Will 'San Andreas' movie scare us into preparing?

Will 'San Andreas' movie scare us into preparing?
Actors Paul Giamatti and Archie Panjabi take reefuge under a desk as the Big One gets going, in the movie "San Andreas." (Warner Bros.)

Another summer, another blockbuster disaster movie that levels Los Angeles.

What'll destroy us this time? Volcanoes? Mayan apocalypse? Zombies? Aliens? Zombie aliens?


I get pretty peeved at the ridiculous death-dealing modes movie makers have been choosing for L.A.'s demise, and you can add sharknados, cyborgs and dragons to the wacky list.

But this year's "San Andreas," which opens May 29, unleashes the very real monster right beneath our feet.

And not for the first time. The first California movie earthquake I know of was the 1936 "San Francisco," about the 1906 quake, a film in which catastrophe serves to reunite the reformed scoundrel Clark Gable and his songbird squeeze Jeanette McDonald.

Decades later it was Charlton Heston, gritting his splendid teeth in "Earthquake," one of those huge, multiple-subplot disaster movies with a stew of stars, the two biggest of whom, Heston and Ava Gardner, actually die in the film. My takeaway: If an earthquake can take out Moses, it can take out you.

(And the Hollywood sign, too.  That landmark's been wiped out so often on film that it deserves its own SAG-AFTRA card.)

This time, with "San Andreas," I cling to the hope that it may be instructive, that it could bootstrap earthquake awareness and preparedness. Maybe it will.

Preposterous though its science might turn out to be, it still might send people home from the theaters thinking, "Y'know, maybe I should have some stuff like food and water and meds handy, and get an emergency plan going."

The problem with this – as I can already guess from the trailer -- is that for the movie’s star, Dwayne Johnson, the notion of “emergency supplies” means a helicopter.

I called up Lucy Jones; she’s the seismologist who’s the face and voice of seismic science at the U.S. Geological Survey at Caltech, and recently Mayor Eric Garcetti’s science advisor on seismic safety.

She hasn't seen the movie in pre-release so she can't comment on it.

But what about earlier earthquake movies, I wondered. Did they have a salutary effect, getting people to wise up and saddle up for the real thing?

In those movies, Jones said, the quakes looked so horrible that they left people believing there was no possible way to prepare for them, or audiences found the movies so unbelievable that they dismissed them as nonsense, and still didn't bother to prepare. "Either way, people shrug it off."

So I'll pin my hopes on whatever omigod-L.A.-is-destroyed film comes next. I think it should be a drought movie. The theaters can sneak extra salt onto the popcorn, just to make the cinematic thirst more realistic.

Follow Patt Morrison on Twitter @pattmlatimes