An action movie with a lot of heart.
We’ve heard that theme many times before, and certainly, many have tried to make movies which depict that. Sadly, though, these kinds of movies usually aren’t really impressive as they end up being sappy and unrelatable.
However, the team that made one of this year’s biggest summer flicks, San Andreas, is confident that it has made a convincing action movie that’s not all about the explosive visual effects.
“I have always thought that the people in the story are the key to any movie. You’re really following these people through the events happening in the movie,” said Brad Peyton, director of San Andreas during a press conference in Los Angeles, California, recently.
With Peyton on the panel were producer Beau Flynn, scriptwriter Carlton Cuse, and stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Carla Gugino and Alexandra Daddario.
Presented by Warner Bros, San Andreas follows the story of Ray Gaines, played by Johnson, who is a Los Angeles Fire Department Search & Rescue helicopter pilot. Gugino plays his estranged wife Emma and Daddario, their college-bound daughter, Blake. The couple is about to get a divorce. In fact, Emma plans to move in with her multi-millionaire boyfriend Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd) once Blake starts school.
However, Ray is still not convinced that the relationship is truly over.
“What stands out about the story of San Andreas for me is the fact that this family is trying to put itself back together through the disaster. That is the heart of the movie,” said Peyton.
The disaster that Peyton refers to is the magnitude nine-plus earthquake that takes place in the movie. A seismic swarm along an undetected fault near the Hoover Dam in Nevada triggers the San Andreas Fault all the way in California. This results in an earthquake that nearly destroys all of Los Angeles.
To make things even worse, the mega shockwave quickly travels through the San Andreas Fault line all the way to San Francisco, ravaging everything in the way.
Emotion, not destruction
The destruction of the two major cities, and to an extent, the Hoover Dam, is presented in stunning visuals and fantastic CG effects in San Andreas. High-rise buildings in LA and San Francisco are destroyed. There’s even a tsunami – one of the after-effects of the earthquake – in the latter city. Seeing downtown San Francisco submerged in water like that is quite surreal.
Still, Peyton and gang seem more keen on selling the human interest part of the movie rather than its captivating visual imagery.
Peyton revealed that he wanted to make a movie where audiences can feel what each character is going through in every scene. That kind of engagement, though important, is not easy to pull off. “It is really about the characters and not just the spectacle that makes or breaks a summer blockbuster. The spectacle can pull you in but it is the characters that keep you interested and wanting to finish the whole movie,” said Peyton.
Gugino agreed, saying, “For me, I’ll watch a film for the big spectacle, but I won’t watch it a second time if there’s nothing more to it. I need to care about the characters and be engaged in the story.
“One of my favourite things about watching movies is to have conversations about it after, and I think this movie has that potential,” she shared.
The actress, who has worked with Johnson twice before San Andreas, was chirpy and ever ready with stories and jokes at the press conference.
Johnson, meanwhile, was a little standoff-ish, offering little in terms of anecdotes except when directly addressed by journalists. The actor and former pro-wrestler exhibited a very different persona from what one is used to seeing via his usually entertaining social media posts, and TV appearances.
Simply Kylie Minogue
As the youngest and possibly newest to the industry, Daddario mostly kept quiet throughout the half-hour session, interjecting the “seniors” in the group once in a while, and gushing over Kylie Minogue, who appears for a very short while in the movie.
“She came out to dinner with us one night. They shut down the restaurant, and she danced for us!” said Daddario excitably of Minogue.
Flynn explained that Gugino’s manager also has Minogue as a client and they had earlier spoken about having the Australian singer play a role in San Andreas.
“I was intrigued, but we still put her through the wringer and made her read a few times. We then got her to come back and read again!
“She really wanted to be part of the film and she was committed to playing the role,” Flynn noted.
Just like the producer and Daddario, everyone else only had nice things to say about Minogue, even though her time on set – the movie was mainly shot in Australia – was a short one. Said Gugino: “She had to convey very quickly who that woman was, and she pulled it off! She’s game for anything.”
Peyton added that Minogue’s role in the movie was just as important as any of the other characters.
“The challenge was to make every role, no matter how small, stand out. Just like the ‘stoner dude’ at Cal Tech. You don’t want any role or even visual effect to ruin the whole thing, you want everything to play its part right.”
Apart from the characters mentioned earlier, other pivotal roles include Lawrence Hayes (played by Paul Giamatti), a seismologist at Cal Tech who predicted the quake, TV reporter Serena (Archie Panjabi) who gets caught up in the disaster while trying to get a story from Lawrence, and English brothers Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and Ollie (Art Parkinson) who are just ... in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Time to empathise
Some may feel that it is probably not the best time to release a movie about earthquakes this soon after the devastating events in Nepal. However, in reply to a question by a journalist from Colombia, a country that has also suffered through earthquakes, Johnson thinks that San Andreas can bring about empathy from viewers instead of anger or fear.
“Colombia was one of the regions we did our research on to make this movie. I think Colombians can feel great empathy when they watch this because it is not just about all the destruction, it is also about the people surviving through Mother Nature’s wrath.
“Colombians also know what it is like to come together and re-build lives after the disaster just like how Ray’s family does in the movie.”
The theme of family is prominent in the film, as is the case with the cast and crew in real life. Although Johnson did not seem approachable to journalists, he did appear at ease with his co-stars, Peyton, Flynn and Cuse.
Gugino said, “This family is not fractured. From the moment that we all met on set, I think we all knew that we were going to be OK. I think that the pre-existing relationships that some of us had with one another helped the situation. The ‘new’ guys sort of just folded into the family. Also, working in Australia was fun, like summer camp!”
As for Peyton, the director appreciated the trust that was shown him by the cast, especially Johnson.
“It’s really about coming together and making a good movie. I’m so blessed to have worked with such a professional crew. Johnson, on day two, came up to me and said ‘I’m not going to look at the monitor, you just tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it’.
“That freaked the hell out of me, but it also said to me ‘I trust you, let’s get this right, let’s do this’. And that’s how it felt with everyone.”
San Andreas opens in cinemas today.