That’s what I would have said if you told me this story, and I didn’t know it was true. A family of five, tourists in Thailand on December 26, 2004 when the biggest tsunami we had ever seen up to that time hit the resort hotel they were staying in … and they all survived. When you see what it was like to be thrown into that maelstrom and whirled about with tons and tons of lethal trash, you’d think that any one person would have had about the same chance of survival as a mouse in a blender. But they all made it. The mother was severely injured, but the others escaped with only bruises and scrapes.
The special effects are stunning, staggering, frightening. I don’t know when I’ve been riveted to my seat as long and intensely as I was here. It’s a mixture of real water and CGI and big models. Naomi Watts (who got an Oscar nomination) and Tom Holland, the boy playing her son, spent five weeks either underwater or half-submerged. It must have been awful.
But there is a story problem. We follow the boy and his mother for a while in the aftermath, then we switch to the father and two younger sons. So we know they’re all alive, and the only real problem they have—other than the operation the mother needs—is how long will it take them to find each other. This is overplayed a bit, and the reunion was dragged out too long for my taste.
Here, the chief enjoyment is the awesome spectacle of the wave, and the overwhelming sense of sorrow to see what was left behind, and the thousands and thousands of people waiting for medical care from a completely overburdened Thai medical system. No reflection on them; American hospitals would have broken down, too. One thing all the European and American survivors agree on is the heroic efforts of the Thais, rescue workers, medical staff, and ordinary people, to give help. Many of these people had lost everything they owned, and large parts of their families, but they never stopped to count the cost until all the survivors of whatever race had been found and helped. My hat is off to them.