The disaster film genre came to major prominence in the 1970s, with Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, Towering Inferno and Earthquake. In fact, disaster films were around from the beginning of the 20th century, they just never reached the kind of commercial and critical success the aforementioned movies managed to achieve. Airport garnered 10 Oscar nominations and a Best Supporting Actress Award for Helen Hayes. The genre died out in the early 1980s and remained dormant until Titanic smashed all kinds of records in 1997. 2004’s The Day After Tomorrow brought home over one-half a billion in worldwide box office.
2015 brings us San Andreas, another film about an earthquake that had a production budget in excess of $100 million and a nice fat marketing campaign budget as well. The news is good. The money is right up there on the screen with dazzling special effects, decent acting and terrific imagery of what a really major earthquake would do to California.
Los Angeles Fire Department’s “Chief Raymond Gaines” (Johnson) is a helicopter pilot who has a very distinguished saves record, both during his military service and while with the LAFD. He’s presented with a tough situation at the film’s outset. Turns out that he and his wife “Emma” (Gugino) split up when one of their two daughters died. Emma and the surviving daughter, “Blake” (Daddirio) are moving in with Emma’s boyfriend, “Daniel Riddick” (Gruffudd) who is a real estate developer nearing completion on what would be the tallest building in San Francisco.
Seismologists Lawrence Hays (Giamatti) and Dr. Kim Park (Lee) are at the Hoover Dam, working on their experiments in earthquake prediction. They are able to predict a quake at the dam in time to warn people, the quake being unexpected because it occurred along a previously unknown fault line. Now that Hays knows he can give some warning about future earthquakes, he goes back to Cal-Tech to get the word out with the assistance of “Serena Johnson” (Punjabi) a television reporter.
Blake was going to ride with her father to school in Seattle but the Nevada quake made that impossible, so she winds up in San Francisco with Daniel. He stopped off there to do some business. At his office she meets “Ben Taylor” (Johnstone-Burt) who is there to apply for a job with Daniel’s company; and Ben’s younger brother “Ollie” (Parkinson). First Los Angeles, and then not long after, San Francisco are devastated by major quakes. Chief Gaines teams up with Emma to fly his helicopter to San Francisco to rescue Blake.
Given Brad Peyton’s brief feature film resume, he didn’t seem like the best choice to helm this film, but he did a very good job with the cast and the visuals. The film has a nice pacing to it, as you can’t put an audience through 114 minutes of non-stop high-level intense action. The action on screen, when it comes, is the film’s best feature. The acting is good and the story/dialogue adequate. Those aren’t the things on which disaster films rise and fall.
The more movies that Dwayne Johnson does, the better he gets at adding some nuances to his performances. He may never win an Academy Award, but what we see here is a big step up from his work in Be Cool. As for the rest of the cast they add rather than detract from the movie.
Leave your scientific knowledge of earthquakes in the parking garage and enjoy San Andreas.