A cracking adventure
San Andreas (M) National release Aloha (PG) National release from June 4
David Stratton reminds me that the 1974 disaster film Earthquake was notable for the first use of Sensurround, a rumbling, low-frequency sound effect designed to make audiences feel like the earth was moving. And now he mentions it I can recall going to the cinema with my father and younger brother — was it the old Forum on Sydney’s George Street? — to experience that seat-shaking sensation.
Sensurround was a flash in the pan, but today’s film technologies — computer graphics, 3-D and IMAX screens — combine to make you feel terrifyingly in the middle of an epic earthquake in one of the most spectacular action films I’ve seen in recent times. I recommend not filling your popcorn container to the brim, as you’ll only make a mess.
The action opens with a warning about texting while driving: a young women in a sports car, eyes on her phone, ends up half way down a ravine, trapped in her vertical vehicle. Cue Los Angeles Fire Department rescue pilot Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson), who takes his helicopter where no helicopter has a right to go.
This thrilling scene, in which we see the peril from the pilot’s point of view, is typical of what is to come. When it comes to the million-dollar set pieces in this $US100 million film, Canadian director Brad Peyton (who worked with Johnson on Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) delivers every time.
We quickly learn Gaines’s backstory. He’s reluctantly divorcing his wife Emma (Carla Gugino), who has hooked up with mega-rich architect Daniel Riddick (Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd). He is close to his beautiful daughter Blake (an impressive Alexandra Daddario), who is heading to San Francisco and college. There was another daughter, but she drowned on a rafting trip: not even Ray could save her.
In a second storyline we meet Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti), a seismologist working on an earthquake early warning system. When his students ask the chances of another cataclysmic rupture in the San Andreas Fault, such as the one that wiped out San Francisco in 1906, he says: “It’s not a matter of if, but when.”
He’s so right. No sooner has he cracked his earthquake code than, in another gobsmacking scene, the ground opens up in Nevada, bursting the Hoover Dam.
But this is a tiddler compared with what is to come: the whole 1300km fault line is shifting, which means the west coast is one huge earthquake zone.
Gaines’s wife is in Los Angeles, his daughter is in San Fran — and this time he’s determined to rescue them, and everyone else for that matter. It’s heart-racing stuff. Scenes such as a tsu- nami powering over the Golden Gate Bridge, tossing ocean liners like bath toys, and Gaines flying his chopper through a collapsing LA skyline are awe-inspiring. This is a horror film in which there are no monsters, where death and destruction are caused by an indifferent natural force confronting human constructs of steel, concrete and glass.
Johnson is a reliable action hero, all muscle but capable of doing the quieter emotional scenes. He also has a comic side, not that there’s much chance to show it here, aside from one good joke involving a baseball field. Indeed, he is let down by a rather leaden script that mainly has him uttering variations on the line “Let’s go get our daughter”.
This is redeemed by the sparkling connection between Blake and two accidental Englishmen who come to her rescue, Ben (Australian actor Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Fish Lamb in Cloudstreet, who is excellent) and his little brother Ollie (Art Parkinson). Another Aussie, Kylie Minogue, pops up briefly.
San Andreas, filmed mainly on the Gold Coast, is a terrific film and I recommend it to one and all, but at the same time it’s worth pausing to note it is being released a month after the earthquake in Nepal that killed more than 8600 people. I suspect had a tragedy of one-tenth that proportion happened on American soil, the film would have been delayed. The studio has said the marketing campaign will include information about how to assist the urgent ongoing relief effort in Nepal. That is to be applauded. Cameron Crowe’s Hawaii-set comedy-drama
is an awkward film to review. Good director, attractive cast, interesting enough story, scenic locations — but the bottom line is I didn’t like it.
Yet it’s one of those cases where I’m especially conscious that something which doesn’t work for me may well appeal to others. My colleague Graeme Blundell, sitting in the same preview screening, liked it a lot.
He enjoyed the snappy, never-miss-a-beat dialogue between the central characters, saying it reminded him of Aaron Sorkin TV shows such as The West Wing and The Newsroom.
I like that sort of dialogue too, but not in this case as I just didn’t believe the characters would speak that way. Indeed, I didn’t believe in any of the characters, in their motivations, emotions and behaviour, and that was my main problem with the film. Oh, I also think it’s silly.
Here’s the setup: Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is a military contractor with a black mark to his name. Something went wrong in Afghanistan that left his body and reputation damaged. He has returned to his old stamping ground, Hawaii, after a 13-year absence, ostensibly to help negotiate with the locals about putting a satellite in their sacred sky. The exact nature of that satellite, what it will be used for, is a pivotal question.
Brian has two potential love interests, his old flame Tracey Woodside (Rachel McAdams), now married with two kids, and the gung-ho air force officer assigned to mind him, Allison Ng (Emma Stone). In a note typical of the laboured humour, Tracey’s handsome, taciturn husband is Woody Woodside (John Krasinski).
Bill Murray, cast to recent type, is Brian’s boss, crazy munitions mogul Carson Welch, and Alec Baldwin, ditto, storms around as a rabid general.
These awkward, often angry, strangely unappealing characters intersect in two main storylines that centre on Brian’s chance for redemption: by making a future with Tracy (or perhaps with Officer Ng) and by making up for his murky past by doing right this time (or perhaps not).
The overall plot is baggy and the highlights
San Andreas, reel moments are, to my eye, contrived. For example, there’s a dance scene between Carson and Officer Ng that seems to take place solely because they had Murray and Stone in the same room, so why not?
Crowe has made some well-liked films, including the rock journalism comedy Almost Famous and the sports management comedy Jerry Maguire. If you enjoyed those I wouldn’t want to put you off seeing this new one. But perhaps the best way to end this review is to say my favourite of his is the Tom Cruise-Penelope CruzCameron Diaz psychological thriller Vanilla Sky, a remake of Alejandro Amenabar’s Abre los Ojos ( Open Your Eyes).