Tsunami – Caught On Camera Review: Wave Of Misery

December 30, 2009 by  
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3tsunami300TSUNAMI – CAUGHT ON CAMERA: Wednesday 30th December, Channel4, 9pm ALERT ME

How do you cope when an earthquake hits you? It’s probably not something you’ve thought about but, then again, not something you can ultimately prepare for.

The Tsunami of 2004, which claimed 250,000 lives across 14 countries, demonstrates the true force of this unstoppable oceanic monster.

Told through survivors’ own footage, this documentary is as close as one will get to experiencing the chilling events of Boxing Day that year. Filmed in three of the worst hit countries, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand, the video and photos shown are not for the faint-hearted. As photographer from Banda Aceh (where the Tsunami claimed 90,000 lives alone) says, “It felt like the end of the world.”

A reflection of the Tsunami itself, the documentary starts off with an eery calm before heading towards the inevitable chaos. Stephan Kuhn films his family on a beach in Khao Lak, Thailand, singing, “That’s the perfect wave.” Stu Breisch, against footage of exotic fish and beautiful water says in inverted commas, “I was in Thailand for the scuba diving adventure of a life time.”

Andrew Stones captures his friends in a club, drunk and eyeing up Thai women. What’s most unnerving is the build-up to the disaster, which shows children singing “We wish you a merry Christmas” and Breisch claming that his son had a series of premonitions the night before of something terrible happening on the beach.

The Tsunami suddenly hits us in the second half, targeting Banda Aceh, Indonesia, first. Widari Dawam tells her story against shots of gigantic waves engulfing cars, homes and people. Scatted debris and legs covered in blood are unpleasant to watch but the hard reality of what she and hundreds of thousands had to contend with within minutes.

Frederik Bornsesland’s footage of his attempt to save an elderly couple who were swept under water is almost enough to make you switch off, closely followed by videos of Will and Amanda Robins struggle for survival on Koh Phi Phi Island. “It was like going around in a washing machine in pitch black,” he iterates.

Perhaps more disturbing is the aftermath, where we witness the trail of devastation left by the Tsunami. Survivors searching for their families, scatterings of dead bodies and masses of debris zoom in on and personalise the facts: deaths tolled at 167,000 in Indonesia, 34,000 in Sri Lanka and 8,000 in Thailand. Many were also reunited with family members, however, as shown in the last segment

While they accept how lucky they were to survive, many talk of a sense of guilt and reliving the nightmare daily. At the end of this documentary, you’re still not ‘in their shoes’, but ever-closer to sympathising with the experience that devastated countries and lives on the Christmas of 2004. Sensitive types might want to stick to news bulletins – this may give you an unnatural fear of water.

Steve says:

Too often, disasters are depicted in a way that they might as well be pornography. We see the destruction, but it’s sterile and neatly packaged so, like an action movie, we can relish in the devastation. If you are looking for that kind of movie, watch this and be ashamed.

This documentary doesn’t spare you the heartache. It doesn’t let you pretend that everyone got out alright. On I can’t speak for Britain, but on American TV, they won’t show you an actual dead body, they won’t show you someone really dying. In retrospect, maybe the aforementioned sterilization belies a greater problem in American culture, but that’s neither here nor there.

I found this on Youtube looking for a something on tsunami safety for a poster I’m doing for a wildlife refuge down in Mexico (something beyond “do what emergency personnel tell you to”, there is a dearth of such people down here). I’m a geologist by trade, I deal in earthquakes with some frequency.

This movie is terrifying, it strips away the prevalent lie: “everything will be OK”. It’s about the tsunami, you see it sweep through. You also see people getting caught up in it. You see what happens to these people. There are survivors, but nobody gets a happy ending. The limits of human decency do not apply to the uncaring ocean. You see what happens afterwards. You see the dead, you hear the wailing of lamentation. You see the man who lost his whole family begging for death.

I have one minor gripes. They say that the tsunami targets various places. It gives the impression that it is some force that is going one place, then going somewhere else. This is not the case. A tsunami is an expression of nature’s apathy towards life, not it’s hostility. It’s not a terrorist. The tsunami didn’t strike these places because it didn’t like resorts, it struck because there was an earthquake, and that’s what the ocean does when you have an earthquake.

If you are looking for disaster porn, you’re not going to get it here. I hope you watch it anyways. I hope you watch it and learn something. This is about tragedy, not glory. If there were more things like this, there wouldn’t be any disaster porn. The old adage that one person was a tragedy and a hundred people was a statistic wouldn’t exist.

Matt says:

Extremely upsetting but very moving programme. It gave an insight into just what a huge disaster this really was. All to oftern these events in Asia and the Middle East are given low coverage compared to domestic issues and it’s important to hear the story from those who lived it so the rest of us can learn.
I think the couple who were too jovial were actually trying to deal with the loss of their daughter in anyway they could. Many brits need to put on a brave face and the easiest thing to mask a frown is a smile…
My thoughts and sympathy goes to all those morning a loved one at this time of year.

Nick says:

I agree with Helen – very harrowing but compulsive viewing in the hope the people you are seeing do end up alive and well. Totally agree with the piece when the man sees a picture of his dead daughter on a wall and breaks down – could of cut away and described it before it happened. Much unseen footage and gives a good description of the events as they unfold although the couple who lose their 4 year old daughter are a bit too jovial for my liking!

Helen says:

I found this programme hughly moving and distressing at the same time. To see the actual moment where people lost their lives, when they went under the water for the final time was horrific. I can’t imagine how terrifying it must have been for those people and my heart breaks for them.
There were some moments i felt unneccesary such as the moment a man found out his daughter was dead being played live on Good Morning America.
I think the mose shocking thing was nearly 300,000 people died becuase of the Tsunami, all those people had parents, brothers, sisters, friends, colleagues, acquantiances, partners, wives, children, neighbours.
I can’t imagine how the people of those countries coped as everyone must have lost someone!
Just a heartbreaking terrifying tragedy!