Volcano – Review


by Ken B.

At the 1997 Golden Raspberry Awards, Volcano was nominated for the prize of “Worst Reckless Disregard for Human Life and Public Property”. I guess that’s agreeable. Not the worst part, mind you, but movie does depict reckless disregard for anything not hovering five hundred feet in the air.

For some reason, I found Volcano to be stupendously entertaining – and I’m really not sure why. Its plot is paper thin. These things have been done a million-and-one times before, but there was something about it that was superior in entertainment to many things similar to it, including Dante’s Peak, a film released earlier in 1997 that dealt with a similar issue, which in case you couldn’t guess, was volcanoes. This time, we’re in Los Angeles, where after a series of earthquakes, head of the Office of Emergency Management, Mike Roark (TOMMY LEE JONES) attempts to direct the city to stop billion-dollar destruction of the city after a very active volcano rises up out of the La Brea Tar Pits, shooting lava and fire all down Wilshire Boulevard, leaking all over the city and setting fire to everything it touches, rushing through the subway tunnels. Dr. Amy Barnes (ANNE HECHE), a geologist who lost her co-worker in the events (half of the emotional connection you really ever get) , helps out, and soon manages the struggle. The hospitals are overloaded, fire and ash rain down from the sky – starting at 5 in the morning. It’s like a very obvious wake up call for people who don’t normally have volcanoes erupting down the street.

Required for all movies like this is a certain suspension of disbelief for the special effects and scientific inaccuracies. For example, people lowering themselves into the tunnels and depths of LA while it’s bubbling over, saying “I’m goin’ down there” – and expecting to come out not cooked well done.

However, the visual effects in this movie are flat out absorbing. Lava bombs crashing down on the street and exploding (always hitting a vehicle or building in clear sight, never soaring out of frame) look great, and there’s no more vivid effect than watching the volcano sputter lava and fire.

Much like films such as The Hunger Games, “intensity” is created by an excess of handheld cameras, creating an undesirable shaky cam effect. Also not helping? An annoying level of slow-motion shots appear throughout the film, although commonplace for the moviemaking era, make the movie loose some value. After I had mentally complained about this four or five times, the slow-motion shots stopped… and were replaced by fast zooms. Does this ever stop?

But please, don’t misunderstand me. This was an altogether very enjoyable experience, quite fun. It’s arguably better than late-1990s action movies like Dante’s Peak, Godzilla, or Armageddon. So, check out Volcano. Press line? “It’s not bad.”