“San Andreas,” the film about San Francisco and a lot of the rest of California falling apart during a 9.6 “largest-in-recorded-history” earthquake, makes you want to move away from the Bay area if you live there. [Full disclosure: I once went through a small earthquake while a student at Berkeley. It was a weird feeling to find that the ground under your feet was moving. I remember bracing myself in a doorway until the shaking of the very earth beneath my feet stopped.]
“San Andreas” is a film in the grand tradition of such disaster films as “Earthquake” and “Towering Inferno.” I once took a busload of students to the Cinema Showcase in Milan to see both of those on a double bill; it was dubbed the “Shake & Bake Special.”
I also just saw “Mad Max: Fury Road” (Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy) and I can reliably report that each film reduces the script to almost no lines of dialogue while non-stop action (some of it implausible) is run by the audience. It’s almost as though Hollywood believes that the attention span of the average theater-goer these days is that of the average gnat and has decided to cater to an audience (usually younger) that can barely concentrate on anything for more than 5 minutes. (And certainly not without getting out their cell phones to text something to someone.)
“Mad Max” may get the edge for having the craziest set design, but the C.G. (computer graphics) team that has simulated a record-shattering earthquake followed by a “Perfect Storm” like tsunami, gets points for visually stunning us with those images. I wrote down some of the names of the special effects whizzes who helped make this earthquake movie and, after I had listed hy drau lx, Method Studios, CineSite, Atomic Fiction, Soho VFX, and Image Engine, I was surprised to learn that most of the film was shot in Australia. (Abbey Road studios is also given credit for the score and British Columbia gets a shout-out.)
For acting, I’d have to give the nod to “San Andreas'” crew, as the rationale for anything that happened in “Mad Max: Fury Road” was lost in the incomprehensibly thick accents of the first 30 minutes and the total craziness of the entire concept. At least in “San Andreas” we understand that, like Brad Pitt in “World War Z,” The Rock wants, most of all, to save his family from a natural disaster.
To that end, we learn that The Rock knows how to hot-wire a car, drive a mean speedboat, pilot both a helicopter and a regular airplane, parachute from a plane he is abandoning in the air, swim quite capably when required, and can also bring people back from the dead. I was going to say “Leap tall buildings in a single bound” but that’s a different hero.
When my husband and I were in Las Vegas recently, listening to a time share presentation, the attractive young girl who led us through the Hilton shared with us the information that her husband is “The Rock’s” stunt double (and she did some stunt work in film, as well). If this is true, that man certainly got a workout in “San Andreas,” which is loaded with stunts and CG effects.
Dr. Lawrence Graver, the scientist at California Institute of Technology who has been warning about a major earthquake event for years, is played by the always-convincing Paul Giametti. Carla Giugino (“Night at the Museum”) who plays the Rock’s about-to-be ex-wife is fine in her part. The twenty-ish daughter, played by Alexandra Daddario, is good—although she looks NOTHING like either one of the actors playing her parents. The annoying British brothers could have been crushed under a car in the parking garage who help the damsel in constant distress could have been crushed in the parking garage with no noticeable loss to the movie—especially the actor playing Ben Taylor (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), British accent and all. His younger brother, Ollie (Art Parkinson), is no less annoying, but the family dynamic that drives Dwayne Johnson’s heroic rescue attempts will keep you rooting for the home team (pun intended).
I would have cast Ioan Gruffudd (who plays mogul Daniel Riddick) as the love interest for the well-stacked Alexandra, but he is relegated to looking good (great hair!) in his private plane and his huge buildings (“The Gate”), right up until he turns into a cowardly cad. (I did wonder: how did the character played by Carla Gugino ever meet a millionaire mogul like Daniel Riddick? Young unmarried girls want to know!) At first, I honestly thought that Daniel Riddick was going for help for the hapless Alexandra. Later, he is portrayed as a cad, over and over, to the point of outright laughter, almost. To say he is not missed when his character arc ends is putting it mildly.
Two other actresses in the cast deserve mention. Archie Punjabi, who has capably played the investigator character Kalinda on “The Good Wife” until recently, turns up as a TV newswoman named Serena. The role of Daniel Riddick’s ex-wife Susan is played by singer/actress Kylie Minogue, who takes the wrong staircase in her attempts to escape the catastrophe when it strikes.
This New Line/Village Roadshow/Ratpac-Dune Entertainment offering was as entertaining as “Mad Max: Fury Road,” although you have to give a nod to the “real” stunts that were pulled off in the latter. Even though I took Earth Science in college and learned about upthrusting and down faulting, I have no idea if the statistics and historic facts cited in the movie are true or false. Is it true that the worst earthquake in history was a 9.5 in Valdiva off the coast of Chile that lasted for eleven minutes? Is there even a place called “Valdiva”? Did the earthquake in Anchorage, Alaska in 1964 really measure 9.1 on the Richter Scale? Did a tsunami really level Hilo, Hawaii, 8,000 miles away from a big earthquake? Was that big previous earthquake really the equivalent of 10 million atom bombs? Is Iran capable of leashing this earthquake power?
I kept remembering Naomi Watts in her 2012 tsunami movie “The Impossible,” for which she earned an Academy Award nomination. I remembered how her exposure to the water in the Thailand tsunami made her cuts and scrapes horribly infected, whereas Ben Taylor (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) has a large piece of glass stuck in his upper thigh (which would probably have severed the femoral artery and killed him) but walks around and swims around as though it is merely a twisted ankle with no noticeable long-term problems.
I know none of these answers, but would refer you to Carlton Cuse, the unknown director who also co-wrote the script.
Meanwhile, here are a couple of observations: the opening sequence is a testimony as to why young people should not text and drive. The young girl in the car is listening to Taylor Swift when she texts and crashes. It’s an object lesson. (“Let that be a lesson to you!”)
Lines that I enjoyed: When the question is asked “Who should we call?” as the crack earthquake-tracking team at Cal Tech is realizing the severity and seriousness of the situation, my spouse leaned over and said, “Ghostbusters!”
When “The Rock” and his lady land in whatever the name of the baseball park is in San Francisco (I’m so old that it was Candlestick, when I attended a game at that San Francisco ballpark in 1965), they parachute in, land on the playing field, and The Rock says, “It’s been a while since I got you to second base.”
I’d say that if you are so hyped up on video game action that you are one silly millimeter away from being diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (with hyperactivity), you will enjoy both “San Andreas” AND “Mad Max: Fury Road” but I have to warn you that I nearly went deaf in Chicago from the volume of the soundtrack at the Icon on Roosevelt Road. I’ve also been warned NOT to bother with 3D
for “San Andreas” as some who saw it in 3D said the color was washed out.
So, now you know, if you’re thinking of taking in either of the two new films in town in the near future.