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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



San Andreas, Review: Earth, fire, water, disaster

San Andreas, Review: Earth, fire, water, disaster

Almost all disaster films rely on one or more of the following elements: earth (quake), fire (inferno), water (flood, tsunami, sharks, piranha), wind (hurricane, tornado) and virus (epidemic). Since all of them have been done to death, we now have a category of alien invasions and inter-galactic warfare that has become extremely popular over the last 25 years or so. One wonders how much longer will this one last, though many of the films based on such subjects have been successful in the recent past too. With earth-quakes, you can bring in fires and tsunamis too. So, it is not such a bad choice as the key element of a film, even in 2015. Never mind if some parts of the storyline remind you of the old-time disaster classic, The Towering Inferno. San Andreas is not a very good title for a film about multiple earth-quakes, but it is derived from a real condition of the earth’s surface called the San Andreas Fault (SAF).

A fault is a planar crack in a rock along which slippage has taken place. Most faults are small - even microscopic - and are not important. Some faults are many miles long. Scientists have feared a ‘Big One’ to happen along the SAF. The 'Big One' is a hypothetical earthquake of magnitude ~8, or greater, that is expected to happen along the SAF. Such a quake will cause unprecedented devastation within about 50-100 miles of the SAF quake zone, especially in urban areas like Palm Springs, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

After the infamous San Andreas Fault finally strikes – triggering a earthquake measuring 9+ on the Richter scale much more severe than the hypothetical ~8 , in San Francisco – a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot Ray (Dwayne Johnson) and his estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) make their way together from Los Angeles to San Francisco, to save their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario). Trapped under the debris, Blake has been left to fend for herself by her mother’s new boy-friend Daniel (Ioan Gruffud), who has built the tallest skyscraper in town, but is now only worried about his own safety. Blake’s new friends, brothers Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and young Ollie (Art Parkinson) join her in a battle against continuing destruction and an imminent tsunami.

The script, which originated with Andre Fabrizio and Jeremy Passmore, got a rewrite from Rock of Ages scribe Allan Loeb. In the titles, the screenplay credit reads Carlton Cuse. It has all the standard ingredients: the lead couple’s broken marriage, the hero’s guilt pangs, the young heroine’s love at first sight, the villain’s greed and selfishness, the unlikely foreign braveheart, the black man who almost dies rescuing a white girl whose car has taken a tumble along a mountain, destruction, destruction and more destruction. In terms of screenplay, it is pretty much flat and cyclic, with obstacles surfacing regularly and the death-defying protagonists moving on in the nick of time on each occasion. Thankfully, jargon is kept to a minimum.

Director Brad Peyton was born in Canada and first full-length feature was Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (2010), the sequel to the 2001 animated hit Cats & Dogs. Brad later directed Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, starring Dwayne Johnson. In San Andreas, he will have to rely on the thousands of special effects of collapsing buildings, a crumbling Hoover dam, the uprooted iconic Hollywood logo letters, tsunamis, some great helicopter and aeroplane shots and breath-taking motor-boat against tsunami scenes---to see his through. The human element is weaker. Though the track with the brothers and Blake is cute, it cannot escape being contrived. The other parallel track, of the two scientists (Paul Giamatti and Will Yun Lee) and the TV anchor (Archie Panjabi) had potential and a lesson was to be learnt. Sadly, it has been filmed somewhat childishly.

Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, 260 lb/118 kg, 6’5”, gets to use his face and voice more than his muscles, which is not a bad thing. If only he was given a better written part, we might have seen him do even better. Irish+Italian+Czech, Alexandra Daddario (Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D, Hall Pass is introduced in a swimsuit, but there’s no more revelation to follow. She makes a nice couple with Hugo Johnstone-Burt, who, in turn, makes a good brother to Art Parkinson, not a bad actor himself. Carla Gugino  (the MILF operative in the Spy Kids trilogy, Silk Spectre in Watchmen, Robert De Niro's forensic love interest in Righteous Kill, Lucille in Sin City, the man-munching super-agent Amanda Daniels on Entourage, the Polish therapist/madam in Sucker Punch, Abby Rhoads, attorney, on Californication) is forty-three old, and suited for this role. Her relationship with Johnson is treated superficially, though there is a major incident at the root of it. Later, in at least a couple of scenes, she earns the audience’s sympathy and appreciation.

Ioan Gruffud’s character shows no particular reason why Emma should fall for him, and that is not his fault as an actor. He projects the dark side effectively, when called upon to do so. Paul Giamatti and Will Yun Lee are convincing, till Lee is sacrificed in the cause of the subject and Giamatti starts making emotional but far-from-convincing speeches on TV. Kylie Minogue plays Daniel’s sister, in a brief appearance that makes little demand. Archie Panjabi made her film debut in East Is East, and was also seen in Bend It Like Beckham, The Constant Gardener while playing the lead in Yasmin. Nice to see an Indian actress in a not-so-small role, speaking fluent English, and exuding confidence.

In the end, how many times can one hear the dialogue, “Are you okay?” After a while, with a catastrophe killing thousands, you are prompted to retort, “No, I am not okay.”

Lavishly mounted and packed to the hilt with crumbling edifices (never mind if some of them can fleetingly be recognised as miniatures or uni-dimensional structures), it might be just the trip that disaster-buffs want to enjoy. Others will take away the thrills of the air and boat manoeuvres, which are not far removed from video-game parameters. Still others, including discerning film-buffs, might go back disappointed.

Rating: **1/2



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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