San Andreas (2015) – or “between The Rock and the Hard Tropes”
Director: Brad Peyton
Writer: Carlton Cuse
You know, you gotta really tip your hat to Irwin Allen. In creating his classic 70’s blockbusters “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972) and “The Towering Inferno” (1974), he basically wrote the rulebook of the Modern Disaster Movie – and it’s a legacy that has gone ahead, pretty much unchanged, for the better part of 40 years. Sure, the budgets have multiplied, the special and visual effects have taken giant leaps of evolution, making the catastrophic events look almost photo-real – and nowadays in 3D even. But the basic premise, the basic rules of the formula have remained virtually unchanged, from those two classic films onward. You’re gonna have certain situations and you’re gonna have certain character archetypes, no matter what disastrous event will threaten the people this time. And you know – there’s nothing wrong with that, actually. There are certain situations where you just can’t be bothered to flex your mind with such things as “plot”. Or “drama”. Or “characterization”. For those moments, just put on a disaster movie – and you pretty much know what’s gonna happen from the first frame onward. Let’s say that it’s “Movie Junk Food” for those moments(=hangovers?) when you’re too tired to cook anything. So, during last weekend I watched the most recent addition to the “disaster movie”-genre, “San Andreas” (2015), starring Dwayne Johnson. And this is what it’s about[NOTICE: LOTS OF SPOILERS AHEAD]:
The film begins with a young girl texting while driving, and blasting Taylor Swift at full force when doing so(I’m not sure which is the biggest crime there), so naturally she doesn’t notice a landslide until it wipes her CGI car into a basically unsurvivable rolling down a cliff, left hanging from a tree in the center of a Bottomless Ravine.. Enter Raymond “Ray” Gaines(Johnson) and his L.A. Fire Department Air Rescue team. They have a news crew interviewing them in the chopper, and we’re told that Gaines and his team have been together for two tours in Afghanistan, before joining the Air Rescue and Gaines has, between the Tours and his current job, “over 600 documented rescues“. So, he is pretty much The Best Around. And we are given quick proof of that as he pilots his helicopter INSIDE the ravine with a maneuver that I can only call “playing Tetris” – it involves basically dropping the chopper down sideways through a narrower place of the ravine to a more wider area(meaning there’s about a foot and a half of space outside the rotors). I’m no aviation expert but I’m pretty sure that’s impossible. Anyways, after some heroics and a near-miss rescue, we’re given a rundown(see what I did there?) of his character; he’s estranged from his wife Emma(Carla Gugino) who is dating the obligatory Rich Asshole Who Pretends To Be A Nice Guy But When Push Comes To Shove, Will Only Cover His Own Ass/Daniel(Ioan Gruffudd), get’s divorce papers handed to him and is planning to drive his daughter Blake(Alexandra Daddario) back to school and have some much-needed father & daughter-bonding time. There’s also a reveal, that he actually has had a second daughter, but she’s tragically died some time ago. So there’s the Massive Chip on his shoulder.
