Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Carla Gugino. The biggest natural disaster possible. Chaos. Mayhem. Popcorn kernels stuck in your teeth. It sells itself, and that’s what San Andreas is banking on. You can’t really go wrong with any of the above. And I knew that if I was going to watch The Rock give the People’s Elbow to a natural disaster not called John Cena, I was going to have to do it in the best way possible. No, not 3D, jabroni (that’s the last wrestling reference I’ll make, I swear): the magic of the 4DX experience. No, that’s not just some numbers and letters nonsense I made up to improve upon 3D. Okay, well it is 3D… but cranked up to 11 by invoking more senses than just the visual. The LA Live website explains it best: “The 4DX auditorium features motion seats and special effects including wind, fog, mist/rain, scents and more that perfectly synch to the on-screen action.”
It’s also about 30 bucks, so there’s a reason it’s not the most common thing in the world. But it’s worth it for The Rock, right? Right. Disclaimer: Having already seen Furious 7, I can say this is the most realistic Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson film out this year.
Despite my mild motion sickness, I decided to embark on this endeavor in the name of science and a love of the man they call “franchise Viagra.” As someone who knows very little about science—especially, as it turns out, in the form of 90% of Paul Giamatti’s dialogue in this film—even I can acknowledge that this isn’t a hard science at all.
After the Regal Cinemas First Look (have you heard about this new USA show Complications?) and right before the movie started, we were treated to this video. Now imagine watching that while your movie theater seat swivels and bumps along, to the detriment of your popcorn.
That was just a taste though. We felt everything throughout San Andreas. The bumpiness of a car ride. The propellers of a helicopter. The water and breeze of the Bay, either in front of us or behind us. We smelled the destruction, which I think was supposed to smell like sulfur but made me think of olives. When a character fell, our chairs would press into the back of our necks. We applauded during the movie too, once a particularly long bumpy scene would end.
For me, the best part of the 4DX experience wasn’t even the actual experience itself. It was the crowd who also found they needed to experience such a disaster flick with all the bells and whistles on a Thursday night. They weren’t just there to watch a movie—it truly was an experience for them. And as such an experience, I found myself having the best seats in the house, sandwiched in between groups of middle-aged African American women who couldn’t be bothered to keep quiet during a Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson movie, the way God intended. Their reactions were beautiful, though the woman directly to the right of me was the crown jewel. You see, she had the added hook of being understandably in love with The Rock:
“Take it off!” — She was referring to his clothing
“Damn boy, you’re fine.” — She was referring to his physical… everything
“That’s my baby!” — She was referring to him fighting the earthquake
“You can get me to first base, second base, third base…” — She was responding to his (and the movie’s) best line
“Dammit, why can’t he kiss me? Lucky bitch.” — I think you get the point
Her commentary was a great distraction from a movie featuring numerous “Are you hurt?” moments, only for a character—who was seriously banged up and probably suffering from internal bleeding, were such a thing to exist in The Rock’s world—to say “I’m okay.” The only other part of the movie she reacted to as strongly was Ioan Gruffudd’s character, though not with the same “sop me up with a biscuit” response. I actually found her reactions to him to be my favorite part of the movie.
As far as movies in this particular genre go, I’ve seen a lot worse than San Andreas, but 4DX or not, this could have been a lot better. If I were to describe the movie itself in one sentence, I’d say it’s the type of movie you’d have no problem watching with commercials when it’s on USA or TNT. It’s nowhere near as fun as it should be or you’d expect it to be. While at times it feels like this movie wants to go the way of a Piranha 3D or a Snakes On A Plane, it remains dry and serious throughout, with only a handful of legitimately, intentionally fun beats throughout. This is even stranger when you consider the charm and charisma of the cast.
One of the problems is, it’s almost three separate movies, with varying levels of quality throughout: one carried by The Rock and Carla Gugino, one by Alexandra Daddario (who gives her best performance here, even though her blue eyes stick out like, well, blue eyes, mostly because she's supposed to be the daughter of the aforementioned two actors) and a couple of British brothers, and one carried by Paul Giamatti and Archie Panjabi. The first two movies obviously intersect, but at no point does Giamatti interact with any of the other leads, while Panjabi only has the one scene with The Rock at the very beginning. If you wanted to start a rumor that The Rock/Gugino/Daddario—pick your poison—were in a (rumored) The Good Wife-esque feud with Giamatti, you could. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were never even on set at the same time, a fact made even more pronounced by the very peculiar end of the movie.
Giamatti spends his portion of the movie as the professor/seismologist who has found a way to predict earthquakes (not that it helps, obviously) and does everything he can to help people. He’s the science guy of the film. Already, as a by-the-numbers disaster film, it’s missing the key point: Have the science guy and the hero interact. If Jeff Goldblum were here, it would be expected. But then the film ends, and not only do they not meet, but the final beat of the movie is strangely, very pro-“America, fuck yeah!,” as though that—and not general preparedness, both as a scientist and a basic survivalist—was the message all along. Was it? Did I just sit through an hour and 54 minutes of USA propaganda? It’s not that I’m saying such a thing is bad, but when you’re watching a movie experiencing one thing, only for it to take such a hard left turn in the very last two minutes, it gives you pause. Then again, the first trailer of the night was for an M. Night Shyamalan movie… introduced by M. Night Shyamalan. The Signs were there.
If you’re the type of adrenaline junkie who thinks movies should be more like theme park rides, 4DX is for you. In fact, Point Break is possibly the next “perfect movie” for this. Also, if you have a movie riddled with likable cliches, you’re going to want people to watch it in 4DX. It doesn’t matter the genre, and it doesn’t even have to be action. As long as seats are moving, mist is misting, and fog and smells are being let out, it’s enough to distract from a by-the-numbers plot and all the death that befalls the characters. It’s definitely the best way to watch San Andreas, but it’s also one of those things that has to be seen (and felt) to be believed. San Andreas is far from a relaxing movie-going experience on its own, but if you're going to experience it, why not reach for the stars? Think of it this way: It's probably the closest you'll ever get to feeling The Rock. Just ask the lady I was sitting next to.