Tidal Wave: No Escape (1997) — Surf’s Up

Dave pays tribute to the recently departed George Miller and surrenders to the far-fetched fun of his made-for-TV disaster flick.

The other George Miller died this year. Forever to be confused with the guy who made the Mad Max movies, obituaries for the filmmaker are awash with pictures of his namesake. Given how often such gaffes happened in life, I guess it’s completely inevitable in death. Nevertheless, the passing of this journeyman helmer does warrant a sincere tribute – even if his most notorious film was the heinous Les Patterson Saves the World (1987).

Miller’s most acclaimed work was the much-loved Australian western The Man from Snowy River (1982) with Kirk Douglas, although to kids of our generation he was the guy behind video store staples like fantasy sequel The NeverEnding Story II (1990), seal caper Andre (1994), and beloved dog n’ dolphin heart-warmer Zeus and Roxanne (1997). The ‘90s was a prolific time for the director – and mixed into the family fare was a healthy dose of Schlock Pit fodder like the Jimmy Smits thriller Gross Misconduct (1993) and comedy misfire Frozen Assets (1992) with Corbin Bernsen.

As the decade wore on, Miller reunited with Bernsen for disaster flick TIDAL WAVE: NO ESCAPE. The genre was in full bloom: Twister (1996) had scored big at the box office, and Dante’s Peak (1997), Volcano (1997) and Deep Impact (1998) all wanted a piece of the pie. For wily executive Robert Halmi Sr., his experience hinted that he could translate this trend to television, and ABC were eager to oblige.

An onslaught of tsunamis mysteriously crash down along the Pacific, wiping out coastlines and killing scores of people. When all signs point towards terrorism, it’s up to to former weapons specialist John Wahl (Bernsen) to join forces with oceanographer Jessica Weaver (Julianne Phillips) to find out what’s going on and how to stop it.

Had Tidal Wave arrived post-2001, in the wake of Thomas Vitale, Ray Cannella, and Chris Regina reinventing the SyFy Original formula, it probably wouldn’t seem as unique. During the late ‘90s though, save for the likes of Tornado! (1996) and Storm Chasers: Revenge of the Twister (1998), low-budget natural disaster-based hijinks were a rarity on the small screen. That’s not to say Miller’s movie is worthy of a pedestal position, because it’s not. It frequently teeters on the brink of parody and it has a handful of logic defying occurrences that would make a GCSE physics student wince.

However, there’s still a lot to like about this, even if you have to stifle your nitpicking to enjoy it. Bernsen and Phillips have great chemistry and they relentlessly try to add as much sincerity to George Malko and Tedi Sarafian’s script as possible. Sarafian, of course, comes from a film dynasty. His father is Richard Sarafian, the director of cult classic Vanishing Point (1971), and his brother, Deran, lensed the action spectaculars Death Warrant (1990) and Gunmen (1994). Adding a conspiracy angle to the disaster template is a welcome move, and making the bad guy as genial as Harve Presnell is is certainly different – especially since an NSA stooge (played with scene-chewing expertise by Gregg Henry) is adorned with the statutory villain kit of tinted glasses and a cane. While the special effects look as though they’ve been pilfered from Big Wednesday (1978), if you’re a disaster movie nut of undiscerning taste, then you can do a lot worse than this amiable telepic.

Airing on ABC on 5th May 1997, Tidal Wave’s biggest challenge was fending off part two of Robin Cook’s Invasion (1997) on NBC, which perhaps wasn’t the best bit of scheduling. The strangest nugget of trivia with Miller’s film is that Halmi opted to remake it a decade later, rehiring both Malko and Sarafian to not only repurpose their script, but to double the length of it as well. It was the first of a dozen projects in a deal Halmi inked with the ION cable channel.

USA ● 1997 ● Thriller, TVM ● 90mins

Corbin Bernsen, Julianne Phillips, Gregg Henry, Harve Presnell, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs ● Dir. George T. Miller ● Wri. Tedi Sarafian, George Malko

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s