Elsewhere, we meet the Scientist Who No One Will Listen To Before It’s Too Late, seismologist Lawrence Hayes(Paul Giamatti), giving a lecture about the history of earthquakes to Cal Tech students(and the audience), ending the lecture with a revelation that he’s working on a method that could “help us predict these things“. If that sounds familiar, it is: “Twister“, “The Day after Tomorrow” and “2012” among others also had people working on predicting these things. But as we know, it they could predict these things, there wouldn’t be a movie. Hayes system consists basically of a wide network of sensors that measure the “underground magnetic pulses” or something something, science science of that nature. He and his assistant Dr. Kim Park(Will Yun Lee, who is ACTUALLY wearing a Red Shirt even when he’s introduced) go to the Hoover Dam, which has had some serious sesmic activity around it in the last 24 hours. And, gosh darn it, a massive 7.1 magnitude earthquake hits the area right then and there, with Hayes barely escaping and Park, of course, falling down with the collapsing dam(Landmark Destruction#1). This event of course screws up the father & daughter bonding trip and as Gaines drops Blake off to Daniel’s place, and after it’s revealed that Emma is going to move in with him, Daniel also offers to take Blake to Seattle with his private jet, after a quick stop at San Francisco. What a douche. Meanwhile, Emma will have a lunch meeting with Daniel’s sister Susan(Kylie Minogue. Yes, Kylie “Street Fighter – The Movie” Minogue), in a restaurant on top of a skyscraper in downtown L.A. Just as Hayes gets back to his lab at Cal Tech – where the same news team from the beginning of the movie has also arrived(is this the only news team working in L.A.?) – and has put A and B together by drawing a line on a map of California to show that the whole San Andreas Fault is starting to move, his sensors fire up and Los Angeles gets hit by a 9.1 magnitude earthquake. Most of the city suffers serious damages; yes – the HOLLYWOOD-sign gets toppled(Landmark Destruction#2) and the restaurant on top of the skyscraper would of course be the worst possible place to be in, so: cue Kylie Minogue falling off as a corner of the building where she escapes to falls off. Gaines orders his wife to go to the roof – the opposite place where everyone else is going – and sure enough, he comes-a-charging with his mighty helicopter and, avoiding the most slowly collapsing skyscrapers ever, manages to rescue Emma.
Hayes predicts, that this was just the starting point – the worst damage will hit San Francisco. And sure enough, the city gets hit damn hard. Blake and Daniel are sitting in Daniel’s limo just preparing to leave Daniel’s Building – a half-constructed modern skyscraper – when the garage roof begins to drop on the car, killing the driver and leaving Blake pinned. Daniel says he will go get help, but because he’s the Rich Asshole Who Pretends To Be A Nice Guy But When Push Comes To Shove, Will Only Cover His Own Ass, he naturally bails when the aftershocks continue. This was almost telegraphed from the beginning – it’s a character that’s been around from the time of Richard Chamberlain in “The Towering Inferno”. Well – luckily two English guys; Ben(Hugo Johnstone-Burt), who was at a job interview for Daniel’s company and Ollie(Art Parkinson), Ben’s kid brother save Blake just before the roof of the Limo caves in and they manage to flee the garage only to face evading more destruction outside. Blake is of course fully schooled on all emergency procedures by her dad, so she knows to get in a phone store and finds an old landline phone to call Gaines & Emma and inform them on her whereabouts. Gaines tells her to get to the highest place in the city. Just after that, the engine of the helicopter blows up and he has to crash-land it into Bakersfield. Needing a car, they steal one from a gang of looters, giving us the obligatory scene where The Rock punched someone’s lights out. But as it turns out, the highway is cut off – literally: it’s become a bottomless ravine. With the help of an elderly couple, who warned them just in time of the cut off road, Gaines and Emma find an airport used by skydivers and take a plane. Well – while fueling the plane they reminisce about the death of their other daughter and “what went wrong with them after that“. As one does in these situations. Elsewhere Hayes, with the help of some media lad students, manages to hack into the news broadcast and warn the people of San Francisco to get the hell outta there, because there’s going to be an even bigger quake soon. And just as he’s said that, it hits.
What’s left standing in San Francisco gets torn apart even more, causing Ben to be wounded by falling glass. After Blake gives him first aid, the see that the highest point of the city is completely surrounded by fires, and there’s no way to get there. As the airport is heavily damaged, with wrecked planes everywhere, Gaines and Emma tandem-skydive into the AT&T Park stadium – cue joyful music as the estranged husband and wife are now both metaphorically and literally hooked up together – just as more aftershocks hit the city. As there’s no way for them to get through the demolished downtown, they take a boat. Right then, the water begins to recede and – didn’t you know it, a massive Tsunami appears in the horizon. They barely manage to ride over it before it crests and wipes out the Golden Gate Bridge(Landmark Destruction#3) – Daniel, the Rich Asshole Who Pretends To Be A Nice Guy But When Push Comes To Shove, Will Only Cover His Own Ass gets his comeuppance here as a large cargo container falls on him(Splat. And there was much rejoicing) – sending large ships and other debris to destroy whatever was still left standing in the city. Blake, Ben and Ollie manage to run into Daniel’s building – Daniel, A-hole that he was, surely was a good enough designer to make a building that will stand – and get just high above ground enough not to be wiped off by the water & debris. But, the problems are not over yet; just as Gaines and Emma sail to the side of the building, it’s foundations begin to give up and the floor that the kids are on, sinks underwater – Blake gets trapped inside a cubicle(a metaphoric warning for people not to get imprisoned by the office life? Whoa – that’s some next level shit) while Ben and Ollie manage to climb higher. Gaines dives in to get his daughter while Emma drives the boat through the side of the building and in the nick of time they all drive out through the other side, before the building collapses completely – therefore wiping out the last rotten memories of Daniel.
