided to make his own such film but on a micro-budget probably proportionate to the percentage difference in population between Norway and the USA. Unlike “Twister” or “Armageddon”, “The Wave” played in an arthouse in New York. Even if a teen audience would have loved a dubbed version of “The Wave”, subtitles are a show-stopper for most Americans, including those with Ph.D.’s. Speaking for myself, dubbing is more painful than a toothache.

Although I loved “The Wave”, I didn’t bother reviewing it—mostly because it was a bit far afield from my usual beat. If I had written a review, it might have read something like what Anthony Lane wrote for the New Yorker but in plainer language:

You would hope that a Norwegian disaster film would take place on a fjord, and so it does. The director’s name is Roar Uthaug, and that, too, fulfills all expectations. Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) is a geologist, on his final shift at the fjord; he and his wife (Ane Dahl Torp) and their children are packing up and preparing to move to the city. A nearby mountain chooses this day—of all days!—to crack and slide into the water. This causes a tsunami, which surges toward the town where the family lives; other souls are in equal danger, but they matter less. In short, far from wriggling free of the standard tropes of Hollywood catastrophe, Uthaug embraces them eagerly, right down to the hero’s kids—a teen-age boy, stirred to moody heroics, and a Teddy-bear-clutching young girl. As for fleeing the flood, they naturally have ten minutes to reach high ground. (Kristian, ever thorough, sets his watch.) Yet the movie works; the setting feels grandly unfamiliar, and the aftermath of the wave, with its elemental mix of water and fire, seems like a plausible vision of Hell. In Norwegian.

This time around, I will not neglect reviewing the sequel to “The Wave”, this time directed by John Andreas Andersen but featuring the geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) and his family once again. As should be obvious from the title, “The Quake” (Skjelvet), is about an earthquake pulverizing Oslo. There was an earthquake in 1904 that damaged some buildings but resulted in no fatalities (as far as I can determine.) Some geologists warn that conditions exist for producing a “severe” earthquake but it is safe to say that the one depicted through CGI in “The Quake” is far more devastating than any than that the worst earthquake has ever produced. It is a movie after all.

In the sequel, the family has disintegrated. Kristian has remained in Geiranger, the town that suffered the tsunami, while his wife and two children have relocated to Oslo. He appears to be a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder, holed up in his house pasting articles about the disaster in an upstairs room. When his young daughter Julia comes for a visit, she asks him what he is up to in this room and he lacks the presence of mind to give her a proper answer. The next day, he cuts her visit short and puts her back on the boat to Oslo.

A few days later, he receives a packet of articles from a fellow geologist indicating that a major earthquake is in the works. Just after putting the package in the mail, the colleague dies in a cave-in in a tunnel underneath a fjord leading into Oslo. Kristian then contacts the man’s daughter who gives him free rein to examine the geologist’s office where he finds convincing evidence that a “big one” is about to hit Oslo.

A desperate Kristian meets with the chief geologist for the government who warns Kristian about going overboard. Meeting indifference everywhere he goes, including from his own family, he begins to resemble Jack Lemmon’s character in “China Syndrome”.

When the earthquake hits, he finds himself in the same 34-story office building as his wife and daughter Julia, where he embarks on a rescue mission that is as hair-raising as I have seen in a movie since that scene in “Wages of Fear” when Yves Montand attempts to maneuver a truck filled with nitroglycerine off a rickety wooden platform on a mountain ledge.

“The Quake” opens on Friday at selected theaters but, fortunately, on VOD as well. Information on its availability is at the film’s website. As for “The Wave”, it is available on Amazon Prime and other VOD platforms as well.




  1. We’ve had two tsunamis that wiped out various parts of coastal Hilo in 1946 and 1960. Should you visit Hilo, you’ll find soccer fields, parks, and a golf course where the neighborhoods of Waiakea Town, Shinmachi, and Kimiville once were.

    Comment by Poppa Zao — December 12, 2018 @ 6:12 pm

  2. Like Jack Lemon in China Syndrom…. haha. Who could forget that?

    Comment by m_dean — December 14, 2018 @ 10:26 am

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