SAN ANDREAS: Earthquakes, Tsunamis, and Teardrops(?)

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It wouldn’t be the summer without a disaster flick to keep us entertained.

Usually, these mindless films are filled with cardboard characters we couldn’t care less about. Sometimes the only redeeming quality of these blockbusters is the special FX sequences of destruction.

SAN ANDREAS changes all that. And it’s not just because THE ROCK is in the starring role.

This disaster flick aims its sights on the Richter scale. The story goes like this… there’s an earthquake. That’s it. A real big bad one spreading along the San Andreas fault.

Before the ground starts shaking, the film kicks off with an exciting introduction to our hero; Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s helicopter rescue pilot, conducting a more traditional rescue operation over the side of a cliff.

from later on…

This opening sequence is also where we toss logic out the window, as Johnson expertly navigates through a narrow crevasse in a canyon.

At least our main character makes sense within this world. I don’t know why all disaster films don’t focus on the rescue effort. Maybe it’s too obvious? I think it works though. This sort of character is way better (and more appropriate) than a limo driver surviving the 2012 apocalypse.

Alexandra Daddario & Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

SAN ANDREAS wisely spends some time setting up our characters, devoting a good chunk of the first act to development.

Contemporary films tend to fast forward or skip over this essential element, but it really helps the audience connect with later action sequences. Since we know these characters, and care for them, we are actually frightened for their safety.

SAN ANDREAS is really about a family overcoming all obstacles. First, it’s the disaster of divorce. Then, it’s the disaster of Mother Nature.

CARLA GUGINO (WATCHMEN, SPY KIDS) portrays Johnson’s wife. She’s moved on with her life already, after their recent separation. Gugino has a new man set to move in with her. Johnson holds back emotion in these scenes, but it still gets through, we feel for him.

This recently separated couple have a daughter together. She’s all grown up and ready for college. ALEXANDRA DADDARIO (TRUE DETECTIVE, PERCY JACKSON) actually has something to work with in this secondary role. She’s not just simply someone to rescue.

While she’s off with her new step-dad to be, Daddario meets a young man applying for a job. See, her step-dad is the boss. This prospective employee is accompanied by his younger brother.

later on… after disaster strikes this heroic trio

There is some light humour during this scene as Daddario gets hit on by the young boy. We all know where this is going. Once disaster strikes, these three will team up, and struggle to survive several difficult obstacles.

Daddario’s ingenuity and experience with her rescue working father get this trio through a few sticky situations.

PAUL GIAMATTI rounds out the cast, as Mr. Exposition a.k.a. the science guy. He handles the role well. Normally these expository scenes are painful, but Giamatti handles these information dumps while maintaining interest.

The script also places him into the action. His research at a giant dam turns into disaster. A glorious epic disaster.

Now that we’ve met all our characters, the ground starts a quakin’. Structure-wise, the pacing is really tight, moving the story along at a decent clip.

Next up, The Rock will have to rescue his wife first before he recovers their daughter. Gugino dines in a skyscraper restaurant when the first wave strikes. This was my favourite sequence of the movie.

Brad Peyton directs the carnage mainly from a grounded perspective. He rarely chooses to do the CGI flying camera stuff I despise so much.

Often, Peyton places the camera with our characters so we can experience these crazy events from their point of view.

Gugino… the aftermath of the restaurant skyscraper sequence

Peyton goes all BIRDMAN with the Gugino restaurant sequence. Once the quake hits, Peyton doesn’t cut away. He uses one extended and uninterrupted camera shot following Gugino as she traverses her way up to the roof.

This isn’t a simple tracking shot or steadicam follow, this is choreographed disaster filled with stunts and pyrotechnics. Any edits are well hidden, much like that mind-blowing one-shot prolonged fight in DAREDEVIL.

The best moment was Gugino in the stairwell, the camera following closely behind. When she reaches the rooftop exit, the camera hovers THE SEARCHERS style, then continues to pursue Gugino as the door opens and blinds us with light.

The camera continues its uninterrupted chasing as we watch surrounding skyscrapers sway and fall. The roof pool even sploshes violently with waves. This whole sequence was so impressive – and it just continues on. I’m going to stay spoiler free on the result though.

There are even more awesome destruction moments, like a huge fault line and a tsunami. SAN ANDREAS is an adrenaline fueled thrill ride. Every 10 minutes or so there’s another action packed scene to enjoy.

Even if you don’t dig on the character development stuff, you should still thoroughly enjoy yourself.

The most surprising element of SAN ANDREAS was the emotional connection I felt with these characters.

A simple and clichéd backstory of a daughter who died from drowning drives the story forward. I was so invested in seeing this couple reconnect with each other and save their other daughter (Daddario).

The trailer highlighted an impactful moment: Daddario nearly drowning. Framed by the proper context, this scene was incredibly emotional. I was brimming with tears.

I really didn’t want The Rock to lose another daughter the same way. He already carries so much guilt for the tragedy of the past, it wouldn’t be fair to go through that again.

And.. That’s right, I emotionally connected with The Rock in a disaster flick full of epic scenes of destruction. I totally didn’t expect it either.

SAN ANDREAS has flaws in logic, it isn’t an Oscar winning tour de force of acting, but it delivers on every promise it made in the trailer. You want disaster, you got it.

There are several mind blowing FX set pieces, all filmed rather well for the genre. It’s never the same scene repeated – we get land, air, and sea.

is this a statement… this disaster flick has character and emotion unlike most Hollywood counterparts in the genre

Great pacing sets up characters beautifully, allowing us to be scared when our heroes are in danger during the stellar action scenes.

If you’re on the fence about SAN ANDREAS because you’ve been burned by previous (shallow and empty) disaster flicks, jump on down and approach the cinema. It’s safe now 😉

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What do you think? 

Did the relationships work for you? 

Daddario in Season One of TRUE DETECTIVE

Do you want to see Alexandra Daddario star in upcoming movies?

Leave a comment below.

TWEET TWEET @slipthroughnerd

Hmm? And they say Hollywood continually churns out the same thing over and over. I wonder why?

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