Breaking the Rock.
“It happened that a fire broke out backstage in a theater. The clown came out to inform the public. They thought it was a jest and applauded. He repeated his warning. They shouted even louder. So I think the world will come to an end amid the general applause from all the wits who believe that it is a joke.”
― Søren Kierkegaard
For a great deal longer than film has pervaded culture, the human race has maintained a powerful fascination with Armageddon. Perhaps it’s that predictions of the end of the world span as far back as the very earliest of civilisations all the way to contemporary fanaticism, from Nostradamus to the Mayans (we’ve survived the forecasts of both) or perhaps because the possibility of the apocalypse injects our lives with some form of gnarled meaning; a finite date when it will all be over. Credit cards stop working, skyscrapers come tumbling down, television won’t broadcast; it’s a fresh start for the lucky few who survive. There’s nothing new about Brad Peyton’s San Andreas because you’ve already seen everything it has to offer. It’s demolition on a monstrous scale. Hollywood has been fuelling our enthusiasm for worldly destruction for over a century. It seems there’s enthusiasm to spare.
It may come as little surprise that the plot, dialogue and the characters in Brad Peyton’s San Andreas exist amongst the very poorest examples of creativity and intellect. Ray (Dwayne Johnson) is a talented search-and-rescue helicopter pilot whose wife, Emma (Carla Gugino), has left him for a much wealthier albeit far less stout-hearted man, Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd). Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) is a seismologist who bleakly predicts to his improbably large seismology class that California is overdue for an earthquake of immeasurable devastation. The earthquake hits and Ray’s daughter (Alexandra Daddario) is stranded in San Francisco. Emma and Ray journey through the destruction to save her. And that’s it – which isn’t altogether such a bad thing.
The uncataclysmic elements of these variety of films share such a long and uninspiring history that it might have come as a rude shock had Ray’s story been particularly compelling. It’s not, nor does Peyton seem to be under any genuine impression that it is. It’s a blessing then, that he understands the strengths of the genre and has a remarkable command how best to express mayhem in regards to entertainment. There’s a real energy to how San Andreas presents the fall of San Francisco, which notably looks far more like Brisbane, the city in which San Andreas was filmed, than the real San Francisco. More than any comparable film that has come before it, San Andreas makes a real effort to convey something of what it might be like to be in the thick of such an unprecedented disaster. Except empathy, of course. It’s best the population that doesn’t constitute the central cast remain out of sight and out of mind.
There’s absolutely nothing to be said for San Andreas when buildings aren’t falling down or being battered by waves. It’s impossible to imagine anyone caring about Ray as a character or his feelings regarding his estrangement from Emma. The dialogue is atrocious and the character development maddeningly calculated. Peyton appears mercifully disinterested in it all and lulls in the action are few and far between.
Ultimately, these films are never really about the end of the world. They’re adventure stories. If San Andreas was genuinely concerned with conveying a sense of what the destruction of San Francisco via natural disaster would be like then we’d care when the extras were crushed by falling debris or swept away by a tsunami. But then the effect would be disastrous (pun probably intended) for Peyton’s intended thrills. It’s the needs of the few that these films care about. Any focus on the real consequence of a disaster would suffocate the entertainment with the overwhelming despair that such an awful event would foster. Because the end of the world would be awful. It just looks like so much fun.