san andreas movieBy Ashley Grayson (COPE Preparedness follower)

I’m happy to say that the earthquake movie, San Andreas, did $18+ million on Friday (beating estimates) and looks to have a good opening weekend.

It actually first ran in LA on Thursday night, but I went to the 2:20PM matinee which was the first non-3D presentation near me. I skipped the 3D version because the glasses cause nausea and headaches in a fair percentage of viewers and I’m likely susceptible to that. There were about a dozen people in the theater with me so the audience must have come later. I hope the crowds were all out buying batteries, bottled water and canned tuna in the afternoon.

I pretty much agree with Dr. Lucy Jones that the film is enjoyable as a thriller while not being scientifically realistic. Still I hope everyone will see it and take away the idea that earthquakes are disastrous and must be prepared for. The film is not really scary if you know the reality of earthquakes, but it is fun to watch.

The biggest scientific objection I’ve heard so far is that the filmic disaster needed a 9.1 quake in Los Angles followed by a 9.6 in San Francisco to topple all the buildings the CGI special effects needed to shake up the audience. As Cal Tech says, the San Andreas fault cannot produce a 9+ quake although it could produce an 8.0 or larger. Despite the science flaw, the film does get across the idea that disasters are really BIG.


The clueless audience members will dismiss everything because “that can never happen.”

The more thoughtful audience, unfortunately, may presume that a lesser quake would not cause such damage, and miss the point that just about anything bigger than a 7 or 8 is enough to partially collapse thousands of buildings and drop the glass sidings off all the high rises. You are just as dead if a one pound shard of glass hits you after falling 2 to 50 stories than if the whole building fell on you.

In the film, thousands die (although we don’t see many bodies) when buildings collapse, while in reality people will also die from falling debris and panic induced injuries. The message here for the smart audience is: it will be this bad, but just not this way. Hopefully, it will push people to prepare.

There are some unfortunate messages in film…

The earthquake scientists (played well by Paul Giamatti) can predict the coming quakes in time frames of a few minutes to almost an hour. This is not true, although the early warning system currently coming on-line may give a few seconds warning ahead of the shock wave. My fear is the audience may assume the science is better than it is.

The opening of the film (spoiler alert) shows a dizzy blond co-ed driving inattentively along a mountain road and we expect her to have a head on collision with oncoming traffic at any moment. No, she’s tossed off the road by a small rockslide; apparently a tiny tremor leading the coming quakes. The bad message in this drama is pure Millennial Generation fantasy: generation Y is never, ever responsible for their actions and an adult will always show up to save them. The adult in this case is Dwayne Johnson, an LAFD Rescue Helicopter pilot who plucks her off the edge of a cliff. Yes the movie opens with a cliff hanger. This sends the second bad message of the film, that no matter what happens, a helicopter can always save you. Helicopters are wonderful and the Rescue Crews are amazing but they aren’t always available or able to actually pull off the rescue. The reality is the inattentive driver would have died from a head on crash long before an earthquake threatened her. Second, helicopters have limits and will not be plentiful enough to save individuals during a real disaster. Third, and another bad message of the film is that Johnson’s character violates the cardinal rule of rescue which is: Don’t Make a Second Victim. To pull off the rescue the pilot puts at risk himself, his co-pilot, two rescue team members and the reporter and cameraman who are riding along, as well as the helicopter itself. In fact, throughout the movie, everyone who is rescued is saved because the rescuers risk multiple casualties to save the one person in trouble. Movie heroes must be heroic but always at the cost of reality. The audience is not prepared for being passed over by emergency services.

Sadly, there was no opportunity to show anyone saving themselves because they were prepared. No one has a flashlight, crowbar, or does anything beyond running away from flying debris. However, one of the good messages is that Dwayne Jonson’s daughter, the major cute chick romantic lead does a fine job of, keeping her head, knowing how to find supplies, and knowing how to use what she has. As the daughter of a Fire Rescue professional, she reasonably credible at knowing what Dad was all about while not being a superhero girl.

The other lack in the film was the absence of injured people. I recall politically correct reviewers screaming that there were no black people in the first Star Wars. Here, there were no casualties, no presence of the wounded. Either you were instantly killed or had at most a small wisp of blood on your cheek and running like hell. One of the leads did get a chunk of glass in his thigh but not near the femoral artery so he was good to run again within a few minutes.

No one in the movie needed a drink of water during the whole film. No one had to go the the bathroom, except perhaps, the audience.

Still, there were more good aspects of the film than bad.

The scope of the disaster was really big enough to challenge a big action hero like The Rock and the other stars. Realistically, a much smaller quake with less total damage to infrastructure will disrupt the lives of more people than shown in the movie. I hope the audience gets that.

Because the scope of the story was about one day, there was no opportunity to consider what to do with the millions of survivors standing amid the rubble for weeks and months. I’d suggest Emergency Preparedness programs get everyone to go see the movie and afterwards discuss what to do next. From the scope of the mess at the end of the film it should be clear that any relief services will be days and weeks away at best.

As I write this, there was a major eruption at Mount Shindake in southern Japan yesterday, a 7.8 earthquake off the southern coast today and within the past few hours another 6.4. It looks like Godzilla will emerge soon.

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