I’m a total sucker for a good disaster movie, mainly because I had the privilege to see the movies that gave birth to this film genre. So it was a “no duh” that when we saw the trailer for “San Andreas,” my daughter and I looked at each other and said, “We are SO there.”
As we were walking into the theater I told my daughter that my only hope for this movie is that they don’t inundate us with highly implausible situations that the heroes manage to escape (virtually unscathed mind you) against all probable odds.
Sigh. Once again Hollywood proves to be a huge disappointment.
“San Andreas” was filled with so many hard to believe action/rescue/survival scenes that midway through the movie just made me laugh out loud (much to my 13 year old’s total mortification). I mean, rescue copters couldn’t save one single person from the twin towers on 911 – but the Rock? He pulled his wife off the top of a building, just as it crumbled to a heap of rubble, and then managed to fly under a building, as it was falling to the ground, and get them to safety.
Yeah, safety for about 12 minutes, when it was then time for our stars to be thrust into yet another un-survivable situation where they of course manage to survive…still relatively unscathed. It sucked because that’s what Hollywood thinks we need to be on the edge of our seat.
Well, Hollywood needs to have a movie night. They need to sit in one of those plush, fancy screening rooms and watch the following classics to learn what a good disaster movie is all about. 1. The Poseidon Adventure (1972) A luxury liner is hit by an earthquake induced tidal wave and capsizes on New Year’s Day. A solid premise and an all star cast.
I saw this movie with my Mom and sisters at Radio City Music Hall during Christmas break. There are plenty of back stories to introduce us to the characters, but once that boat overturns, you are in for a pound as you watch the 10 main players try to see the morning after (some slight humor that will be lost if you’ve never seen the movie).
The scene where the boat gets hit, while riveting in the 70s, is quite laughable now. This was prior to the days where Hollywood had a rolling room – like when Lionel Ritchie was dancing on the ceiling. So, you can see people sliding to their deaths as the boat is turning upside down, but dishes remain on the tables, and chairs are not sliding right along with them.
That being said, the rest of the movie was believable. The survivors had to scale a large metal Christmas tree, climb through pipes, and up ladders. They had to walk through a hot kitchen with a few small fires, and swim under water for 40 feet or so. And some of the stars died along the way just doing this sort of average shit.
The Rock? He managed to drive his speed boat UP a tsunami wave, while avoiding a cargo ship that is about to crash on top of him. Too bad he wasn’t at the helm of the SS Poseidon. There never would have been a movie – he would have been able to maneuver the boat over the wave, saving EVERYONE on board.
The biggest “come on” moment for me in Poseidon Adventure is at the end where Gene Hackman jumps onto the steam valve wheel to stop the flow of hot steam that, to quote Robin, “is blocking our escape.” And it’s not that this action is implausible, it’s just that Hollywood fucked it up. It doesn’t look like he’s really hanging there and turning the wheel. It looks like he’s standing on a box out of frame trying to look like he’s hanging and turning the wheel. But even that is better than anything that came out of San Andreas. Plus the speech he gives while hanging and turning the wheel is pure gold. 2. Earthquake (1974) Pretty much the same premise as San Andreas – an earthquake of unimaginable magnitude hits California.
That, my friends, is where the similarities end.
Because the real star of this 1974 movie, which introduced us to Sensurround, was the earthquake itself. Well, Charlton Heston & George Kennedy helped too. My point is the movie didn’t need to filled with harrowing rescue scenes or heroes surviving in impossible situations.
I think the biggest “rescue” scenes were having to help a mom and her little son out of a drainage culvert, and when they had to lower some survivors from an office chair tied to a firehose down a few stories. Oh, and the guy drinking a beer and eating a chicken leg who fell from his deck and subsequently tumbled past Genevieve Bujold during the quake?
That was both exciting and hysterical. I mean life is fragile…one minute you’re eating some cold chicken and enjoying the view, and the next?
Okay, so the earthquake scenes in this 1974 movie were laughable compared to what we saw in San Andreas, but that sort of proves my point. They didn’t need the Rock to save the world…just show us the earthquake with realistic, gut churning reality, and show people trying to survive the aftermath.
Case in point – Victoria Principal’s character in the 74 movie – she survives the earthquake only to face attempted rape by her creepy neighbor. That’s more realistic than the Rock having to crash land a helicopter in a shopping mall. That’s REAL. The Rock? He bitch slapped some dude stealing TVs and stole his truck. 3. The Towering Inferno (1974)
A shoddily built luxury high rise catches fire while the star-studded cast is in trapped at party on the top floor. I LOVE this movie – good guys, bad guys, assholes, heroes – it’s got it all! And the kicker? OJ is one of the good guys! Who’d-a-thunk?
There are quite a few edge-of-your-seat moments in this film, but they don’t revolve around one character (gee, like the Rock!). Each star has his or her own harrowing moment. There’s one scene where Paul Newman has to help a woman and two children (one of which is Bobby Brady) shimmy down a broken stairwell via a twisted bannister over a sheer drop to certain death. Note that they did not have to tandem parachute…like the Rock.
Another great scene is when the outside elevator breaks and has to be manually lowered to the ground – with a less than satisfactory result. The last ditch effort to get stranded guests out of the building is to rig a breeches buoy from the burning building to one across the street. Screaming guests are tied into this contraption and pulleyed across death defying heights to the neighboring building.
That works until greedy, impatient men decide to overload the device…well, you’ll just have to watch the movie.
Should I bring up “Airport?”
Nah, this is getting too long. But it’s another great example of how they did disaster better back in the 70s.
My point – These movies relied on a star-studded cast, each with their own story to tell. So the action never got stuck with one person. In “San Andreas” it’s all the Rock. The Rock’s wife, the Rock’s daughter, the kids who befriend the Rock’s daughter.
And Paul Giamatti – whose role was way more riveting than the Rock’s.
You may read this and say, “Those movies suck!” Yes, they have shitty effects. Yes, some of the acting is campy. Yes, they relied on gimmicks like Sensurround.
But in all honesty? They are still way better than “San Andreas.”