Dwayne Johnson is a ginormous superstar who is an all-around entertaining guy. Big action movies like this are his kind of thing. He’s genetically built to occupy this niche with just the right amount of charisma to go with watermelon biceps and other muscles that I don’t even know the names of. So I don’t necessarily see him as the problem here. And it isn’t the spectacle of the thing either. The stunts look over-the-top and ever-escalating. They are just what a summer movie should have: big boom booms. It’s just that there’s little chance critics, on the whole respond positively to it. That’s ok, as it will make its money at the box office. Not every big action, ridiculous piece of film can be a Fast and Furious-like flick that critics love and rakes in oodles of cash. It’s tough to have it both ways.
Within a month of my arrival, Los Angeles was in flames in the horrifying and bloody aftermath of the Rodney King verdict, and I stood on the roof of my six-storey apartment building in Koreatown that evening and watched the fires jump northwards towards me at the staggering rate of 20 blocks per hour. By midnight, if I imagined myself standing at the centre of a flat clock-face, I could turn 360 degrees on the spot and count one or more fires for every minute of the hour: north, south, east and west. Dante or HG Wells – even Roland Emmerich – couldn’t have staged it more impressively, more soberingly, if they’d tried.
It focused my mind and in the years that followed, Los Angeles was successively beset by mudslides, all-consuming Malibu brushfires and the Northridge earthquake of 1994. This was not altogether unexpected. I was familiar with Joan Didion’s notion of LA as haunted by the ghosts of fire, uprising and an earth that assuredly does not stand still, because as hard as nature has tried to level Los Angeles, it tends to take a decade or two off here and there (small comfort: we’re well overdue for another huge earthquake).
The San Andreas is notorious for producing big ones, but a magnitude-9 or larger is virtually impossible because the fault is not long or deep enough, Hough noted.
The most powerful temblors in recorded history have struck along offshore subduction zones where one massive tectonic plate dives beneath another. The 1960 magnitude-9.5 quake off Chile is the current world record holder.
The San Andreas has revealed its awesome power before. In 1906, a magnitude-7.8 reduced parts of San Francisco to fiery rubble. Nearly five decades earlier, a similar-sized quake rattled the southern end of the fault.
In 2008, the USGS led a team of 300 experts that wrote a script detailing what would happen if a magnitude-7.8 hit the southern San Andreas. They wanted to create a science-based crisis scenario that can be used for preparedness drills.
The lesson: It doesn’t take a magnitude-9 or greater to wreak havoc. Researchers calculated a magnitude-7.8 would cause 1,800 deaths and 50,000 injuries. Hundreds of old brick buildings and concrete structures and a few high-rise steel buildings would collapse.