Here’s What Seismologists Have to Say About the Science of ‘San Andreas’

29 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘San Andreas’ is another film that casts L.A. in a bad plight.

Hollywood loves to destroy Los Angeles — whether it’s earthquakes, floods, aliens, nuclear holocaust or climate change. “San Andreas” is the latest L.A. disaster film.

“I gave them free advice, some of which they took – play up ‘drop, cover, and hold on’ – but much of which they didn’t – magnitude 9’s are too big for the San Andreas, and it can’t produce a big tsunami,” said Thomas Jordan, USC professor and director of the Southern California Earthquake Center.LOS ANGELES – California’s long-feared mega quake hits movie screens this week with ‘San Andreas,’ but the big-budget movie has thrown up a fault line between critics and filmgoers even before its release. Jordan’s comments come after the film’s director, Brad Peyton, said in published reports that the film was based on science provided by Jordan, whom he called a consultant to the film, and that he “researched a lot” with Jordan. The movie, which stars Dwayne Johnson, has only a 41 percent critics’ rating on the Rotten Tomatoes film review website – although 96 percent of cinema-goers say they want to see it.

A combination disaster movie and melodrama, the action follows a wide array of characters before and after “The Big One.” “Happy” ending: Heston’s character drowns after the dam burst floods the L.A. sewer system. All eyes will be watching whether the flick, with its $100 million budget, can shake the box office after a lackluster week or two at the start of the traditional summer blockbuster season. The disaster: A giant volcano erupts under Los Angeles, sending balls of fiery lava into the air and creating havoc at such landmarks as Wilshire Boulevard, the Beverly Center, La Brea Tar Pits and the Red Line subway system. But those behind the film say they hope it moves beyond the traditional disaster movie by bringing emotion and personal stories to the screen. ‘It is an opportunity to redefine the genre,’ Johnson said ahead of the film’s US release this Friday. ‘This is a fantastic epic it raises the bar of the disaster movie.’ ‘Generally when you watch this kind of movie you remember the action, the hero, how cool they were.

After Cal Tech seismologist Lawrence (Paul Giamatti) predicts a massive quake at Hoover Dam, he realizes the model they’ve created works and the Hoover Dam quake was just the beginning. Johnson, whose past action credits include the ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise, plays rescue chopper pilot Ray, whose wife, Emma (played by Carla Gugino), recently left him for a rich architect. Ray immediately goes to rescue his estranged wife Emma (Carla Gugino) and they both head to San Francisco to rescue their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) who’s trapped in the city. Although the film is certainly visually spectacular – making full use of the latest computer generated imagery (CGI) effects – some critics have not been kind. ‘California crumbles spectacularly in an action movie that quickly degenerates from blissfully stupid to fatally stupid,’ wrote industry journal Variety’s Andrew Barker. ‘Does for San Francisco what ‘Jaws’ did for the ocean,’ said Kam Williams of Baret News. ‘Thankfully, the action set pieces are exciting enough, and come at such a successive clip that it’s only afterward that you have the chance to pause and ask questions about the plot,’ said Alonso Duralde of TheWrap.com. Variety reported Wednesday that the Warner Bros movie is on course to make $40 million domestically in its opening weekend, while also rolling out across some 60 countries worldwide.

The gold standard was set by 1974’s ‘Earthquake’ starring Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner, with several TV movies following, including 2006’s ‘10.5: Apocalypse.’ ‘San Andreas’ screenwriter Carlton Cuse himself recalls the 6.7-magnitude Northridge quake outside Los Angeles which killed 72 people in 1994. Overall, Jordan said he enjoyed the movie. “It’s a good action flick and spectacular special effects … but not realistic from a seismological point of view. It felt like watching the same sports highlights on different channels – there’s some variation between each station but it’s basically the same thing. Suspicious science: A janitor wearing headphones appears not to notice the tornado is destroying the high-rise he’s working in, until he looks out and sees he’s about to fall dozens of stories.

Outside of Ray ripping off a car door in the film’s opening scene and rescuing his wife (both happen in the first 3o minutes), he’s pretty useless. Quote: Amid the tornado disaster in Los Angeles, TV anchors take time to admonish Angelenos for taking videos of the destruction. “There are people down there taking pictures!” the TV chopper reporter says in outrage. Three dams could begin to crack if a 7.8 quake hit the southern San Andreas fault, Jones said, referring to the USGS’ 2008 Shakeout earthquake scenario. “It’s not that they would explode in the middle of the earthquake like we saw in the movie,” Jones said. The Van Norman Dam in Granada Hills was perilously close to collapsing after the 1971 Sylmar earthquake, forcing the evacuation of 80,000 area residents. Suspicious science: Faults violently open up across Los Angeles, creating massive canyons in some places but also dramatically lifting the earth elsewhere.

The Shakeout simulation estimated that five high-rise steel-frame buildings could collapse after cracks form in connections in the building’s skeleton. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the most striking part of the movie “was the sense of complete panic that people have” in the moment the quake strikes.

Naeim, the engineer, was critical of the film in making the earthquake so outlandishly over the top that viewers might throw up their hands and think there is nothing they can do to be prepared.

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