The Asylum is a low budget production company that’s infamous in the B-Movie world, mainly for their mockbusters – low budget rip-offs of big budget theatrical movies – such as Snakes on a Train, Transmorphers, Android Cop, Road Wars, Avengers Grimm, and Atlantic Rim (aka, Attack From Beneath) just to name but a few. However, they also put out just as many original titles as well, ones like Age of Dinosaurs, 2012: Ice Age, Battledogs, the Mega Shark movies, 2-Headed Shark Attack, Blood Lake, and of course the pop culture phenomenon that is the Sharknado series.
I have to admit, as far as guilty pleasures go, Asylum-made movies is at the top of my personal list, as I just have a ton of fun with them. Sure, acting is atrocious, CGI effects groan-worthy, painful dialogue, and errors within the script that could fill a barge. BUT, bottom line is they are fun to me, and really, that’s the main thing I look for in my B-Movies.
“When a discredited L.A. Seismologist warns of an impending 12.7 earthquake, no one takes her seriously. Now she races desperately to get her family to safety before the earthquake breaks Los Angeles apart from the mainland.”
The Asylum’s latest mockbuster, San Andreas Quake, was released to perfected timing to coincide with the much larger spectacle that is San Andreas starring Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson, a habit that Asylum does well with most of their mockbusters. While Asylum’s low budget rip off doesn’t have the kind of star power that one does, it does include Casper Van Dien’s easy-on-the-eyes daughter Grace Van Dien and fellow Asylum-regular Jhey Castles, both of which turn in pretty good performances for this kind of fare. Actually, San Andreas Quake’s strongest aspect, I feel, is that the entire cast is surprisingly pretty good, certainly better than is expected from this type of movie and better than I’m used to coming from Asylum’s filmography, even if some of the dialogue they have to work with is pretty bland and awkward at times. The human element in this movie is easily where it really shines best as, even putting the above-average acting aside, these are characters that actually get good characterization and you can get behind them and care about them pretty easily.
Unfortunately, while some of the movies made by this company showcase CG special effects that are surprisingly well-done for their products (Age of Dinosaurs really shines brightly there), the effects in San Andreas Quake is about on-par with all of Asylum’s other natural disaster ‘epics’. Essentially, for those not quite as familiar with those, that’s to say that they’re really not that good. There’s a few individual random shots that seem pretty inspired and better than the rest, especially toward the very end of the movie as a helicopter is flying around crashing down and crumbling buildings, but on a whole there’s nothing there that stands out or sets itself up higher than the low expectations that come with being an Asylum-made movie. There’s even one scene that includes such a terrible laugh-out-loud CG hippopotamus that escaped from a zoo and is attacking a car that, while I applaud them for thinking outside the box for that scene, really probably should have been scrapped when they realized the hippo would look so terrible (and even later in the movie when the characters reference that scene they mention that their car was trampled by an escaped giraffe, so I have no idea what the hell happened behind the scenes with that. Clearly a last-minute CG model change for some reason, and they forgot the characters mention it later or something).
Ignoring the painful CGI, I did admittedly really enjoy the growing escalation in disaster scenes as the movie went on. Most of Asylum’s natural disaster flicks just have random disaster scene after random disaster scene with no real sense of growing danger from one to the next and no escalation between them. The scenes of disaster that we get toward the end of the movies are no more damaging than the ones at the beginning, which actually causes the movie to loose some of it’s fun appeal and, despite the numerous scenes of massive destruction, I feel kind of bored by the end. Thankfully San Andreas Quake follows the rules of escalation throughout, with each disaster scene seemingly a bit more devastating than the last, leading to one of the only truly great CG shots of the movie (well, great as far as this company goes). With that said, that big action shot at the very end is really the only truly big action set piece we get in this one, as most of the other scenes are simply just a bit of shaking and falling glass, with most of the major destruction happening off-screen and we just see the aftermath of it. That got a bit annoying after awhile, since when people watch natural disaster movies they expect to actually see lots of scenes of disaster, but quite honestly I never even really noticed this until toward the end and I was thinking back on the movie, because I just enjoyed watching these characters go through their individual trials and tribulations, as played by these actors, so much that it totally didn’t even dawn on me that most of the destruction scenes were pretty weaksauce.
Adding to that, one of Asylum’s regular go-to music composers, Chris Cano, turned in a blood-pumping exciting action-packed score that really elevated even the most unremarkable action or destruction scenes far higher than they would have normally been, adding that extra layer of excitement that was otherwise lacking in some of those scenes.
Considering that writer and director John Baumgartner has only done Shorts before, and this is essentially his first full-length directing gig, as far as Asylum-made productions go it’s actually fairly competently-made and certainly well-shot (something that not every Asylum movie can boast – Universal Soldiers, I’m looking at you). San Andreas Quake may not be the best offering by Asylum out there, and it’s probably nowhere near as exciting or epic as I’m sure The Rock’s San Andreas is, but it is a fun enough little cheap low budget production by The Asylum for those who, like me, actually enjoy this stuff.