Thursday, June 18, 2015

Movie: San Andreas

San Andreas is a disaster movie of epic proportions that delivers in just about every way except for being grounded in scientific fact. This won't matter to most movie goers who aren't expecting realism in disaster movies; they go to be entertained and San Andreas does that very well. It follows the formula of many disaster movies; a main character (the hero) who has some sort of personal (ongoing) tragedy, superseded by a terrible disaster that proves the hero's true worth and helps resolve the crisis in his/her life. Add in today's remarkable special effects and you have the making of an entertaining blockbuster.

The movie begins by establishing helicopter-rescue pilot, Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson), as an exceptional member of the Los Angeles Fire Department when he and his team go to rescue a young woman who has driven off a highway.On board the group have a reporter and her cameraman who are shadowing the rescue. As expected, the rescue does not going according to plan, when a member of the team becomes pinned by the car and the helicopter begins running out of fuel. Cue Ray to save the day, rescuing both the girl and his fellow team member.

Back at home we learn that Ray is in the middle of a divorce from his wife Emma (Carla Gugino) who is involved with weathly real estate developer, Daniel Riddick (Ioan Gruffud). Ray contacts his daughter, Blake, about their trip up to San Francisco and drives to pick her up at Riddick's home. There he learns that Emma has decided to move in with Daniel, crushing any hopes Ray had of reuniting with his estranged wife. Ray is called into work and this results in Daniel driving Blake to San Francisco while Emma meets Daniel's sister, Susan for lunch.

Meanwhile at Caltech, seismologist Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) is informed by his colleague, Dr. Kim Park that they may have had a breakthrough in being able to predict earthquakes using electromagnetic pulses. They notice that there have been some pulses near the Hoover Dam in Arizona and decide to travel there. It turns out they are correct and a major 7.1 magnitude earthquake hits the area, destroying the dam and killing Dr. Park.

When they return to Caltech, Hayes discovers that the earthquakes in Arizona have triggered instability along the San Andreas fault. Soon earthquakes begin occurring all along the San Andreas fault beginning in Los Angeles. The earthquake in Los Angeles destroys the tower Emma is in. In desperation, she calls Ray who asks her where she is and he tells her to get to the roof where he can see her. While others are racing down to the street Emma races to the rooftop only to be thrown back several floors as the tremors continue. Eventually she makes it to the top of a crumbling, burning building and is barely rescued by Ray in time. In his damaged helicopter they race to San Francisco to find Blake.

Meanwhile Blake arrived in San Francisco with Daniel and waits for him in the lobby at his office tower. During this time she meets two visitors, Ben who is getting ready for an interview and his kid brother, Ollie. Ben leaves and Daniel returns to take Blake to her destination. However, as they are driving out of the parking garage, an earthquake strikes, sending the car crashing into the lower levels, killing the driver and trapping Blake. Unable to free her, Daniel tells her he is going for help and races up to the lobby. Blake is able to talk to her father and tells him she is trapped in the garage of Daniels building. He tells her he is coming to get her.

However, a second shock hits and Daniel sees a man crushed to death by falling concrete. This terrifies him so much, he abandons Blake to her fate. Fortunately for Blake, Ben has overheard Daniel screaming for someone to help him free a girl in the underground parkade and he and Ollie race to find Blake. Through some ingenuity, they manage to free Blake and the three decide they need to get to a land line and call her father to let him know she is safe. Ray tells Blake to go to the highest point, the Coit Tower where they will meet. More quakes continue and Blake realizes that going to Coit Tower will not work. Instead she tells Ben and Ollie they need to find the highest safe place where her dad in his helicopter can see them. However unknown to Blake, Ray and Emma have had to abandon the helicopter and must now find another way to reach San Francisco. Seismologist Lawrence Hayes warns the public that a more deadly earthquake is about to happen in San Francisco - the largest ever, can Ray and Emma rescue Blake, Ben and Ollie in time?

The massive, unbelievable San Andreas fault.
Directed by Brad Peyton, San Andreas is crammed with special effects and almost continuous heartstopping action. Performances by Johnson and Gugino are sufficient to keep viewers invested in their story, even though it's predictable. The disaster brings  the couple together and forces them to confront the unspoken issue between them - the death of their daughter. They are finally able to discuss how the her death by drowning affected both of them, breaking down their marriage and leading Emma to leave.

The special effects are what make the movie; crumbling skyscrapers, buckling swaths of cities, bursting dams, collapsing bridges, falling debris, and a massive tsunami that makes the Japan tsunami look small by comparison. Dwayne Johnson, with his wrestler physique has undeniable screen presence and an easy going, protector kind of image that is appealing. He's a capable hero, easily moving from crack helicopter pilot to hot-wiring stolen vehicles, to navigating a speedboat to the top of a massive tsunami while dodging containers falling from a ship and its whirling propellers. Interestingly he steals ALL the vehicles he uses in the movie! Movie goers might wonder why Ray has not been contacted by his unit as to his location and asked to report back to Los Angeles.

Equally adept in this movie, is Blake Gaines who keeps a cool head and uses her knowledge she's picked up from her rescue-worker father. She knows cell phones won't work and looks for a land line and she understands that safety during a tsunami means getting to higher ground fast - in this case going to higher floors in a building. She's a strong character in the movie who earns praise from Ben and Ollie.

The deadly (but unlikely) tsunami on it's way toward San Francisco.
San Andreas from a earth sciences point of view is not accurate in any way. First of all seismologists have no way of predicting with any certainty the timing or magnitude of an earthquake anywhere on the planet. They can make general predictions but they are general. Although earthquakes do occur in Nevada, it's unlikely they would trigger quakes along the San Andreas fault. In the movie, having ditched their helicopter and stolen an Ford truck, Ray and Emma travel north to San Francisco but are stopped by an enormous crevasse which is supposed to be the San Andreas fault. It's quite unlikely that such a huge and extensive fissure would form at the surface, even after a quake of magnitude 9.6. The tsunami also would not have happened as most of the San Andreas fault runs through land. Earthquakes generate tsunamis from the sudden dropping and uplifting of ocean crust, displacing water and creating an enormous wave. The San Andreas fault is a transform fault that shifts sideways not vertically, again meaning no tsunami!

Overall this is a fun, entertaining movie that everyone can enjoy provided you just take the story at face value. Stay to watch the credits and listen to Sia's version of California dreamin.

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