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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Director Brad Peyton grilled scientists, scoured earthquake footage and submerged sets in one of the world's biggest water tanks to create the biggest earthquake ever to hit California in his new film "San Andreas."
That effort might pay off at the box office, where the Warner Bros film is expected to be the top earner in its debut this weekend, with an estimated $40 million in ticket sales.
"We spent a lot of time grounding the experience and researching what a tsunami did, what it looked like, earthquakes, different types of earthquakes," said the Canadian director.
Critics are impressed with the spectacle. The scientists? Not so much.
"OMG! A chasm? If the fault could open up, there'd be no friction. With no friction, there'd be no earthquake," tweeted U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Lucy Jones during the premiere Tuesday.
Jones noted that the San Andreas Fault could never trigger a tsunami, and that only one in 16 buildings are expected to sustain serious damage if the fault were to set off a quake.
No matter. In Hollywood, artistic license is written into just about every script.
Besides, many moviegoers, even in California, do not know what a big quake feels like. The last one to hit a major city in the Golden State was the 1994 Northridge quake near Los Angeles, a magnitude 6.7.
"San Andreas" serves up a whopping 9.1 magnitude that wreaks havoc on Los Angeles and San Francisco. It is up to the helicopter pilot played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to help rescue his family in the chaos.
Predicting the next Big One is, of course, impossible. But actor Paul Giamatti actually does that in his role as a seismologist, and he enjoyed taking a crack at the challenging topic.
"I had to do a little bit of, like, science-y talk, but that was actually fun," Giamatti said. "It's hard playing a scientist. You don't want to look stupid."
Peyton did not want to limit the film to disaster, and sought to infuse it with "emotional value."
Critics who praised the film's visual achievements were nevertheless left cold by the storyline.
"'San Andreas' is chock-full of cliché characters, staggering coincidences and wild improbabilities," wrote Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "And its dialogue is so of the 'this is gonna hurt' variety that I tallied close to half a dozen 'Oh, my Gods' before I stopped counting."
Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Mary Milliken and Lisa Shumaker