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San Andreas

After the infamous San Andreas Fault gives, triggering a magnitude 9-plus earthquake in California, a search and rescue helicopter pilot (Dwayne Johnson) and his estranged wife (Carla Gugino) make their way together from Los Angeles to San Francisco to save their only daughter. But their treacherous journey north is only the beginning. And when they think the worst may be over…it’s just getting started. (From WB’s original synopsis)

 San Andreas
Without even meaning to prep for this review of Brad Peyton’s San Andreas, I happened to have lazily watched the two most essential Hollywood earthquake movies a couple weeks ago. The first, Mark Robson’s Earthquake (1974) is just as dopey and by-the-numbers as I remembered, but helped set the standard for the subgenre. The second, Roland Emmerich’s 2012 (2009), is just as cynical and world-crackingly over-the-top as I remembered. Though neither film is particularly good (I have a soft spot for 2012), they are the alpha and omega and I wasn’t convinced that any Hollywood studio ever needed to make another blockbuster earthquake movie again. Peyton’s half-hearted return to the disaster movie template that Robson helped to establish and Emmerich helped to break down does little to convince me otherwise.

This predictable and uninspired screenplay was written by four people at least, including credited screenwriter Carlton Cuse, script-doctoring by Allan Loeb, and a ‘story-by’ credit for Andre Fabrizio & Jeremy Passmore. The plot hits all of the genre touchstones: there’s a prologue that sets up the hero’s physical prowess and fearlessness, a neurotic expert (played by Paul Giamatti) that pops-up every time that scientific exposition is required, and the hero’s physical feats are underscored by his fractured home life. The majority of the film revolves around characters traveling though cities and the countryside to meet up (it’s pretty much a noisier, less funny version of Plains, Trains, and Automobiles), so the disaster behaves itself by attacking in intervals and offering them a new challenge every 15 minutes or so. The strange thing is that the script has a built-in reason to avoid the clichés of its disaster movie counterparts – Johnson’s character is a rescue pilot. To my knowledge, there has never been a disaster movie that exclusively follows a rescue crew as they battle impossible odds. Instead, Ray the Rescue Pilot immediately ditches his duty to save his ex and child, establishing early on that nothing innovative will done with the subject matter. This also ensures the audience doesn’t get attached to any of the screaming hordes of quake-bait in the background. The misanthropic disregard for collateral damage and innocent bystanders is almost respectable, but doesn’t compare to the gleeful death toll of 2012. I do have to give the screenwriters credit for casting Ray’s romantic rival as a scumbag and intending us to laugh at his eventual demise…mere seconds before we’re expected to be sad that the kindly old couple we met earlier died in the same tidal wave.

 San Andreas
Peyton had only ever directed two other feature-length movies – Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (2010), a sequel to Lawrence Guterman’s Cats & Dogs (2001), and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012), a sequel to Eric Brevig’s Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D (2008). Given his pedigree as the guy that makes unwanted, belated sequels to vaguely successful, CG-heavy children’s films, it’s easy to assume he was hired for his technical experience, rather than his dramatic or stylistic proficiencies. He’s a gun-for-hire who had conveniently worked with Johnson before. Surprisingly enough, it is a handful of well-executed, 3D-infused, nerve-wracking visuals that make San Andreas at all entertaining. While the basic action and large-scale destruction tends to be serviceably dull, Peyton sprinkles more personalized peril into the mix, like shots from inside an SUV as it tumbles down a cliff face and a particularly intense extended take that follows Carla Gugino through a crumbling office tower restaurant. Her brief glance at a swishing rooftop pool is the most enduring image of the entire film. His dramatic calibration is way off (the tone-deaf ‘touching’ moments are all unintentionally funny or annoying), but Peyton might be a good candidate for the next Final Destination sequel.

 San Andreas


San Andreas was shot using Arri Alexa XT digital HD cameras and was post-converted into 3D for theatrical screenings. For this review, I am checking out the 2D, 2.35:1, 1080p Blu-ray release, though there is also a 3D Blu-ray available. Peyton and cinematographer Steve Yedlin try their best to make the digital footage appear like film by avoiding super-obvious grading techniques and using older anamorphic lenses. Details are crisp, textures are complex enough that the computer effects sequences always look a bit ‘off’ compared to their photographed counterparts (not the transfer’s problem, clearly), and gamma/contrast levels are quite dynamic. Grain is minor, but does kick up a bit during the darkest sequences, despite black levels being generally un-crushed. The purposefully limited outdoor colour palette is a bit odd, leading otherwise natural images of earth and water to look weirdly homogenized. However, interiors tend to be pretty eclectic and the desaturated exteriors do feature plenty poppy highlights (usually clothing). Colours are tight and consistent throughout. I notice no obvious compression effects or even significant haloes along the sharpest edges.


San Andreas is presented in Dolby Atmos sound with a core Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track. Not surprisingly, it is a very loud, very full-bodied mix. The earthquaking scenes are appropriately massive, including grinding plates, collapsing rubble, and a brutal LFE grumble. The large sound doesn’t completely overwhelm the smaller touches, meaning that even the most intense crunch of a falling building is brimming with subtle dust sounds, shattering glass, and splashing sea water throughout the stereo and surround channels. Important dialogue is not buried in effects and nor is Andrew Lockington’s typically rousing score. The music hits all of the typical notes, from rousing brass to mournful strings, and, though it isn’t unique, it’s certainly more memorable than typical modern blockbuster fare. Peyton seems so fond of Lackington’s score that he sucks the other sound out of several scenes to allow the music to drive home the melodrama with a distorted guitar strum or sad alto choir.

 San Andreas


  • Commentary by director Brad Peyton – Peyton rambles a bit, but is perfectly charming on his first-ever commentary track. Plenty of amusing anecdotes are wedged between bland praise for cast/crew and downtime is limited.
  • San Andreas: The Real Fault Line (6:20, HD) – A fluffy look at the reference material and research that went into the earthquake-themed special effects and the single-take restaurant scene.
  • Dwayne Johnson to the Rescue (9:20, HD) – Another fluff piece focused on the star’s behind-the-scenes adventures.
  • Scoring the Quake (6:10, HD) – A quick exploration of Andrew Lockington’s music.
  • Eight deleted scenes with optional commentary by Peyton (4:40, HD)
  • Gag reel (1:20, HD)
  • Cunning Stunts stunt reel (3:00, HD)

 San Andreas


San Andreas offers nothing unique to the disaster genre (poor Dwayne Johnson utters a number of hackneyed platitudes, including ‘Don’t quit on me’ and ‘I’m not gonna lose you, too’) and is a pretty lackadaisical effort all-around, but its massive worldwide box office success proves that there is still a taste for escapist entertainment about naturally occurring catastrophes. I can only hope that the next one will have something more interesting than Dwayne Johnson to offer. This 2D Blu-ray release looks and sounds very nice, though, and includes a half-decent little pile of extras, so it’s certainly not a total loss. Still, I’d recommend rewatching Roger Donaldson’s Dante’s Peak (1997), instead.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.