In the aftermath they all gather on a cliff-side, looking over the remains of the city. Gaines and Emma are once again a husband and wife, and have gained a decent son in law-candidate in the process. The last line is “Now, we rebuild”. Come on, of course it had to be that. Cue the flag. No, I’m not kidding; there’s a slow-motion shot of the American Flag being strung down from the still-standing arch of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Well – there you have it. “San Andreas“. Is it a genuine motion picture classic? No. Is it good? Well, I’ve seen worse – and if you all wanna see what “worse” would probably look like, look no further than the ever-reliant The Asylum for their version of this that surprisingly came out almost immediately in this film’s wake, “San Andreas Quake“(I haven’t seen it, but I’ll still say it’s worse. And am probably correct with that assumption). Is it entertaining? You betcha. It’s that type of perfect no-brainer weekend flick that I was talking about in the first chapter. And it’s pretty damn well-made, too. I remember someone saying when the trailer of this came out, that “it looks like The Rock fighting the outtakes of ‘2012‘…” But I found this one actually more appealing. Roland Emmerich always has to stuff in some stupid adolescent humor into his disaster-scenes and there was none of that here. Come to think of it, there was no last-minute rescue of a dog here either – that’s one of Emmerich’s other tropes he has to put in EVERYTHING. The director here, Brad Peyton, is pretty unknown but has had some dealings with visual effect-films before; I see films like “Cat & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore” and “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island“(also with Dwayne Johnson) there, and he seems to have the proper eye and style for this sort of fare. The visual effects are actually a notch-up from “2012” as well, and after I learned that the majority of this film was actually shot in Australia, I have to say that the way they’ve made that look like Los Angeles and San Francisco this seamlessly, I’m pretty impressed. After all, this was NOT a movie with that big of a budget(about $110 million, according to the Inter of Nets). The actors are pretty aware of the type of a movie they are in, and actually Johnson and Gugino manage to have some real emotional scenes in between all the havoc. The kids are likable, not falling into that “Tim & Lex”-slot of being too smart for their own good. And Paul Giamatti is one of those actors who ALWAYS seems to believe in what he does, even if he’s the character who has to spout lines like “It’s happening again!“, “It’s is not over yet” and “God help them all.” And, speaking of lines, I have to mention this: being a PG-13 movie, they could only have one F-bomb and they gave it to Gugino and DAMN does she deliver it like a pro!!!
So, shut those brainwaves off and get on a rollercoaster-ride(actually, Johnson – or his character – has been just added to Florida’s Universal studio’s Ride “Disaster! A Major Motion Picture Ride… Starring You!“, so there’s also an ACTUAL ride out there). Just don’t give too much thought about the REAL message the film gives.
Which is basically that millions of people have to die horribly, so that the hero’s family is reunited and their daughter gets a cool boyfriend.
(Fun Fact: Although they play a father and daughter, there is only a 14 year age difference between Dwayne Johnson and Alexandra Daddario. And as the mother/daughter, only a 15 year difference between Daddario and Gugino)
(Author’s Note#1: This review was based on the 2D version of the film.)
(Author’s Note#2: I actually have no idea, where the fine line between “New Release” and “Retro” goes, as this film was released earlier in the year so is not exactly the newest of the new, but anyways… At this moment, I have it categorized as “New Release”.)