Volcano – Better Believe The End is Nigh! week

Volcano is currently available on instant Netflix.

One Line Review: Utterly ridiculous story makes Dante’s Peak look like Dante’s Inferno – still fun though.

Volcano (1997) – Rated PG-13

“Earthquakes look like child’s play compared with what Mother Nature is throwing at Tinseltown this time. A volcano erupts and threatens to engulf downtown Los Angeles. But fear not: a scientist and the kick-ass head of a crisis team get to work.”

Obviously I have a soft spot for disaster and this movie in particular as I enjoyed Volcano in spite of the intense stupidity on display here. Where do I begin?

First up is the great hero fallacy. Tommy Lee Jones is our star and plays Mike Roark, head of the Office of Emergency Management. In that capacity he gets to make all the big decisions and, as such, bears the praise or blame for the catastrophe. Not content with that, the script has him out personally to inspect the underground site where seven workers were burned to death and he and his daughter are caught in the big eruption. He also physically saves several people from the lava. At least he isn’t the all knowing scientist who predicted this.

That role belongs to Anne Heche as Dr. Amy Barnes. Of course the leading authority is an attractive 28-year-old blonde but I guess the older scientists are unwilling to go out in the field. Anne and Tommy are likeable of course as is Don Cheadle as the number two man at the Office of Emergency Management. Since we have the great hero and the scientist who won’t be listened to, can we hit any other cliches? How about the bratty teenager who doesn’t listen but learns a life lesson? Check (but kudos for letting an actual teenager play her). How about making the villain a real estate developer? Check.

We begin our story underground where seven workers have been burned to death near instantaneously and an eighth has been badly burned. After this the head of the Office of Emergency Management goes down there with one other person. One word: delegate! They notice that their emergency gear is melting down – apparently it has a very low melting point as they weren’t burned. Later in the film, Dr. Barnes and her assistant go down there in uber emergency gear – without notifying anyone and *surprise* we lose the assistant to a lava opening. Apparently no one uses a lifeline.

Here is a lesson for the filmmakers: lava is hot – really, really hot. They know it is hot because it is melting a car when Roark carries his kid across the hood. Hot enough to melt a car but they are okay. Later Roark, Barnes and a red shirt are hanging on a fire truck ladder suspended over lava. The fire hose above them spontaneously combusts but all they get is a little hot-foot. Also apparently heat will not damage roots in a sewer system.

As with Dante’s Peak, the writers wanted to get in every possible use of volcanoes so again we ignore reality and have very heavy ashfall combined with lava flow and lava bombs. We have not one but many helicopters impossibly flying around in the ashfall. The two climactic parts of the movie are even more ridiculous than what I have previously described.

There are the usual ridiculous number of continuity errors with wounds and clothing appearing and disappearing. Special effects are pretty good. They use some stock lava shots but the new lava is actually made of methylcellulose, a thickening agent also used in fast-food milkshakes (imdb).

I appreciated that they had some diversity in the cast but the cliches they threw out made me roll my eyes consistently. We have a white officer who arrests a man for being black and bothersome. When he releases him, the bothersome man pitches in to help.

My brain hurts but for some reason I enjoyed seeing lava flow through Los Angeles.

People Watch: Look for Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Susie Essman (Susie Greene) appearing briefly as Anita.