a critiQal film review Volcano (1997)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: A vent in the Earth's crust has unleashed an incredible force of nature. The literally earth-shattering product is a volcano...and ground zero is Los Angeles' famed La Brea Tar Pits. An unprepared Los Angeles is facing it's worst nightmare as it faces off against a force of nature that lays waste to anything in it's path.

569 words (Est. Reading Time 2m 50s)

With Snow White getting the double treatment this year (Mirror Mirror (2012), Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)), it got me thinking about other themes that had gotten the double treatment in the past. One, especially, stood out in my mind – volcanoes.

Back in ’97, Hollywood grabbed onto the idea of heroes battling a volcano, and went wild, producing two big budget films: Dante’s Peak (1997) and Volcano. And, since I hadn’t gotten a chance to review Volcano yet – and it was conveniently available for instant streaming through NetFlix® – I decided it was high time I did.

So, would the double threat of volcanoes in ’97 prove that Hollywood milks every idea for all it’s worth – or that Dante’s Peak (1997) and Volcano could be two similar, but equally entertaining, variations on a theme?

Tommy Lee Jones stars as a the tough OEM boss. He is usually able to draw us into his roles, despite a few slips up in the past (Blown Away comes to mind immediately). Thankfully, he is able to play the take-charge boss needed for Volcano, and slips easily into his role of action hero.

Anne Heche, who usually isn’t that good, turns up as a scientist, and it’s gotta be one of her better roles. Her usually irritating demeanor comes off as scientist smart, and she quickly will get the viewers to believe in her. Her chemistry with Tommy Lee Jones is at best hit-or-miss, but at least it’s not painful to watch (see Six Days Seven Nights for that).

Don Cheadle pops up as Tommy Lee Jones’ right-hand man at OEM, and quickly steals the show with a quip-spewing performance. He’s brilliant as usual, and his comic relief is desperately needed to keep the movie flowing.

Sadly, despite the big names, most of the dialogue comes off as stilted and cliched, giving the viewer the impression the special effects are the biggest point of the movie, not telling a story. As the movie progresses, and the dialogue keeps coming off as uncomfortable, it’s more and more apparent the film is just a vehicle to display some impressive volcano-related special effects.

Thankfully, the special effects are well up to the task. From molten lava spewing from the tar pits to lava bombs reigning down during an ashy snowfall, this volcano is definitely fun to watch unfold onto the streets of Los Angeles. Sure, there are some odd uses of slow motion (did we really need to watch a La Brea Tar Pits bubble pop in slow motion?) and the viewer may scoff at some of the sequences (why did jumping through flames and then walking across a car in a river of lava not even singe Tommy Lee Jones?), but never will the special effects let them down.

Fast-paced and exciting, Volcano seems like it should skyrocket up to the best of the best. But with stilted dialogue and a tendency to stick to the basic blueprint for an action flick, Volcano comes off looking a bit too pat.

Thankfully, with Tommy Lee Jones, Don Cheadle and even Anne Heche turning in entertaining performances and some exciting special effects, Volcano manages to be a paint-by-numbers action flick that viewers should still get a kick out of.

Sure, it’s not going to go on anyone’s best films list, but for all of it’s faults, it’s still fun to watch, as long as you don’t take it too seriously.

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