After the infamous San Andreas Fault gives, triggering a magnitude 9-plus earthquake in California, a search and rescue helicopter pilot (Dwayne Johnson) and his estranged wife (Carla Gugino) make their way together from Los Angeles to San Francisco to save their only daughter.
But their treacherous journey north is only the beginning. And when they think the worst may be over…it's just getting started. (from Warner Bros.)
The disaster movie genre has been one that has stood the test of time for decades. It's taken different shapes and forms over the years, with director Roland Emmerich seemingly leading the charge over the past 20 years since releasing Independence Day in 1996. But with 2012 really being (arguably) the last high profile, blockbuster entry into said genre, it seemed high time to take down high rises again and Brad Peyton's San Andreas steps up to get that job done.
With this genre there are many things you can expect: a thin plot, stereotypical or flat characters, crazy action, the latest state of the art effects... And lots of destruction. While many of Emmerich's disaster epics were downright cheesy and over the top for the most part (I'm thinking of The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 in particular), even his weakest entries had memorable moments -- even if it was just eye candy playing to the guilty pleasure of disaster movie fans. Because it seems so difficult for filmmakers to craft a really good large scale disaster film, even the weakest ones have at least a few highlights -- be it Poseidon, Deep Impact, Daylight, Spielberg's War of the Worlds remake or even The Core. The ones that stand out as above average are most likely Armageddon and Dante's Peak (which are both still problematic, and it's been many years since I've seen the former) with Twister, Titanic and Independence Day being ahead of the curve a bit. So when San Andreas comes out of left field and throws its hat in the ring for consideration, it's tough not to view it with great scrutiny.
But Peyton actually has a good idea of what he's doing here. It's not cinematic magic, per se, but there's something about San Andreas that is right off the bat surprisingly satisfying. The film opens with a girl driving in an SUV and texting a friend, not totally paying attention to the road, but Peyton knows how predictable this scene is, so as we get a couple fake-outs and close-calls with other drivers, it ends up being a rock slide that inevitably causes her vehicle to part ways with the road. This actually leads into the necessary sequence that shows Dwayne Johnson's Ray in action as a LAFD helicopter rescue pilot who comes to the girl's aid. The story then continues to set up the characters we'll spend the next almost-2-hours with before unleashing the fury of earthquake after earthquake upon the residents of California. If you've seen Twister and its anomaly of an unusual amount of tornadoes in one area in one day, you can get an idea of how they approach a series of ruthless earthquakes that ravish the west coast in a mere matter of hours. Like Dennis Quaid's character sets out to rescue his on-screen son in The Day After Tomorrow, Ray's number one mission is to try to rescue his daughter stranded in San Francisco.
Ever since seeing him in The Rundown in 2003, I started to enjoy seeing "The Rock" in action films. In recent years, however, he seemed to kind of cement his following in the footsteps of Arnold Swartzenegger and began feeling more larger-than-life in his roles and even a bit cartoonish at times (G.I. Joe: Retaliation comes to mind), making it hard to take him seriously when it calls for it. At the same time, he's a likeable guy and fun to watch, so while he seemed like a sort of goofy choice for Hercules in last year's film of the same name, he also kind of pulled it off. And that's the thing about Dwayne Johnson; to watch clips of him in something is completely different than watching his full performance. Hercules seemed far sillier an idea in the trailers than the actual film did -- which intentionally didn't take itself all too seriously. With that said, I thought Johnson was pretty great in San Andreas. I wasn't sold during the opening rescue scene, but once he went on a personal mission to rescue his family, it felt more right. There's even an emotional scene where he opens up to his estranged wife about why their marriage crumbled that wasn't just impressive on Dwayne's part, but really moving. And it's that level of emotion that seems to usually be missing from movies in this genre. Also, Emmerich tends to get political with his films, throwing either religious or cultural jabs or statements in there for no fitting reason (like the Nietzsche and Bible debate in The Day After Tomorrow, for example). Peyton shoots straight in San Andreas, keeping it expressly about a guy trying to rescue his family and nature possibly wrecking us with quakes for natural reasons and no fault of our own (fault pun not intended). It kept the movie feeling like an amusement park ride from start to finish, making its weakest moments (and they're there) mostly forgivable.
