The Norwegian production company that made contemporary disaster films The Wave, from 2015 and, three years later, The Quake, is back with another commercial blend of visual effects, melodrama and mildly didactic but not-too-preachy eco-catastrophising. This time it’s a story about oil rigs going wrong in the North Sea and creating a massive spill – but more importantly, for the purposes of the drama, endangering the life of scientist-protagonist Sofia’s boyfriend Stian (Henrik Bjelland), and thus threatening to leave a little boy named Odin (Nils Elias Olsen) fatherless. The poor kid spends most of the film sitting around a waiting room being starred at furtively by worried adults, seemingly more anxious about having to deal with telling him his dad is dead than with the fact that they’re causing a massive environmental disaster that will affect millions. But I suppose you have to find some way to make the drama palpable to viewers.
Moreover, like nearly everyone in the film, Sofia (Kristine Kujath Thorp) works for the oil industry, so there’s no fundamental questioning of this massive, powerful enterprise that has ballooned Norway’s GDP over the last 50 years or so. There are only good oil-industry employees here, and only slightly less scrupulous oil-industry executives, such as the bosses who haven’t grasped that the relentless drilling has made the seabed fundamentally unstable. This means robotics engineer Sofia must use her own creations to save Stian’s life when he gets trapped in an air pocket on a collapsed platform. Her buddy Arthur (Rolf Kristian Larsen) helps her out, and it’s kind of delightful that nobody looks like the Rock or any other Hollywood movie star here. They’re all just average nerds, likable if flawed, with pasty complexions and boiler-suits, trying to survive and save their loved ones.
A regular beat of tension and release plays out as people get saved only to face new dangers, following the template of disaster films since the beginning of cinema, but it’s done well here. The visual effects are impressive, especially the water, which is so notoriously hard to animate.
• The Burning Sea is available on 30 May on digital platforms.