Certain types of movies tend to wax and wane in popularity over time. For example 50 years ago, or so, most popular genre was the western dominating not only the marquees of local theaters but the programming lineup of the major television networks. Now, would be hard-pressed to find an example of the genre. There are several types of movies that never seem to go out of style. The only thing that changes over the course of time is the expectations of the audience and how the latest cinematic technology can be employed to ramp up the excitement. A prime example is the disaster film. In the 70s there was a golden age of such movies with titles that promised nonstop action such as, ‘The Poseidon Adventure’, ‘Towering Inferno’ and ‘Earthquake’. When seen in the movie house widescreen format seat shaking audio you could easily forget the realities of physics and other trivial natural laws as you were swept away by the pulse pounding action. Now with home theater systems able to rival the experience of many movie theaters Blu-ray and DVD releases can be as anticipated as the films during the theatrical runs. Case in point is ‘San Andreas’, which includes the most recent value added technique, ‘Real 3-D’.
Like the majority of disaster driven movies this one was obviously not created for the critics. There are some glaring shortcomings such as incomplete character development in heavily contrived situations but, this is not why you go to see this type of film. So when including those involved with the production of the flick have any serious expectations of hearing the title announced after the phrase, "and the winner is ..." You watch a film like this for only one reason; escapism. For a couple of hours you can immerse yourself in extremely loud surround sound and get pulled away from reality by the visual special-effects the better-than-average deployment of the illusion of depth. Unfortunately, there is a drawback with a less than stellar attention to the story. Now many of the action oriented movies derived from comic books have demonstrated that visual effects in exceptionally realistic audio can coexist with exceptionally well told story, the bar has been raised as satisfying an audience. As such this is another representation of the film there will be more acceptable to old audiences than the rather jaded youthful demographic.
The screenplay by Carlton Cuse based on a story from Andre Fabrizio is overly dependent upon clichés especially when you take into consideration their respective prior works. Mr. Fabrizio was responsible for a document styled television show in England, ‘I Shouldn’t Be Alive’ as well as the cancer before it’s time supernatural thriller series, ‘Miracles’. Mr. Cuse has been the executive producer and writer for a number of well-known and highly regarded TV series including ‘Lost’, ‘the Returned’, ‘Bates Motel’ and most recently, ‘The Strain’. Such a demonstration of originality can only surmise that was the demands of this highly formulaic genre presented too many constraints even talented men to overcome. The first example of this is made clear within the first few minutes of the movie. Ray (Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. ‘The Rock’), is a pilot of the rescue helicopter routinely brings him into exceptionally dangerous circumstances. He is currently in the middle of a divorce from his wife Emma (Carla Gugino), and has been planning a trip to San with their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario). His well-known among fans of this genre that the intrepid hero of the impending calamity is in has marital issues inevitably involving divorce. The most common cause for the strife his dedication to his work which precluded any hope of a normal family life. To appear on the checklist is a scientist who makes a discovery of a cataclysm on the verge of recurring. For this particular story we have a pair of scientist from Caltech, seismologist Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) and his colleague Dr. Kim Park (Will Yun Lee). Here doing this geological study near the Hoover dam as part of their research into a new model to predict earthquakes. They discover a new fault that had not been previously documented becomes active resulting in the 7.1 earthquake. This brings about the first mandatory destruction of the readily identifiable landmark the dam. At this point we need an initial fatality and considering Mr. Giamatti is a very well-known character after a leading man, it is Mr. Lee’s character that gets to where the proverbial red shirt. An emergency is declared and raise immediately called back to work, leaving Blake to go to San Francisco with her mother’s new boyfriend, Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffudd). Any earthquake even a significant distance from the seismically active California area would be considered exceptionally well advised. Still, when it comes to a disaster flick sending the attractive teenage daughter into the area with the highest probability of heavy damage always overrules realistic including behavior.
