LOS ANGELES—Here in the glamour capital of the world, people are used to high-profile, earth-shattering events. But according to top insiders, publicists and seismologists, the long-awaited Los Angeles earthquake, due to arrive soon after decades of delays, is going to be the biggest thing to hit town in a long, long time.
"The pressure is on, and when this thing hits the streets, it's gonna turn this town upside down," Daily Variety's Marvin Demofsky said. "People have been waiting for it for years, and when those tectonic plates finally get ready to move on this, it's going to generate a lot of buzz. Believe the hype: This one is going to blow you away."
"Get ready to rumble, L.A.!" said popular gossip columnist Rita Jaynes of The Hollywood Reporter. "This thing is gonna tear the roof off box offices all across town!"
Though the groundswell of anticipation for the earthquake has been building for ages, the recent discovery of a series of highly unstable "blind thrust" faults directly beneath downtown L.A. has caused the hype to reach a fever pitch. So-called "slip-strike" faults, such as the famed San Andreas Fault, move horizontally, with the land masses sliding past each other. But thrust faults, like the newly discovered Hollywood Fault and Elysian Park Fault—on which Dodger Stadium stands—are much more destructive because they move diagonally and even vertically, "thrusting" masses of earth up and down and folding enormous sections underneath the surface itself.
"This quake should pull in big, big numbers on the Richter Scale. Not only is the potential for long-term impact large, but the opening weekend is almost certainly going to be a record-setter for casualties. I mean, this is going to open huge," said Dr. John Shaw, a Harvard structural geologist who last May helped discover the Puente Hills Fault, the largest of these hidden thrust faults, beneath L.A.'s most populated areas. "This is the sort of groundbreaking event that can really shatter expectations and shake up the industry."
The earthquake, which publicists are hyping as "a major motion event," is expected not only to strike it big with the coveted 18-to-34 demographic, but also prove just as powerful with all other age groups, as well.
"This one is going to reach everyone: kids, young professionals, the over-50 crowd," publicist Shayna Glickman said. "We're talking record-breaking numbers of whites, blacks, Hispanics; you name 'em, they're going to be in on this quake."
"Everybody's going to be talking about this one," Jaynes said. "Advance word is that this quake is going to be inescapable. Talk about your show-stoppers: It's going to be like Armageddon, Deep Impact and Volcano all rolled into one."
Today, scientists know far more about the immense geological forces at work under L.A. than they did a few years ago. Nevertheless, much remains unknown about the event researchers at USC's Southern California Earthquake Center have given the working preproduction title L.A. Quake: The Big One. The project is so hush-hush, in fact, that no release date has yet been finalized, as scientists still have no way of predicting exactly when it will hit theaters, restaurants and homes.
Seismologists say the epicenter will most likely be somewhere within the 25-mile corridor from the city's downtown business district to the base of Pasadena's San Gabriel mountains. The area contains such glamorous establishments as the tony Wolfgang Puck eatery Spago, after-hours hotspot The Viper Room, and the ultra-exclusive Burke Williams day spa and massage center, adding to the quake's growing reputation as "the" place to be on opening weekend, whenever that may be.
Though comparisons are already being made with the earthquake that recently killed record numbers in Turkey, industry insiders say the L.A. quake will be bigger and better, pointing to its "superior production values" and noting that foreign quakes have never garnered much attention from American audiences.
"A 7.0 quake in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area would potentially kill millions and cause upwards of $1 trillion in damages," said Julian Franks, media liaison for the quake. "The Turkish quake may have had a huge death toll, but the damage wasn't anywhere near $1 trillion, what with no BMWs or gleaming skyscrapers in the area. And the L.A. one will boast superior locations, costumes and lighting, not to mention a better-looking cast and a much bigger budget. Plus, it'll be in English."
But not everyone is so confident. With the two tectonic plates sliding past each other at the rate of five inches per year, some say the advance build-up may actually work against the quake.
"All this hype could prove to be a real disaster," Paramount executive Herb Gregory said. "In this post-Blair Witch era, bigger isn't always better. People don't want things on a massive scale anymore, and the backlash aftershocks from this huge quake could really hurt the industry. In a worst-case scenario, we could be looking at the next Godzilla."
But despite such naysayers, a majority of Angelenos are predicting a giant smash.
"It's got everything: action, drama, heartache… What could go wrong?" Hollywood executive Belinda Petersen said. "Besides, it's a casting director's dream: practically everybody who is anybody in this town is going to be involved."