This review was originally published on The National Student on 15th October 2015
For all the over the top, unbelievable, and uncanny valley shine-laden CGI buildings that are felled in San Andreas, watching the extras and seeing how much of the up-close and personal action was done on sets, with the actors in harnesses, utilising takes stretching on for minutes at a time really makes you understand why San Andreas is such a terrible film. All the focus on visceral action, none on the story. Or the dialogue.
Following Dwayne Johnson’s LAFD rescue pilot Ray, San Andreas asks what would happen if the largest recorded earthquake in history went off along the famous San Andreas fault line of pacific North America.
As Paul Giamatti gives exposition in a safe science lab, Ray ventures north from LA to San Francisco in a daring attempt to save his ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino) and estranged daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) whilst also saving his family. As skyscrapers collapse onto nameless CGI faces, bridges collapse, and a tidal wave hits, who will be left to hear the music swell over an American flag swaying in the breeze?
In one of the genuinely enlightening Blu-ray extras, we see how composer Andrew Lockington crafted such a forgettably effective score. For instance, he played the keys of a piano he’d torn apart and was left with discordant, creepy notes that form a tension-building track.
In the same featurette he compliments Director Brad Peyton’s dedication to story and character, and the emotion. Beautiful sentiment, with no basis in reality. San Andreas’ characters are, bar one, universally split into ‘annoying and useless’ and ‘morally unpleasant at best’. The sad part is that it isn’t star Johnson who is the exception, but his onscreen daughter Daddario. For a sizeable portion of the film, her character Blake is funny and kind, and surprisingly capable, having been raised by a man with the training to survive a disaster. Meanwhile Johnson is wooden and generically heroic, without doing anything particularly admirable. Barring an opening rescue mission with his ‘team’ at the LAFD, the only people he saves are his own family, acting disgustingly selfish considering that it’s literally his job to protect and assist all in need. That the film glosses over this is one in an unending list of mistakes and general stupidity, with exposition in on-the-nose dialogue and equally unsubtle camera moves.
There is fun to be had with the film, however. The early Hoover Dam destruction is surprisingly well handled, and a lot of the action throws you into the thick of the destruction. One five-minute single shot follows the blandly annoying Emma as the top floor restaurant of a hotel collapses, through an impressive and visceral sequence of obstacles. Barring the absurd airborne shots of cities collapsing, and one skydive sequence with Johnson and Gugino (ending on a brutally poor and ill-fitting innuendo), it’s all quite visceral and unrelenting. Yet as nearly none of the characters are likeable enough, or fleshed out enough, and their mission too familiar, it does not last. To paraphrase one ‘shaking’ related line of the film: the disappointment’s not going to stop with this one.