Thrilling suspense movies burden writers and directors with the task of keeping audiences at the edge of their theater seats during several parts of a film. In fact, Steven Spielberg’s iconic 1975 shark adventure “Jaws”, based upon author Peter Benchley’s novel from the year before, went through many drafts until both men were satisfied that they could make viewers want to avoid water outings after seeing their Great White thriller. Disaster movies must have an even higher quotient of carnage, mayhem and suspense than standard thrillers in order to sell their storylines. To make disaster stories successful, they need believability and shock. Thankfully, this newest disaster film “San Andreas” has both in spades.
Relative unknown director Brad Peyton (“Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”, 2012), rejoins action star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on the big screen for this earthquake saga that rocks down on southern California. Johnson portrays a cocksure Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter pilot with over 600 saves under his flight suit, who attempts to come to terms with his pending divorce from his separated wife (Carla Gugino) while trying to save his daughter (Alexandra Daddario). Despite beauty stunners in both Gugino and Daddario, it’s the former 6-time WWF wrestling champion’s 43-year old biceps that will earn the most attention and envy from movie goers.
“San Andreas” successfully enters the disaster genre classics due to its believability and powerful image projection. Through exceptional use of computer generated imagery (CGI) and tight editing, this catastrophe shakes audiences with higher entertainment value than normal. Not always a fan of 3D movies, I found this added dimension not only useful—but required—in “San Andreas” to capture the level and degree of the vast destruction. For example, numerous times we see helicopter blades mere inches from debris and obstacles, raising the discomfort of viewers to a level measurable on a Richter scale.
Watching this film reminded me of the magnitude of the destruction and the reactions of thousands after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. “San Andreas” may take some viewers back to that horrific day with intense images of skyscrapers collapsing, debris clouds funneling people as they try to escape downtown, and others falling to their death from tall buildings. One other disturbing scene involves the film’s opening shot of a teen texting while driving. However, rather than send the right message to audiences about the dangers of texting & driving, Peyton only uses the risky behavior as a misdirected head fake leading to the driver’s ultimate peril.
Going back to “The Hindenburg” in 1975, disaster movies do well at the box office. Last year’s “Godzilla” opened to an astounding $93 million weekend draw. “San Andreas” topped this past weekend’s box office chart, shaking over $53 million from theater goers’ purses and wallets. Although “The Rock” doesn’t display his trademark “People’s Elbow” for wrestling fans, “San Andreas” provides ample destruction and enough character development to justify a movie ticket to this earthquake thriller. Just make sure you see it in 3D.
“San Andreas” is rated PG-13 for intense disaster action and brief strong language. Its running time is 1 hour and 54 minutes.
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