Disaster movies came in vogue, and slowly disappeared, in the 1970s and have slowly begun to emerge as a viable alternative for those sick of the cinaplexes being choked to death with superhero films during the summer. With plenty of films that can be remade, updated or otherwise cribbed from in the genre it’s no surprise that studios have gone to large scale disaster films when they can’t bring a story about spandex clad heroes into theatres. It’s counter programming for the set that doesn’t want to see anything based off a comic book … at $200 million a clip. Plus you can allow for a massive star cast, much like the 1970s, and make the event the draw as opposed to relying on a particular actor to bring in audiences.
And this week’s blockbuster counter programming is San Andreas, which features two main plots juxtaposed against a series of massive earthquakes.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a helicopter rescue pilot in the middle of figuring out how to define his family. His wife (Carla Gugino) has just served him divorce papers as she’s moving in with her billionaire boyfriend (Ioan Gruffudd). Nothing was ever the same after their other daughter drowned accidentally. His goal now is to drive their daughter (Alexandra Daddario) to college, so they can spend one final weekend together before she moves on to the next stage of her life, when the San Andreas Fault Line decides it’s going to mess things up. Finding his soon to be ex-wife in transit, the two have to save their daughter amidst the chaos.
The other half of the film revolves around a professor (Paul Giamatti) at Cal Tech has figured out how to predict when Earthquakes will happen using science. It’s up to him to get the message out that an unprecedented Earthquake is about to wreck havoc on southern California. While Cal-Tech is being rocked by Earthquakes, and after he watches firsthand the destruction of the Hoover Dam via earthquake, his goal is to get the message out that the big one is coming.
The problem with the film, one that infects it from the top down, is that there isn’t a natural beat to any of the proceedings.
San Andreas has a predictable flow and plot structure to the point where nothing happens in the film that doesn’t follow the usual cliche ridden story a disaster film typically follow. There’s no attempt at making anything new or unique with the material. Every of the usual beats, from the new boyfriend who’s secretly a bad person to the separated couple who use the events to get back together, are things we’ve seen before so much you can predict them beforehand. If there was a drinking game based on archetypes alone you wouldn’t be able to drive home from the theatre legally for several days.
Disaster films are a lot adult films, though … you don’t watch them for the plot.
The film’s main selling point is the destruction of California, mainly San Francisco and Los Angeles, via an ungodly amount of CGI. And even that isn’t all that spectacular. The problem with so much CGI is that it starts to look like a cartoon, almost surrealistic. With so much CGI it feels like a bad Road Runner cartoon than a film; too much happens that was a digital creation that there’s no real sense of danger. This film feels like a Star Wars prequel in that almost everything happening feels like a green screen creation, nothing more, and that’s a problem when your film is designed to get people into it because of this calamity.
The spectacle is beautifully done … it’s just so artificial and computer driven that it disaster chic as opposed to proper disaster.
Director: Brad Peyton Writer: Carlton Cuse Notable Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Giamatti, Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.