dir: Brad Peyton
Every year has to have a big disaster flick where chunks of America, if not the whole world, and let’s face it, to Americans America is the whole world, are destroyed.
Some years it’s tornadoes, other years it’s meteors or comets, or aliens, or tsunamis.
This year it’s earthquakes.
I would tentatively ask why this yearning, insatiable desire is imagined to always exist in the broader audience, but then most of the people who went to see this flick were living far from the gentle land of roaming buffalos and stripper poles gleaming from sea to shining sea.
Yep, non-Americans pay to watch Americans dying in great numbers.
That sounds awful to me, but hey, I’m just a guy watching a disaster movie.
The standard template of disaster flicks is still the defense of the family. It’s never (anymore) trying to prevent the disaster from happening, or stopping a catastrophic situation from getting worse. That horse has bolted. You could make some argument about the Sep 11 attacks, but I’m not going to make it. I think it’s true, but it’s an argument I don’t want to have.
The only reason to watch a flick like this is to watch CGI depictions of mass destruction in awe-inspiring “Oh FUCK!” ways. The people, man, the people suck.
The people always suck, because the script demands that they suck. Screenwriting 101 demands that the protagonist in these flicks these days, ever since Die Hard, is a recently divorced or at least estranged husband trying to prove to his ex-wife that she was a bitch for leaving him, and that her new beau is a shithead.
I know divorce can be quite hurtful to families, but do you have to continue inflicting your pain upon the rest of us? Is it still the shortcut to emotional bonding betwixt audience and characters that you imagine it is?
This was exactly the pitch for 2012, Ant-Man, Takens 1 through 3, Minority Report, War of the Worlds, Twister, Jurassic World (kinda) and that’s just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. It’s so standard that, had this flick NOT had that template, I probably would have been astounded.
You would think that even if the flick had been about a butch helicopter pilot (Jennifer Lawrence) wanting to rescue her puppy (Kristen Stewart) from the top of Russian Hill before all of San Fran is destroyed by a devastating earthquake, it would have played out exactly the same way, both enjoyment-wise and in terms of box office.
I hate to think of a world where there are people that actually, upon going to see something like this, want to see The Rock emote stoically about a fictional daughter who drowned the year before, giving his all to save his other beloved daughter because to lose both would make him look really, really bad.
Your first question to yourself or the person next to you, unless you don’t know that person, in which case shut the fuck up and stop bothering complete strangers, is “Why are we supposed to care about these people, and not all the millions of people dying all around them?”
It’s a good question, and the makers hope that awkward conversations about dead children we never (thankfully) get to see, and a ‘redemption’ plotline where ex-husband equals Awesome and replacement husband (Ioan Gruffud) equals Cowardly Shitheel will make you care.
It does not, dear audience, it could not. If you are moved to tears by this awful, awful stuff you are either drunk or the kind of person who cries during sports events. I love The Rock and consider him the most charismatic piece of hilarious granite since Arnie was in his prime, but he can’t sell these terrible scenes. Carla Gugino is likewise wonderful in almost everything I’ve seen her in, but those dramatic scenes made me long for these characters to end up at the bottom of the Pacific along with everyone else in California.
The daughter they are so desperate to protect actually comes off better, because her motivation is just to survive, not to make up for the death of her sister or the breakdown of a relationship, something which can’t really happen just because of an earthquake anyway.
She has the same motivation as all the other shmucks in the altered Californian landscape, or what’s left of it, but she also has a delightful British chap and his little brother along for this most exciting of rides who share this motivation. The reason is, why yes, we can relate to people just striving to survive, instead of also trying to convince their ex-wife that they made a horrible mistake.
In fact, you could surmise that if Carla Gugino’s character hadn’t left The Rock’s character, then the earthquake would never have needed to occur, because there wouldn’t have been anything to prove to anyone.
In these flicks you don’t expect there to be a lot of logical, thoughtful analysis, and thankfully there is practically none. There’s just a lot of destruction, a heroic amount of destruction, and a bunch of last second escapes. Those are all handled fairly well.
I mean they’re dumb, there’s a lot of dumbness on display, with a lot of stuff happening only because it looks ‘cool’ and perilous, and the actors yell desperately at each other a lot gets a bit annoying, but then I’d be yelling a lot too.
What you don’t expect is Kylie Minogue. What the hell is Kylie Minogue doing in this flick? She has a few scenes of speaking in some kind of dour, snarky manner before The Earthquake Itself Kills Her! Is it revenge? Is it just deserts?
Is it some kind of in joke, as in Kylie had to have sex on the casting couch to get the job and this is the role they rewarded her with?
Go back to Neighbours, Charlene: they’re desperate for a reason to induce people to watch again, and they’re never averse to bring back characters from decades ago.
How unceremonious an exit is that? Whack that on your resume, Singing Budgie!
As is often the case with these flicks, no-one can or should care about the various back stories or motivations of the characters, or about the states of their various relationships, all we should care about is how they’re going to surprise us by surviving through a gauntlet of impossible situations.
San Fran being destroyed does look awful, in that it should look terrible when a major city is destroyed, although I couldn’t help but wonder how it is that San Fran looked so much like parts of Brisbane when it wasn’t being demolished by a) earthquakes b) tsunamis or c) The Rock’s magnificent muscles.
Turned out it was Brisbane, because that’s where a lot of the outdoor stuff was filmed. Tax breaks for struggling billion dollar film / investment companies really are a thing of beauty.
I can’t fight against it any longer: it’s impossible to watch these flicks without knowing they’re factoring in a 9/11 element to everything. And that’s how they get away with the monumental destruction, with the massive scale of death bloodlessly represented. The reason they get away with it is because the message in this (literally, as in it’s the last words in the script) as in all these disaster flicks is that no matter how awful something might be, Americans will endure and rebuild. They’ll come back bigger and better than ever no matter how bad things are.
Because America, Fuck Yeah!
So sure, the acting is laughable, the scenarios are absurd and the tension is diffused if you think about it for a moment, but disaster flicks are a genre unto themselves, and this flick (I don’t want to say ‘competently’ because that implies it was made by skilled artisans who care about what they’re making, which this ain’t) does exactly what a stupid disaster flick has to do. It puts people in peril, kills the most annoying ones (well, most of them), has some horribly jaw-dropping scenes of destruction, and then ends on some kind of hopeful note as ex-wife realises what a fool she was, and daughter realises there is no substitute, no matter how wealthy and handsome he might be, for The Rock.
Surely everyone knows that by now anyway? They don’t really need the biggest earthquake in human history to realise the error of their ways, do they. Haven’t they seen any of the Fast & Furious flicks?
6 times The Rock is more powerful than any combination of falling rocks out of 10
“Now I cannot emphasize this enough to the people of San Francisco: You need to get out. And I mean now. And if you can't, you need to find any means possible to drop, cover, and hold on. Because your life is gonna depend on it. God be with you.” – I think Paul Giamatti’s character is saying this completely independent of what’s happening in the film – San Andreas.