Plot: What’s it about?
In an episode of The Simpson’s Apu tells Homer (or maybe it was Bart) when buying fireworks “…what better way to celebrate the independence of your country than by blowing up a small part of it!” Hollywood studio execs must really adhere to this policy because I don’t think a day will come when we don’t have a disaster movie in the works. From Earthquake to Twister to The Towering Inferno to Dante’s Peak, some of these films are bad, others entertaining and some are just downright awful. Thankfully in my time I’ve really only been party to one of Mother Earth’s “gifts” and that was an earthquake in the Washington D.C. area of all places. I was sitting at a bar (at lunch, give me some credit), it started to shake, the traffic lights outside were moving and before I knew what was going on – it was over. Yet in all my years living in Kansas and I’ve never even seen a tornado. Go figure. That aside, these disaster films can be kind of fun in that we get to see cities leveled, landmarks destroyed and A list actors running for their lives. Have we seen enough of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson this year or not? No? Well ok then, let’s get on with it.
Following the template mainly established by Twister, we meet Ray (Dwayne Johnson), a rescue pilot whose daughter, Blake (Alexandria Daddario) is heading off to college. He’s in the midst of a divorce and his ex-wife, Emma (Carla Gugino) has hooked up with a wealthy architect (Ioan Gruffudd). All of this takes a backseat to the real storyline, however, as a Professor (Paul Giamatti) and his staff are on the precipice of being able to predict earthquakes. Well, wouldn’t you know it, no sooner than they figure this out, the Hoover Dam collapses taking one of his team in the process (not before an emotional rescue of a child, no less). When the chain of events leads to a massive destruction of Los Angeles, Ray’s attention turns to Blake who’s in San Francisco. Ray uses anything and everything he can to rescue his wife and then heads up the coast to rescue his daughter. Naturally there’s the inconvenience of the city being destroyed, but you know – it shouldn’t be that difficult to find one person in a city of millions. Adding to the allure, Blake is stranded with Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt), a handsome Brit who was trying to get a job as an architect and his cute little brother Ollie (Art Parkinson). Here we go…we’ve got to ask…will Ray manage to save his family from a gruesome death or will they all perish as the coast of California is leveled?
I won’t say that San Andreas is a bad movie, per se. What really bothered me is how amazingly predictable it was. Even lines of dialogue. My wife and I made somewhat of a game over it saying thinks like “Ok, he’s going to look over the city and say ‘to rebuild.'” Ding! We’ve got a winner. Certainly Johnson has the screen presence to carry a film like this, the women are relegated to wearing tight-fitting tank tops (do you hear me complaining?) and act as helpless victims. I was drawing parallels to 1996’s Twister in which Bill Paxton’s character was in the midst of a divorce right as his team was about to discover a new way to accurately predict tornadoes. See any similarities here? Anyway, it’s best not to try and think about this one too much (or any disaster movie, for that matter). It’s all about the fun of seeing things crumble. And they do. If you’re familiar with San Francisco you’ll see just about every familiar landmark in the film from AT&T Park to Coyt Tower to the Golden Gate Bridge. Sadly, none of them survive. Hopefully that didn’t ruin it for you.
Video: How’s it look?
Presented in a 2.40:1 AVC HD transfer, San Andreas looks every bit as good as I’d expected. This is one of Warner’s bigger titles of the year, so I’m sure a lot of care went into the Blu-ray. There’s also a 3D version of this film, though the version reviewed here is the 2D one. As you might expect, there’s plenty of CGI – most of which looks pretty convincing and it makes way for a few pretty intense scenes. Flesh tones seem warm and natural and detail, again as we might expect, is simply stunning. There are a lot of sweeping ariel shots as Johnson’s character spends a lot of time in a helicopter and I’m sure in the 3D version this looks pretty amazing. All that said, the film delivers in this department as we all knew it would.
Audio: How’s it sound?
If ever there was a movie that would make use of a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, I’d have to say that San Andreas fits the bill to a tee. If you don’t have a receiver that decodes Dolby Atmos – don’t worry, the included Dolby TrueHD soundtrack will more than suffice. Vocals are pure and crisp, Johnson’s deep, commanding voice can be heard without any distortion. The front stage seems fairly busy and surrounds make for a very 360 degree effect particularly in the scenes with the helicopter. But let’s get to the good stuff – the LFE! When buildings crumble, you’d better believe that there’s a lot of noise associated with it and depending on your setup, this will shake the room. I have a little stand that has “Now Playing” sitting on top of one of my speakers and during the third act it actually shook the box off the speaker. Now tell me that isn’t impressive! Fear not friends, this one delivers on every level.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The film grossed around $155 million at the domestic box office which is impressive, though I’m sure Warner would have liked that total to be higher. Still, a fair amount of supplements have been included so let’s check ’em out.
- Audio Commentary – I was pretty excited to hear Peyton’s comments on the film. As I’d mentioned, I didn’t think it was terrible just predictable. Peyton seems to know his stuff, giving us pretty detailed explanations for some of the shots and effects that he had in mind. He speaks of the casting, working with “The Rock” and making an event movie. It’s actually not a bad track.
- San Andreas: The Real Fault Line – A six minute feature telling us of some of the challenges of making the film. They wanted to make it “real” yet believable and entertaining at the same time.
- Dwayne Johnson to the Rescue – “Making San Andreas was a thrilling, heart-pounding ride…” says Mr. Johnson. This ten minute segment focuses on our hero, the charismatic Dwayne Johnson who leads the film as its action star. Some comments about him and the other actors wanting to do their own stunts are included, but it’s essentially them all kissing up to “The Rock” (and there’s nothing wrong with that).
- Scoring the Quake – Composer Andrew Lockington offers up some comments about the score as well as Brad Peyton’s influence on the final product.
- Deleted Scenes – Eight total, all are presented in HD with music, dialogue and so forth. None really offer up anything too exciting and it’s clear why they were cut.
- Deleted Scenes with Commentary by Director Brad Peyton – The same scenes with Peyton’s comments. Why they didn’t put these in one feature giving the user the choice to select it is beyond me, but oh well.
- Gag Reel – Shenanigans on the set.
- Stunt Reel – A three minute semi-montage of stunts performed in the film set to techno music for some odd reason.
The Bottom Line
Don’t expect to be intellectually challenged when watching this film. I’m willing to bet that pretty much anything with Dwayne Johnson on the cover will mean your mind gets a 2 hour break from its normal duties. San Andreas doesn’t exactly re-invent the disaster movie and I really don’t think it was supposed to. If you’re looking for a couple hours of mindless action with a top notch video presentation and literal earth-shaking sound – this is for you. I personally prefer some in the 90’s like Twister and Dante’s Peak – but they didn’t star Alexandria Daddario, so…