Genius Products // 2007 // 191 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ben Saylor (Retired) // September 12th, 2008
Swim for your life!
A person's admiration for a certain actor or director can make them watch movies/T.V. shows to which they otherwise wouldn't give the slightest consideration. My love of Catherine Deneuve recently led me to bear witness to the folly that is the 1975 film Hustle, and my deep admiration for Jean-Pierre Melville provided the necessary motivation to sit through his unfortunate last film, Un Flic (which, coincidentally, co-stars Deneuve).
It was largely for this reason (combined with a lack of interest in other titles being offered for review that particular week) that led me to choose to review Flood, as it co-stars Tom Courtenay (The Golden Compass). Courtenay will always hold a place in my heart due to his magnificent performance in Billy Liar, which is one of my favorite movies. That exalted place, however, might have shrunk a little after viewing Flood. A British production that apparently aired as a miniseries over there (as well as, incredibly, a theatrical release) and also, fleetingly, here in the states, Flood represents yet another shameful entry into the canon of disaster film.
Flood, as the title more than implies, involves a massive surge of water. Its target: Britain. After obliterating a Scottish town called Wick (in one of the film's first of several laugh-inducing moments), the storm surge points its fury up the Thames toward London. But the powers that be aren't worried; after all, they've been assured by government meteorologist Hopkins (Nigel Planer) that the storm will reverse course and move away. And even if it doesn't, there's always the Thames Barrier to stop the water.
Unfortunately, the Barrier was constructed at the wrong point on the river, something Professor Leonard Morrison (Courtenay) has been trying to tell everyone for years. No one, not even Leonard's marine engineer son Rob (Robert Carlyle, The Full Monty), would listen -- until now. Can Leonard and Rob, together with Rob's ex-wife (and Barrier chief) Sam (Jessalyn Gilsig, the recent Prom Night) stop the relentless surge before it envelops all of London?
The real question, of course, is whether you should care whether they stop the surge, and the correct answer is no. Even on the sliding scale of disaster film, Flood ranks pretty low. There are plenty of things wrong with it, but I'll start with its soul-crushing runtime; Flood is more than three hours long. (The DVD case incorrectly lists it at 187 minutes. You might not think the extra four minutes is a big deal, but if you make it to that point in the program, trust me, you will.) The pacing is unbelievably laborious; most of Flood's first hour is consumed with people arguing with each other about how dangerous the storm surge is and what the government's response should be. As the film (I'll use that term from here on in instead of "miniseries") progresses, we get to see more arguing coupled with trite reconciliation talk between Rob and Sam. (After all, there's nothing like a cataclysmic event to make you put aside your differences and realize what really matters.)
Throughout Flood, there is a disconcertingly small amount of actual disaster occurring, putting the film in immediate violation of one of the critical disaster film tenets: The dispatching of large numbers of extras. All the classics do it: The Poseidon Adventure (all the people who get it when the wave hits the ship), The Towering Inferno (we get to see plenty of folks go up in flames). Hell, even The Swarm contains an entire train full of people that is derailed by the titular collection of crazed bees! Alas, Flood never reaches these sadistic heights (lows?), despite our being told that the death toll stands at at least 200,000. Instead, we get a bunch of vaguely familiar British actors arguing with one another in a command center, with only a handful of side characters shown trying to escape the rising waters. (Surprisingly, most of them do.)
The reason behind not showing bunches of people buy it in the flood is probably due to one of Flood's other critical weak points: special effects. The effects in this film are cable-ready in the worst sense of the phrase and only serve to add to the already-high level of unintentional humor present. If you had the misfortune to buy or rent this disc before reading my review, take note of the menu animation effect; the effects within the film itself aren't much better.
Even worse than the special effects (which I was expecting to be bad going in) is the film's visual style, which is beyond horrid. Director Tony Mitchell insists on using that awful speeding-the-action-up technique combined with the rapid cuts that are so often found on television these days. Worse, he peppers the proceedings with all manner of freeze frames, usually slapping the time on the screen to coincide with it, which, beyond annoying me, also brought back unpleasant memories of Sidney Lumet's awful Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. Aiding and abetting this tedious style is Debbie Wiseman's equally didactic musical score, which uses the same elements so often that if a soundtrack album was ever released, it would have a playing time of no more than seven or eight minutes.
Another one of the sick pleasures of watching disaster films lies in watching big name actors (or former big name or would-be big name actors) defile themselves through their involvement with the project. Gene Hackman, Michael Caine, Henry Fonda, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Fred Astaire, and Charlton Heston are just a few examples of top-drawer stars who have cashed paychecks to do battle with a force of nature. With Flood, however, all we get are Carlyle and Courtenay. I'm not sure what's happened with Carlyle of late; after appearing in well-regarded films such as Trainspotting and The Full Monty, he took roles such as the villain in the dreadful The World Is Not Enough and the cowardly Carl in 28 Weeks Later. In Flood, Carlyle gives a workmanlike performance that is as passable as it is forgettable.
But for me, the real tragedy of Flood is the involvement of Tom Courtenay. While he never seemed to achieve the success (at least in film) as contemporaries Albert Finney and Michael Caine, Courtenay certainly deserves better than this drivel. As Professor Morrison, the man who comes up with a solution to save everyone, Courtenay speaks in slow, measured cadences. The years have taken his voice down an octave or two, giving him just enough grave authority to get away with the dull scientific claptrap that comprises most of his dialogue. Ultimately, I came away with the strange sensation of enjoying Flood just a little bit more every time Courtenay was on the screen whilst simultaneously lamenting his presence in the film.
The rest of the cast is almost uniformly unremarkable. Gilsig, whom I've enjoyed since her days on Boston Public (which she followed with guest turns on shows such as NYPD Blue and Friday Night Lights), doesn't get much to do beyond sloshing about in a flattering blouse. Joanne Whalley (Willow) has a sizable role as the person in charge of Britain's disaster response forces. She not only has to coordinate rescue efforts and make hard choices involving the fate of countless Londoners, but she's also trying to ascertain the whereabouts of her teenage daughters. While the last bit is nothing original, Whalley gives a satisfyingly understated performance, considering the opportunities for going over the top that would seem to abound in such a film. Also look for Tom Hardy (Shinzon in Star Trek: Nemesis) as an Underground worker, and Gottfried John (better known to James Bond fans as General Ourumov in GoldenEye) as a Wall Street fat cat.
Genius Products' presentation of Flood is actually very good from a technical standpoint; the transfer is quite sharp, and the sound certainly delivers (although considering that part of what it's delivering is that atrocious musical score, maybe that's not such a good thing). In terms of extras, however, there is absolutely nothing, although a pair of previews plays before the main menu. I certainly wasn't looking for a commentary or anything, but I would have like an explanation from some of the actors involved as to what exactly they saw in the script that made them want to give this one a go.
As only a casual fan of the disaster film genre, I can't really recommend Flood. Disaster junkies may want to seek this out, but beyond the sad novelty of seeing actors like Carlyle and Courtenay muck about in this poorly written and terribly directed work, there's absolutely no positives to be found here, despite Genius Products' strong technical presentation.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 191 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated