When it comes to scary movies, most film geeks will agree that fear is in the eye of the beholder. For some people it’s vampires and demons, for others it’s ghosts and things that go bump in the night, and for some it’s the seemingly normal ax murderer next door. But for anyone living in California when the earth is shaking, fear boils down to three simple words: “the big one”. And though I’m a sucker for a big, cheesy end of the world/disaster flick – 2012, Volcano, Twister, you name it! – when it comes to really scary onscreen thrills and chills, nothing beats a classically great earthquake movie.
So, in the spirit of the season I’m deviating a bit from our standard indie-minded fare to bring you my take on one of the best, and certainly the biggest, earthquake movies to date, San Andreas.
Of course, keep in mind that the word best, like fear itself, is totally subjective here. If you’re looking for realism and deep, natural acting you probably should have gone with something else. But if you’re looking for a loud, over-the-top thrill ride with zippy catchphrases, gaping plot holes and action sequences that strain the laws of both physics and believability, San Andreas is definitely the inflight movie for you. In fact, San Andreas is so much fun, you just might wanna watch it twice.
Starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as an L.A. Fire Department air rescue pilot, movie wife d’jour Carla Gugino as his soon-to-be ex-wife, The Good Wife’s Archie Panjabi as a TV newswoman and Oscar nominee Paul Giamatti as a wild-eyed Cal Tech Seismologist, San Andreas starts off with a seismic jolt (literally!) and keeps on shaking till the final reel. Director Brad Peyton’s homage to the epic, star-studded Irwin Allen disaster films of the late-70s and early-80s, San Andreas checks off all the requisite disaster movie cliché boxes to perfection.
Child of the main character in peril, check. Complicated backstory between male and female leads that they must overcome to work together to save the day and/or their only child, check. Brainy kid character who offers keen insights when things get rough, check. Mad genius/scientist character that no one will listen to until it’s too late, check. Cowardly, selfish villain out to save himself at all cost, check. Killer disaster set-pieces staged at iconic locales, check, double check and triple check. For not only do we get to see the earthquakes level Los Angeles and the Hoover Dam, but the bulk of San Andreas revolves around the total destruction of San Francisco as well. Oh, and did I mention that the film also features a jaw-droppingly cool tsunami sequence that makes the original Poseidon Adventure look like bath time with a toddler? Because it totally does.
And though story is definitely the last thing you care about in a big, juicy popcorn movie like San Andreas, I will say that the character’s back story – in the film, Johnson and Gugino’s characters are still grappling with the drowning death of their other daughter a few years earlier – is surprisingly resonant here, especially in light of events that transpire in the later third of the movie. Credit for this must surely go to the film’s multi-talented writer, Carlton Cuse (Lost, Bates Motel) who wrote the script from a story by Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore.
Epic, fun, exciting and shamelessly corny from start to finish, the only thing missing from San Andreas is a haunting, Lana del Rey-ish cover of a semi-ironic pop ballad over the end credits. Oh, wait, it has that too! Only this time it’s “California Dreaming” sung by Sia! My only fear is that watching a disaster movie on an airplane might be kind of off-putting for some passengers, but, with the exception of a “helicopter in peril” in the opening sequence, the aviation-themed scares are pretty nonexistent. So, buckle up, order up a good glass or two of California wine in tribute and have at it!
Now playing on select Delta, Air New Zealand and Hawaiian Airlines flights worldwide, San Andreas is also available via streaming on Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.