4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and Digital copy; 2015; PG-13 for intense disaster action and mayhem throughout, and brief strong language; Streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), iTunes (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: Making of featurette
DISASTER flicks have a familiar strategy. Normally, they're an entertaining watch, chock-full of death-defying action (whoops – we lost another one!), lots of characters and a super-loud soundtrack. The effects are almost always top-notch.
"San Andreas" fills the bill. And with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson nailing the role of Ray Raines, a Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter pilot with over 600 rescues between his service time in Afghanistan and LAFD, we know we'll see more heroic action play out over the next two hours. Much like its 1970s predecessor "Earthquake" (1974) starring Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner and Universal's Sensurround bass that literally rocked your theater seat, this adventure provides an equal seismic rumble from the subwoofer during the film's worst-case scenario – a 9.6 quake that moves from Southern California right up to the Bay area.
Director Brad Peyton ("Journey 2: The Mysterious Island") and company take liberties pushing the fun-meter to the max while dialing up the CGI. Over 1,300 visual effects shots make it one to see. Downtown Los Angeles and San Francisco are completely leveled – buildings fall right into your living room showing the record-setting quake and tsunami. The San Andreas Fault is the villain here. Prof. Lawrence Haynes (Paul Giamatti) tells his students at the California Institute of Technology a major quake is 100 years overdue. Haynes and his partner Prof. Kim Park (Will Yun Lee) are on the verge of predicting earthquakes, as they head to Nevada's Hoover Dam, where their sensors are picking up unusual vibrations in a region not known for faults.
Peyton and cinematographer Steve Yedlin (“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”) capture the live action with 3.4K digital cameras (2.39:1 aspect ratio), while the endless SFX shots forced the rendering and mastering in 2K. The upconverted 4K imagery has a slight uptick in overall clarity with close-ups and the nicely composed wide shots over the HD version, but the real difference is the expansive color palette. The reds on the L.A. helicopter are deeper and richer, and the facial toning is natural and balanced without any hint of excess red or orange.
The HDR toning also gives the picture an extra level of on-screen pop with deeper blacks without losing detail in the shadows, while the highlights are brighter and the clouds are more defined.
The eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack is quite active with effects bouncing around the room from the rears to the height speakers, while the subwoofer gets a major bass response during the earthquake scenes. Canadian composer Andrew Lockington (“Rampage”) recruits Berlin music programmer Micah Frank to convert raw seismic waves into the score while balancing orchestral and electronic overlays, and a choral main theme.
In the featurettes, Peyton is ecstatic over his five-minute continuous handheld sequence, shot documentary style without a single cut, of an upscale hotel restaurant replica built on top of a gimbal and shaker boards. Actress Carla Gugino, playing Ray's estranged wife Emma, maneuvers through the set with stunt personnel and the camera operator. The results look lifelike, with its hail of fireballs, shattered windows and bloody extras. "It's a massive dance conducted by the stunt team and camera operator," Peyton says in his commentary track.
Another special effects challenge for Peyton and his Australia production crew was sinking a five-story building constructed inside the largest pool in the country. It had to be flooded in seconds, dumping over two-million gallons of water onto a single 9,000 square-foot office floor as Raines tries to rescue his daughter. "Dwayne is the guy you would want to come to the rescue – a phenomenal athlete," says producer Beau Flynn, who survived the massive 6.7 scale Northridge earthquake of 1994, a nightmare he can never forget. Johnson also rappels 150 feet from a helicopter attached to a crane overtop a cliff-set showing a car wedged between two rock formations in the film's first rescue. We've watched The Rock in rescue-mode before; he is definitely one of the best.
Clearly, "San Andreas" is escapist adventure fare of mammoth proportions where a heroic Dad tries to rescue his family. What more could you ask for to go with your popcorn?
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer