In ‘San Andreas,’ there’s plenty for quake experts to find fault with

29 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

Key plot points defy the laws of physics. 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.

(CBS SF) — Separating fact from fiction, yes, a 9+ magnitude quake or two will hit California in the “San Andreas” movie being released May 29th, yes a 8.0 magnitude quake in California is possible, but no, a planetary alignment has less effect on Earth than the Moon’s gravity and there is nearly zero chance of a 9.8 quake happening in California on May 28th or May 29th.With the action movie “San Andreas” opening Friday, you’ve probably seen the trailer of buildings in downtown Los Angeles exploding apocalyptically. 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.

In the past year at the movies, mankind has been pummeled by a megalomaniacal robot (“Avengers: Age of Ultron”), global blight (“Interstellar”), rampaging primates (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”) and skyscraper-size beasts (“Godzilla”). 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 latest big-screen cataclysm arrives Friday in the form of “San Andreas,” a 3-D thriller starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a helicopter pilot out to save his estranged wife (Carla Gugino) and their daughter (Alexandra Daddario) from a massive earthquake that splits California at the seams. 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.

The damage is the whole point. “People don’t like when it happens to them, but they love to watch things like that happen to other folks,” said Jonathan Kuntz, a professor of film history at UCLA. Geological Survey seismologist and consultant to Mayor Eric Garcetti on his earthquake safety campaign, told me last week. (And Jones is the guiding measure for all rational belief about earthquakes in Los Angeles.) The possible magnitude of an earthquake is determined by the length and depth of the fault. “To get enough energy to get a 9.1, you’d need something longer than the state of California,” she says. 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. The tradition of disaster movies dates to the early days of cinema, Kuntz said — 1936’s “San Francisco” depicts an earthquake, too — but it tends to work in cycles. For comparison, the strongest earthquake ever recorded was a 9.5 tremor that hit Chile in 1960, sending tsunami waves around the Pacific, and killing nearly 2,000 and leaving 2 million people homeless.

The 1970s gave us movies like “The Poseidon Adventure” and “The Towering Inferno,” and the dawn of digital effects in the 1990s opened the door for “Independence Day,” “Twister” and “Armageddon.” Nowadays, in an age when people are fretting over global warming, Ebola outbreaks and intractable wars, entertainments like “San Andreas” allow us to experience disasters from the comfort of the movie theater seat, Kuntz said. A study by the Third Uniform California Rupture Forecast, or UCERF3, sheds new light on where earthquakes will likely hit in California over the next couple of decades and how big they’re expected to be. “The new likelihoods are due to the inclusion of possible multi-fault ruptures, where earthquakes are no longer confined to separate, individual faults, but can occasionally rupture multiple faults simultaneously,” said lead author and USGS scientist Ned Field. 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 And, he added, “Of course we identify with the people that survive, not the people that Godzilla steps on.” Here’s a closer look at some notable disaster movies, along with an unscientific Implausibility Scale: from 1 (practically a documentary) to 10 (totally ludicrous).

Compared to the 2008 assessment, earthquakes around magnitude 6.7, the size of the destructive 1994 Northridge quake, has gone down by 30 percent with a frequency from an average of one per 4.8 years to about one per 6.3 years. Disaster: A magnitude-9.9 earthquake hits Los Angeles, upending the lives of a construction engineer (Charlton Heston), his bitter wife (Ava Gardner), his sympathetic mistress (Geneviève Bujold) and other ordinary folks. The study also says the likelihood that California will experience a magnitude 8 or larger earthquake in the next 30 years has gone up from about 4.7 percent to about 7 percent. 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. Disaster: In San Francisco, the world’s new tallest building catches fire on the day of its dedication, forcing a fire chief (Steve McQueen) and the skyscraper’s architect (Paul Newman) to spring into action.

Disaster: “Dante’s Peak” finds a volcanologist (Pierce Brosnan) and a small-town mayor (Linda Hamilton) trying to survive when a volcano erupts in Washington state; “Volcano” follows an emergency worker (Tommy Lee Jones) and a geologist (Anne Heche) dealing with similar troubles in Los Angeles. 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. Memorable moment: In “Dante’s Peak,” Brosnan’s scientist drives the mayor and her two kids across a river of lava in his pickup truck — and they save the family dog in the process.

She was even invited to the premiere at TCL Chinese Theatre, where she posed with its star, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and gushingly tweeted that it was her first red carpet. 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. Disaster: In “Deep Impact,” a young astronomer (Elijah Wood) and a journalist (Téa Leoni) try to warn the world about a comet on a collision course with Earth; in “Armageddon,” a deep-sea driller (Bruce Willis) and his crew help try to divert an asteroid.

Disaster: As global warming causes superstorms that usher in a new ice age, a paleoclimatologist (Dennis Quaid) tries to reunite with his son (Jake Gyllenhaal). Memorable moment: Cusack essentially outruns the apocalypse in his limo, dodging collapsing buildings, streets and freeways — and a dislodged chunk of Randy’s Donuts. Jones does estimate that we could have 1,500 buildings collapse across southern California—although many of those are the structures that potential mandatory retrofitting ordinances would target.

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. 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. 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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