Right on schedule Dr. Hayes makes another discovery that will make it clear that the 7.1 quake was only the undercard attraction and not the main event. He has determined that the infamous San Andreas Fault has started to shift due to the seismic disruption in the long feared ‘Big One’ is almost guaranteed to occur very soon. This is also an important part of the formula necessary to circumvent one of the major plot hindrances for disaster scenario. In most cases the actual disaster is intrinsically a short duration event therefore it is necessary to heighten the anticipation and the audience. That is where the lesser event is deployed. Not only gives the audience a taste of the danger and excitement to come but it can also serve to weaken the infrastructure of buildings, streets etc. allowing the main event to be even more spectacularly destructive.
To make the film more suitable as a date movie the screenwriter must come up with some contrivance for potential romance that involves the teenage daughter. This occurs when Daniel brings Blake to his office where they run into an engineering student from England, Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), and his brother, Ollie (Art Parkinson). While attempting to leave Daniel and Blake are trapped in his car in the underground parking collapses. Daniel gets out leaves Blake behind. Fortunately she is found by Ben and Ollie. This scenario satisfies several of the requisite conditions. First, it provides a fairly obvious comparison for Emma between her heroic, soon-to-be ex-husband and the man she is currently involved with who would leave her daughter trapped in such a perilous position. It also forces a very attractive young people in close proximity in a potentially lethal environment. As a result both of the women and Ray’s life seriously reconsidering the state of their current romantic situations. Once they make it to the surface Blake, Ben and Ollie work on devising a method to signal her father. Little do they know that Ray’s helicopter experienced mechanical difficulties and was forced to make an emergency landing in Bakersfield. This placed in the middle of the chaos of rioting and looting. Some health too many people it seems perfectly natural that when buildings are falling all around you and the ground is opening up the best course of action is to break into stores and steer some merchandise. Ray happens to run across a couple were blocked by the upheaval caused by the complete failure of the San Andreas Fault. They just happen to have an airplane that Ray trades for a van he ‘commandeered’.
In a technique that reminiscent of those late-night infomercials; "but wait there’s more". The subterranean seismic activity is resulted in a tsunami rapidly approaching the bay. Emma and Ray have been reunited in a after he rescued her from a skyscraper and a forced to parachute into the city during a 9.6 magnitude earthquake, if recent events concerning Daniel have been changed Emma’s mind being beside her during this moment of peril certainly will have reconsidering the divorce papers. The rest of the film has all the concerned parties fighting to stay alive to become reunited. There are some great shots of the water receded as the tsunami finally pounds into the city. As with any final disaster in a movie of this nature open accounts must be closed but the vindication of the brave and humiliating demise of the cowardly. This is when the principal task and looked over smoldering ruins of the city now set in an unrecognizable landscape.
As mentioned this movie was originally produced for 3-D which is always provided with ample opportunities to show off the rapidly maturing technology. The director, Brad Peyton, is another 3-D action film in his resume also happened to feature Mr. Johnson; ‘Journey 2: The Mysterious Island’. His command of the technique necessary for realistic use of 3-D has come a long way since then. One criterion I have always used in assessing a 3-D film is how obvious the effects are. If the filmmaker constantly shoving objects directly at you through the plane of the screen I consider that the enemy of gimmicky contrivance and something that exceptional director would cost. Mr. Peyton clearly demonstrates an understanding of how to seamlessly incorporate depth into telling the story. I found myself frequently forgetting I was watching a 3-D movie, instead finding myself caught up in the reality of my vantage point. When synchronized with exceptionally effective use of the surround speakers I felt I was experiencing the story from within it. As I mentioned you don’t go to a film like this for anything other than the performances special-effects. The cast is extraordinary particularly Mr. Johnson. There’ve been many professional wrestlers have attempted to transition to movie star if you have done it with the panache demonstrated by the man only known as The Rock. The key to this is that he is taken a page from Arnold Schwarzenegger by seeking and accepting a variety of eclectic roles. He has undertaken everything from very silly comedy to receive dramatic roles constantly expanding the range of his acting abilities. So leave your analytical brain behind, grab a tub of popcorn, put on the 3-D glasses and just enjoy yourself.