‘The Burning Sea’ follows the standard operating procedure for an ecological disaster movie

A man with blood running down the side of his face stands with another man and a woman.
Kristine Kujath Thorp, center, and Rolf Kristian Larsen, right, in “The Burning Sea.”
(Magnet Releasing)

A successor to the hit Norwegian disaster films “The Wave” and “The Quake,” the oil-spill drama “The Burning Sea” is a blunt reminder of two intertwined truths: Human-made environmental catastrophes are inevitable, and it’s hard to turn them into decent action movies.

Directed by John Andreas Andersen (who also helmed “The Quake”) and co-written by Lars Gudmestad and Harald Rosenløw-Eeg (the latter of whom co-wrote “The Quake” and “The Wave”), “The Burning Sea” stars Kristine Kujath Thorp. She plays Sofia, a skilled submarine operator who leads an investigation and rescue mission after a North Sea oil rig collapses. Sofia’s boyfriend, Stian (Henrik Bjelland), is trapped on the water amid a rapidly spreading spill threatening damage to the ecosystem.

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The story follows a standard formula. The first third establishes Sofia and Stian’s fairly idyllic life, while also introducing rumblings of trouble within the oil-drilling operation, which over the decades has gradually opened a destabilizing crack in the ocean floor. In act two, everything goes haywire, and both the government and big business bureaucrats scramble to suppress information.


Andersen and his special effects team produce some spectacular explosions and destruction in that middle section of “The Burning Sea” — particularly in the sequence where the collapse triggers dangerous waves. The movie’s third act features some white-knuckle moments too, as Sofia and her associate Arthur (Rolf Kristian Larsen) take initiative and head into the heart of the calamity.

The film as a whole, though, never hits as hard as it should. The characters are too stock — generic enough that their personalities won’t distract from the looming apocalyptic trouble. And, as is often the case with stories about people surviving ecological turmoil, the hugeness of the problem feels diminished by the ability of the heroes to get through it via a combination of luck and pluck.

“The Burning Sea” is meant to be a kind of cautionary tale, framed by an interview with an oilman who stresses that the story’s events are bound to happen if the drilling continues. But as it plays out on the screen, this is less disquieting than familiar: a real-world crisis, fit into the form of a conventional thriller.

'The Burning Sea'

In Norwegian, with English subtitles

Rating: PG-13, for peril, some disturbing images, language and brief partial nudity

Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes

Playing: Starts Feb. 25, Laemmle Royal; also available on VOD