‘San Andreas’ filmmakers disregarded science advice, expert says

A USC earthquake expert said his scientific advice was mostly disregarded by “San Andreas” movie filmmakers who asked him to review the script.

“I gave them free advice, some of which they took – play up ‘drop, cover, and hold on’ – but much of which they didn’t – magnitude 9’s are too big for the San Andreas, and it can’t produce a big tsunami,” said Thomas Jordan, USC professor and director of the Southern California Earthquake Center.

Jordan’s comments come after the film’s director, Brad Peyton, said in published reports that the film was based on science provided by Jordan, whom he called a consultant to the film, and that he “researched a lot” with Jordan.

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Jordan told the Los Angeles Times he was not a paid consultant, and that he agreed to read the script and met with the producer and director three times for free after being contacted through a National Academy of Sciences program that connects filmmakers with scientists.


Actor Dwayne Johnson, formerly known as The Rock, went a step further when he spoke on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” last week.

“We had the world’s top seismologist and earthquake scientist pore over the script, challenge us with the script, so by the time they walked away they said, ‘Everything you guys shoot in the movie could actually happen,’ ” Johnson said. (The comment comes around after 1:50 in the clip below.)

“I certainly don’t agree with what Dwayne Johnson said on Jimmy Fallon the other night,” Jordan said.

Press materials distributed to reporters about the film, which premieres Friday, did not make as strong a case about the film’s scientific validity.

“Applying creative license to a real-world threat, the story’s far-reaching scenarios aim for a heightened sense of action and drama. Nevertheless, while not everything depicted on the screen is fact-based, the film still acknowledges the reality behind it,” it said.

There are a number of scientific problems with the film. The San Andreas fault is thought to be capable of only an 8.3. The fault is mostly on land, and thus cannot produce a big tsunami.

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Experts say the tsunami wave crashing into the Golden Gate Bridge is implausibly high. An earthquake fault cannot create a canyon – faults require friction to cause earthquake shaking.

The East Coast can’t feel an earthquake from California. The scale of the devastation is highly exaggerated. And it is impossible to predict earthquakes before they begin.

Jordan said some parts of the movie had good messaging, such as the importance of drop, cover and hold on, which Caltech scientists faithfully do in the film.

Overall, Jordan said he enjoyed the movie. “It’s a good action flick and spectacular special effects … but not realistic from a seismological point of view. But you wouldn’t expect it to be. It’s Hollywood.”

Follow me on Twitter for more earthquake safety news: @ronlin