San Andreas (2015)

*. San Andreas is a disaster movie, a genre reinvigorated long after the glory days of Irwin Allen by the advent of CGI effects. As I’ve said before, one of the very few things CGI does well is trashing cities. Well, that’s a disaster movie for you.
*. Disaster movies aren’t known for scripts with lots of character development and complex plotting. Far from it. You expect generic characters and some sketchy set-up before everything goes to hell. There’s basically a two-part structure of before and after. To its credit, San Andreas starts off with some action (a helicopter rescue crew saves a young woman who is dangling in her car from a cliff, the Hoover Dam collapses) and keeps things going pretty strong throughout, but otherwise it follows the formula pretty closely.
*. Our lead is Dwayne Johnson, who is good in this kind of thing and certainly looks like he’s capable of fighting vast geological forces. An earthquake might take out California, but we can be sure that even as skyscrapers crumble the Rock will be the last man standing. He plays Ray Gaines, a helicopter rescue pilot with the Los Angeles Fire Department. When the big one strikes, he’s off with public property (the ‘copter) on a long journey north to San Francisco to go rescue his daughter. Because that’s what we expect of such a man.
*. That’s the plot. There’s not much more to say. I thought the CGI was pretty good, especially when a tsunami throws a freighter at the Golden Gate Bridge. Let’s face it, that’s why you watch a movie like this, and the FX department delivers. And while the script has some howlers, and makes a total hash of the science and geography, it has a couple of good moments too. I like how Blake’s newfound boyfriend uses the car jack to get her out of the car she’s stuck in. That was clever, and clever was unexpected.
*. I wasn’t expecting originality either, which was good because there was little on tap. A couple of clichés did seem to me to be worth commenting on though. I think I’ve talked about these before, but I think they’re worth flagging again.
*. In the first place, there’s movie CPR. As anyone who has trained in it knows, CPR is a violent process. Those chest compressions are dangerous, which is why you never see anyone in a movie doing anything that looks like a real chest compression. Dwayne Johnson would be breaking Alexandra Daddario’s ribs like bread sticks. I guess it’s hard to fake CPR but still, the way it’s presented in movies may give a lot of people the wrong idea of how to do it.

*. The other cliché is a male fantasy that gets a lot of play in movies like this. Basically, the hero is a divorced man, or a man going through a divorce, whose wife is shacking up with some new guy. There are a bunch of key elements in what follows: (1) no one is quite sure why the couple broke up in the first place, though it usually has something to do with the man being too dedicated to his demanding, heroic job; (2) the new guy is a moneybags but also a wimp and a coward; (3) there’s a crisis and the woman realizes how much she really needs/loves the man she broke up with, and how useless the new guy is; (4) there’s some kind of reconciliation.
*. It’s amazing how common this formula has become, especially in movies of this type. In Greenland and Moonfall, to take a couple of more recent examples, we see the same thing: a muscular, action hero who, with the fate of the world at stake, both saves the world and proves his superior manliness to his estranged wife, who realizes that trying to cash in with a higher-earning partner maybe wasn’t such a great idea.
*. Obviously this speaks to a real anxiety among men today, but my problem with it is that it is a fantasy. As I said in my notes on Greenland, this just isn’t the way things work in the real world. How many women want to get back together with a man they left? Not many, in my experience. I always think of that scene in The Squid and the Whale when Jeff Daniels is getting his hopes up that Laura Linney is going to get back together with him and she starts laughing. The only thing I find interesting about the whole idea is the question of where it got its start.
*. Otherwise, for fans of seeing cities stricken by earthquakes and tsunamis, San Andreas mostly works. I didn’t see the point of introducing the scientist (Paul Giamatti), as he doesn’t tell us anything we can’t gather from the odd news report, and he totally disappears at the end anyway. Aside from that, it’s a tight production. Checking out the special features on the DVD, it was interesting to see how short the scenes that were cut were, as director Brad Peyton really wanted to keep things moving along. Mission accomplished. Next up for Brad and Dwayne it would be a giant gorilla taking on Chicago. Clean up in aisle twelve!

16 thoughts on “San Andreas (2015)

      1. Alex Good Post author

        I can’t remember the big ape movie that well now so it’s hard to compare. And in any event, I’m not sure he was a giant gorilla. He may have been a megastructure.

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