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Epic Fault

The geophysics of San Andreas' Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in an earthquake.

San Andreas didn't screen by our press deadline, despite my repeated letters to the president of Hollywood insisting that an alternative Portland newsweekly is the true center of the cinematic universe, so I made a geophysicist watch the trailer and tell me what he thought. Robert F. Butler is a professor of geophysics at the University of Portland, and he definitely had better things to do.

WW: What did you think?

Robert F. Butler: It's the typical Hollywood fabrication with only a kernel of truth.

What's the kernel of truth?

There is a San Andreas fault.

That's it? Could it actually make a gigantic earthquake that separates Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson from the family he loves so much?

Yes, it can cause earthquakes. But to cause the damage I saw, it would have to be much bigger than what's possible.

How about the tsunami wave that's taller than the Golden Gate Bridge? 

Not possible. The San Andreas fault is the wrong kind of fault to produce a tsunami. It's what we call a [confusing science-y terms here] fault, and in order to have a tsunami you need [more science science science], and so it's total bullshit.

Fine, but let's pretend it was possible. There's a scene in which the Rock races a yacht over the crest of a tsunami. From a geophysical standpoint, wouldn't you agree that's totally awesome?

Uh, well I'd agree that it's not physically possible.

Now I want to find something you did agree with. How about the scientist who's right about everything but totally ignored, played by Paul Giamatti? Do you empathize?

They always do that, the bald, middle-aged, nerdy-looking guy. He speaks two sentences in the trailer, and I can already name 10 things that are bullshit. 

Are you offended by scientists in movies looking like Paul Giamatti?

Hollywood goes one of two ways with scientists—either the nerd route, like this guy, or like in Dante's Peak, he's Pierce Brosnan.

Would you say you're between Paul Giamatti and Pierce Brosnan?

If you got a room full of geologists, most of them would be between those two, yes.

It used to be said the safest place in an earthquake was a door frame. This movie suggests the safest place is in a helicopter with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. What would you advise?

If we could predict earthquakes, which we can't, and if we had enough helicopters to put everybody on the earth on them, which we don't, then I guess that would be plausible because they're not physically touching the earth when it's shaking.

Oh good! What about the Rock? Is he in more danger because he’s such a top-heavy human?

In an earthquake, you should purposefully fall over: drop, cover, and hold on. So I guess, with that body, he'd actually be safer because he's top-heavy.

So, if you want to save your family, get buff or get a helicopter. Got it.

What you shouldn't do is what the actress does, which is run out of the building. Stay in the building! Modern buildings have very good building codes, but pieces of the building may fall off, so right outside the building is what we call the "kill zone."

Man, knowing so much about science must make watching movies harder for you.

I think it makes it harder for my family because I'm always telling them what the bullshit factor is.

Are you going to see San Andreas?

I'll wait until it's on TV.

And then you'll ruin it for your family?


SEE IT: San Andreas is rated PG-13. It opens Friday at Pioneer Place, Lloyd Center, Bridgeport and other major Portland-area theaters.