It certainly isn't a perfect movie by any means; even just the idea that Ray -- a rescue chopper pilot -- goes on the sole mission of rescuing his own family first and foremost may cause a few viewers to pause and wonder if he should be helping save more people than just his immediate family, but it also seems like a natural thing for a parent/husband to want to do in that situation (like if you have the chance to save your loved ones, you'd take it!). There are plenty of "yeah, right!" moments where people make it out alive by the skin of their teeth or have bloody scrapes that magically disappear (like blood from Carla Gugino's character Emma just vanish from her head for the rest of the movie), but the absolute worst involves a Perfect Storm-style encounter with a tsunami and a tiny boat dodging a gigantic freighter. It starts to look like you're watching a variation of the Earthquake! ride at Universal Studios and not something that may possibly happen. There are also a couple of daring rescues that find people escaping a collapsing building just seconds before it collapses (yes, this happens more than once), or a person riding a concrete floor as it collapses through one floor after another and is able to come out with just a couple scratches. It's a wealth of far-fetched stuff, but the majority of it is thrilling for the genre. The players Peyton enlisted here also help make it more enjoyable. Instead of over-actors or truly irritating characters, almost everyone is enjoyable who we follow along the way, and if there's anyone who you know is due a comeuppance at any point in the story, you can bet it'll happen eventually.
The content is pretty intense. The language consists of at least one pronounced "F" word from Gugino's character, and the death toll is quite high. We see lots of buildings collapsing, a tsunami wash away a lot of people, people disappear underneath falling debris, some falling to their death, etc. Some of it may also be a little much for anyone sensitive to earthquakes or the kind of aftermath from 9/11, but as things get crazier, it tends to feel less and less tangible in that sense. There is some brief graphic violence involving injuries, but it's also surprisingly infrequent. Two scenes come to mind; one involves a victim's foot--in a shoe--being impaled by rebar, which leads to them being swept away (and there's some blood around the pole sticking out of their shoe. The second shows a piece of glass sticking out of a person's leg. When we first see this, it has some blood around it, but when it's revisited, we see a longer close-up of someone slowly pulling the glass out. It's the last of the gruesome shots, but it's a rough one. Lastly, we watch a character drown (more like in the same way as Poseidon or Casino Royale, but less creepy than the latter), and it's a pretty heavy moment.
We missed the film in the theaters but caught it on Blu-Ray 3D and I thought it was easily one of the best in-home 3D experiences I've seen yet. If you can see this one in 3D, I highly recommend it. Otherwise, make sure you at least watch it in HD. While it's about as silly as most movies in the genre, it's one of the better ones you'll see and is pretty entertaining from start to finish. It won't be the best movie you see this year, but it may be one of the more thrilling, and that still says something.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 10/11/15)
San Andreas: The Real Fault Line (6:23) - This is a little featurette about creating a 9.6 earthquake for the film, which would be the biggest ever in history. They also talk here about the several-minute single shot Carla films as Emma running through the restaurant as mayhem happens around her (Dwayne gushes about how great it is, too). We also learn here that they used the largest water tank in the world in Australia for the flooded office building sequence.
Dwayne Johnson to the Rescue (9:24) is dedicated to Dwayne having done a lot of his own stunts. It also addresses some of Carla's big stunts, including the rooftop sequence. They also show how they used a gimbal for the boat scenes and how they accomplished the scenes with Alex and Dwayne underwater.
Scoring the Quake (6:13) is all about composer Andrew Lockington's score for the film. Andrew also did the score for Peyton's film Journey 2 The Center of the Earth (which also starred Dwayne). Lockington talks about the themes for the film and Ray's character, his vision for the score, etc. They also talked about how they used real bass sounds from the actual San Andreas fault line and worked into the score. Andrew even destroyed a real piano in the studio to use for unique and different sound textures.
Deleted Scenes (4:40) - There are just over four and a half minutes of little deleted scene snippets compiled into a montage. The first one shows Serena, the reporter, talking to Ray after the flight (1 "S" word). Next, Ray meets with the mechanic about the hoist installation on his copter. Next, we see Lawrence on the phone with someone, trying to warn them of the coming quakes but they won't listen (1 "S" word). In the following scene, Ray calls work and says he's not coming in so he can go save Blake, which really seemed like an important scene to keep in. It's short, but it really would have made sense to include--since it would address the fact he was taking his work helicopter on a personal mission (1 "S" word). The montage winds down with a brief moment where Blake, Ben and his little brother head out into the lobby of the building and Ben tells her he saw Riddick leave. Next, when Emma and Ray steal the pickup truck, she comments that she didn't realize his job was like this. He responds by saying this isn't a normal day. The second to last one shows Lawrence getting the news of the approaching tsunami, and lastly, we see the kids as they enter the high rise near the end. This last scene shows the set they're on with green screens behind them.
Deleted Scenes with Commentary by Director Brad Peyton (4:40) - This is the same batch of deleted scenes but with the director's commentary. Here, he pretty much just keeps reiterating that stuff was cut for pacing.
Gag Reel (1:22) - This super short gag reel just shows the cast goofing off on set and swearing while messing up their lines (which is mostly bleeped out).
Stunt Reel (2:56) - The stunt reel is a rough edit of b-roll kind of footage showing tests by stunt department set to music like a promo video. Basically, we see quick cuts of the stunts in the movie being tried out by the stunt team (and they're clearly having a blast doing it!).- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 10/11/15)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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