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Article – San Andreas & the Importance of the Natural Disaster Film


Posted May 29, 2015 by

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San Andreas & the Importance of the Natural Disaster Film

As I sat in the theater watching San Andreas, something was happening inside of me. My 90s self was bursting with excitement because of the nostalgia that I felt while viewing San Andreas. I will not do what most articles do and rehash the entire plot of the movie, but I will let you in on the two hands that are working together here. Dwayne Johnson is in the air rescue unit of the fire department and he is the best at what he does (Ala The Guardian). Paul Giamatti is a professor at Cal Tech who is working on a project that will help them predict when and where an Earthquake is going to hit, and how hard it is going to hit (Ala Twister). While one is warning the United States of America about this disaster, the other is trying to save his family. It is that simple of a plot. They never cross paths and never hear of one another – you may feel a little disconnected with it – don’t. This is one of those movies, much like in the 90s survival territory, where you just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Let’s first talk about the previous natural disaster movies that have come through the pipeline of Hollywood. Can you name any that have come out in the 2000s? The one’s that cross my mind are The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, Into the Storm, The Core, Pompeii – and I will even throw out Noah. These films turned around how we look at natural disaster films, and by that I mean, we do not look at them as natural disaster films. The Day After Tomorrow, for instance, is a father and son trying to reconnect. Yes, we see what has happened with the snow and freezing, but I was focused more on the father-son story. 2012 is based on the Mayan Calendar that no one actually believed, so we just watch John Cusack run around. The Core was pretty cool. I do not want to talk about Into the Storm, and I absolutely do not remember a love story in the book I read on Pompeii – Side Note *This was a perfect opportunity to bring back the feel of Volcano (or even Dante’s Peak), but they went another route to captivate their core young audience. The demographic these movies are touching on now are more demanding – Horror wants gore, not fright – Love wants tragedy – Comedy wants raunchy – Every genre is shifting focus and it isn’t that the audience necessarily wants it, niche movies are utilizing it and guiding them down a path. San Andreas, although not the greatest movie, blocks this path by putting the natural disaster front and center. It is the star of this film and it should scare you.

Just for fun, let’s list off some 90s, and prior, natural disaster movies and see how they scared us and maybe sometimes motivated us to do things.

Night of the Twisters (TV Movie – Still holds up)
Dante’s Peak
Deep Impact
Armageddon (Long shot, but meteors can always hit, and it’s good)

This film reconnects me with old friends. These old friends were not political, they did not want me to take a stand, but they wanted me to know what could happen. When I saw these movies and I turned on the news and saw a tornado in the United States – all I thought about was the tornado that hit Wakita. I knew about Tornado Alley and how big an F5 could get and I wanted no part in it. I never lived anywhere near a volcano, but I absolutely do not after watching Volcano and Dante’s Peak. I have no say when a meteor is going to hit and destroy Earth, but I know it is going to happen sometime and that is all we need to be scared by that force. These are my old friends. They may not be as knowledgeable on the topics, but they are my friends and they taught me what to be afraid of – Nature.

Today’s films are politically driven and want us to take a stand – I really love that idea. Movies are meant to change us somehow or move us in a certain way, but the genre of the intellectual is becoming saturated. I am a big supporter of using film as a medium to help get change started, it has gotten me to change some of my habits, but we are no longer scared about what is going to happen – we are scared of what we are doing. The best quote to describe this is in the new Jurassic Park trailer when they genetically modify dinosaurs and Chris Pratt’s character says “They are dinosaurs, isn’t that enough?” This could be a blanket quote for any genre, but this one specifically. Aren’t tornados scary enough? – Here is where San Andreas comes in.

We cannot do anything to shift the Earth’s plates.

The thought process behind this movie is more than the sum of it’s parts. We cannot fix this problem, we have to adapt or fail. Paul Giamatti’s character sees it and does the ONLY thing that he can do – Warn as many as he can. We cannot change this and we can barely run from it. This film, maybe not completely real, could be true to life. We cannot change how the Earth decides when it will or will not have an Earthquake. So Dwayne Johnson’s character is all of us trying to do what he can and save his family. Paul Giamatti is trying to tell us to get out of there. The earthquake is front and center. The earthquake is the star of the show. Whether or not you enjoy the acting or who is in there – you should be terrified that something like this could happen. I go to the theater to do one thing – escape for a few hours and be transported away from life. When I walk outside and think my life could have been that movie – That is when the movie hits home.

The success or moderate success (depending on how you judge film success) of this movie will bring more natural disaster blockbusters to the screen. I like my old friends and I want to see them. I want to rekindle that magic that scared me and educated me at the same time. I want to see special effects (I want them realistic) and I want to see actual effects (buildings blowing up). My old friends had a lot invested in the disaster and not the side stories. San Andreas made me want my old friends back. I hope to see them soon.


Read Similar Articles?…

[Review] – ‘San Andreas’
[Article] – Films That Accidentally Ripped-Off Other Films
[Article] – Have Hollywood Blockbusters Changed Their Way?

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Written by:

Drew and Champ

Drew Oliver
Alone In The Theater
Freelance Contributor

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