Film Face-off: 'San Andreas' vs 'Earthquake'

Film Face-off: 'San Andreas' vs 'Earthquake'

Jun 01, 2015

Disaster is around every corner at the cineplex. Literally. The latest incarnation of massive destruction is led by our biggest, typically sweatiest, hero Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson with San Andreas. Is this the only time California has been rocked by an earthquake on the big screen? As Yoda told Obi-Won, "No, there is another." What do those iconic Star Wars characters have to do with natural disasters? Nothing, it's just a terrible segue, which both of these films have in common!

Earthquake came out in 1974, starring Charlton Heston and featuring Sensurround, which was a short-lived sound system that meant low-frequency sounds were more felt than heard. After 41 years, has Hollywood perfected quaking on the big screen? Let's find out in this week's Film Face-off with San Andreas versus Earthquake.


The Star Power


Heston had two Planet of the Apes films, The Omega Man, and Soylent Green in the previous five years. Ben Hur was 15 years prior to Earthquake. Names like Ava GardnerGeorge Kennedy, and Lorne Greene probably don't resonate with this current age as much as Richard Roundtree and Walter Matthau (credited as Walter Matuschanskayasky).

San Andreas

Johnson has jumped onto many franchises including G.I. JoeJourney, and the Fast and Furious films, but is still looking for his big starring role. Carla Gugino is notable, but I had to look up Alexandra Daddario and Hugo Johnstone-BurtIoan Gruffudd used to be Mr. Fantastic, and Paul Giamatti will always be fantastic.

Winner: Earthquake. Let's just say that Matthau and Giamatti cancel each other out. Heston is bigger than Johnson whether we like it or not. Hollywood was a little different, with actors not entities being able to open films, but Heston proved it time and time again. We all collectively seem to like Johnson, but we don't prove it over and over again at the box office. The rest of Earthquake's cast moves the needle a little more than San Andreas.


The Heroes


Heston plays Stewart Graff, a very successful engineer. Kennedy is Lou Slade, a tough-nosed LAPD officer.

San Andreas

Johnson is Ray, a rescue-chopper pilot, and his daughter Blake (Daddario) knows some things because of her dad.

Winner: San Andreas. This is a very close battle. Graff and Lou are pretty by-the-book. Graff simply helps his co-workers, then helps the woman he just started hooking up with. Lou has a car chase in the beginning that includes punching an LA County officer, and eventually rescues a woman from sexual assault. With that being said, I'm a sucker for "the best of the best" and Ray definitely proves to be just that. Blake knows her stuff as well. Both of them could have used a little bit more. Ray is pretty much perfect, except that he has difficulty talking about his other daughter's previous death. It would have been amazing to see him suffer some PTSD, or actually have anxiety attacks when talking about her. It's just not that kind of movie. Also, a small missed opportunity would have been for Blake to show Ben how to use a car jack during a rescue, thus cementing that she knows more than him about this sort of thing.


The Boredom


After a tremor shakes Los Angeles in the beginning of the film, the giant 9.9 magnitude earthquake doesn't hit until the 50-minute mark.

San Andreas

There are conversations about not having previous conversations in between massive destruction, and a little flirting with a young couple.

Winner: San Andreas. This win means that Earthquake is more boring than San Andreas. It's more than two hours long, while San Andreas is just under two. The boredom of Earthquake revolves around motivations that have nothing to do with survival. Roundtree is a stunt man who has difficulty pulling off his latest trick. At least San Andreas is attempting to have conversations that relate to character motivations (though they aren't doing a wonderful job).


The Best Deaths


After windows from a building shatter, shards of glass end up killing a woman. A group of office workings fall like lemmings on a staircase that suddenly isn't there anymore.

San Andreas

SPOILER ALERT: Emma's new boyfriend, Daniel, ends up being a coward. The film almost forgets about him, and then decides to kill him off on the Golden Gate bridge.

Winner: Earthquake. This is a landslide, destruction pun intended. There isn't one "fun" or unique death in San Andreas. The shards of glass death is cool/gruesome. The lemmings is alarming. We actually don't see much death which is part of the problem in San Andreas. It's always at a distance, or simply involves too many people for a half second, and then it's done and we are back focusing on Ray and his family. Also, am I the only one who thinks it can't possibly be a coincidence that this character's name is Riddick? It's spelled the same way as Johnson's co-star Vin Diesel's character from Pitch Black. Cleaning up San Andreas would have been easy enough. Ray and Emma would not have been filing for divorce, just struggling to stay together, and Daniel would not have existed.


The Action


After the 9.9 magnitude, there are power lines down, fires, and Mulholland damn finally gives way. Plus, a National Guard sergeant goes nuts.

San Andreas

After earthquakes, one of which hits a 9.6 magnitude, the Hoover Dam is done, a tsunami hits San Fransisco, and many more bad things happen.

Winner: Earthquake. Technically 9.9 is bigger than 9.6, but that is not the reason for the win. I feel like an old man, complaining about how things were in my day, but I disliked the escapism San Andreas attempts to create. The staging of certain action has improved over time. There were moments that Earthquake didn't make dramatic enough, like when rocks fall right after Graff gets out of a tunnel. Because of the music, sound and camera movement, it doesn't have the impact it wants. On the other hand, San Andreas is dramatic disaster porn. It doesn't want, or allow you to have fun with this except for one moment involving a tsunami and a barge. Yet, unlike a war film or a disaster film based on a true story, San Andreas takes glee in attempting to make you feel authentic horrific events. Considering Ray has already lost one daughter, it becomes very uncomfortable and almost unfair watching him survive impossible situation after impossible situation, only for Blake to do the same. A film like The Impossible properly makes you feel connected to the disaster. San Andreas makes you feel a little dirty.


OVERALL WINNER: Earthquake defeats San Andrea 3-2

Bigger isn't better when comparing these two earthquake films. Additional winning categories for Earthquake would have included "Best Vehicle" (a 1973 Chevrolet Blazer Cheyenne K5), and "Best Ending." The ending of Earthquake is surprising and makes you think just a little bit. The ending of San Andreas pushes a little too far in a few categories (rescuing a daughter, patriotism). Neither film is perfect, in fact do we even have a consensus for what is the perfect disaster movie? I would have thought having The Rock save the day would have given San Andreas a chance.

Categories: Features, In Theaters
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