Reviewed by: Cheryl Sneeringer
In Los Angeles, seven men working in a storm drain are killed by a blast of subterranean flame-their bodies blackened to a crisp. The temperature of a pond rises several degrees overnight. Mike Roark (Tommy Lee Jones), of the Office of Emergency Management and geologist Dr. Amy Barnes (Ann Heche) investigate. They discover that the shifting of tectonic plates beneath the city has opened a fissure, and that magma beneath the Earth’s surface is about to erupt, forming an instant volcano in downtown L.A. As the disaster plays itself out, we get to see great special effects—geysers of fire, molten lava rocks shooting into the air like missiles, and a magnificent lava flow.
The premise of this movie sounds good, but the finished product is abysmal. The fatal flaw of this film is its script, which is excruciatingly bad. The movie is so full of major scientific errors that I found myself groaning in disbelief.
Consider: you have a river of molten lava hundreds of yards long successfully cooled and solidified by spraying it for a minute with water from about fifty fire hoses and a few dozen helicopters. The screenwriters did not bother to research the physics of heat transfer. Then there’s the man who is walking in a subway train with an open metal grate for its floor, lava flowing just beneath his feet. The man’s shoes are melting as he walks on the hot grate, but he has no problem breathing the superheated air in the car.
Throughout the movie, people do preposterous things. Firemen continue spraying water on (empty) burning buildings, paying absolutely no attention to the lava flow that creeps by just a few feet behind them, incinerating everything it touches. In the midst of raining cinders, erupting steam and blasts of shattered glass, no one seems inclined to take cover. As the lava streams down the boulevard, Roark engages a team of men to turn a bus over on its side to block the lava flow—though the length of the bus is only a fraction of the width of the flow. Frequently in this movie, people stand very close to the lava and never even sweat. Perhaps the screenwriters did not understand that lava is HOT!
Don’t waste your money on this movie. If you want to see an action-packed movie about a volcano, a better choice would be “Dante’s Peak”. Whereas “Volcano” takes place largely on one strip of pavement in L.A., “Dante’s Peak” carries the action to several different locales—portraying the effects of the volcanic eruption on highways, rivers, villages, lakes, and meadows. “Dante’s Peak” is more visually complex than “Volcano”, and there is a magnificence and grandeur about the devastating event it portrays.
To its credit, “Volcano” has no sex or nudity, and just four instances of mild/bad language. Not bad for a PG-13 film. However, it earned its MPAA rating through the scenes of gruesome horror (burned bodies, a man melting in lava, people’s legs on fire, etc.), which make it wholly unsuitable for young children, and sensitive adults and teens.
Year of Release—1997