VOLCANO (1997)

© Fox

Directed By: Mick Jackson
Written By: Billy Ray & Jerome Armstrong
Story By: Jerome Armstrong
Cinematography By: Theo Van De Sande
Editor: Don Brochu & Michael Tronick
Music By: Alan Silvestri 

Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche, Don Cheadle, Jaqueline Kim. Keith David, Richard Schiff, Gaby Hoffman, John Corbett, Marcello Thedford, John Carroll Lynch, Michael Rispoli, Susie Essman, Lou Myers, Robert Wisdom, Valente Rodriguez

Something unspeakably chilling is ultimately starting to heat up at The City of Los Angeles! Beneath the famed La Brea Tar Pits, a raging volcano has formed, raining a storm of deadly fire bombs and an endless tide of white-hot lava upon the stunned city!

The film is pretty simple and straight forward. Really the title and poster say it all. Only this volcano is in Los Angeles.

Though this was competing with The similarly themed DANTE’S PEAK. That film seemed to be more personal and emotional as far as the characters were concerned. Though both disaster films this one seemed to fit into the classic mold a little more by having a more ensemble cast who exist septet lay from one another at first then find themselves coming together in this crisis. Though in this film you never forget who the main stars of the film are

Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche. Who represent both sides of the spectrum as all the characters are smart and experts in their fields. Though Jones is more the down to earth salt of the earth Midwestern type. Heche is the scientist who explains everything and why it is happening so the audience knows why this isn’t as far-fetched as well as she gets her hands dirty and helps plan the evacuation.

The film is pretty simple and straight forward. Really the title and poster say it all. Only this volcano is in Los Angeles.

These films seemed to keep coming up in the 90’s similar themed projects. That usually talked their subjects differently. DEEP IMPACT and ARMAGEDDON was another noteworthy one. Though there I feel at least ARMAGEDDON is more remembered fondly. Where as this film and peak are largely forgotten. So while these films were in competition it was usually easy to pick a victor. Here I will just say this one to me is more enjoyable and generic. As I have seen DANTE’S PEAK once I have seen this film many times and actually own the DVD.

Unlike the classic disaster films though the roles of the supporting characters aren’t necessarily filled out with other stars of the last or current. Where half the entertainment is seeing if your favorites will survive or perish. Here many characters who are likeable and seen as maybe more comedic relief die. Usually in the act of saving others. The film even briefly touches on subject of race. Though still has the theme by the end of it not mattering when there is a natural disaster friends, strangers and enemies alike come together to help and save. As it is all about survival.

Tommy Lee Jones is a curious choice for the lead but it works out for him as he comes across as charismatic hard working and a good father. There is only one scene where he looks ridiculous towards the end where he is trying to pile drive a canal for the lava to flow. Though this film came at the time when he was a hot ticket and more In Demand. Where he seemed constantly busy and was taking most leading roles he was offered. See MAN OF THE HOUSE, COBB, SPACE COWBOYS, THE CLIENT, BATMAN FOREVER.

Though he wasn’t the first one considered for the lead role Ed Harris and Bill Pullman were both offered the lead role first. Either way it’s nice that the film was going with an older male lead.Rather than some upstart that would have made the film seem more fanciful as it would have required the actor to be more in heroic saving the day by themselves type of film

The film knows it’s big moments of death and plays them for all it’s worth to affect the audience deeply. Or at least get a reaction out of them. It even introduced a flirtation between it’s two stars as maybe becoming romantic interests by the end if they both survive.

The film is ridiculous and it knows it. Though it plays itself as seriousness the most part. There is a certain fun in the serious silliness of the film. Where the film could easily lend itself to parody if the cast didn’t try so hard to sell the material as dramatic.

While the film is a disaster film it is also a film that pokes fun at Los Angeles culture and for once takes out California to a degree rather than New York the usual victim in these types of films. Why never like Florida or Texas for instance. They have cities are popular and have huge populations?

What attracts audiences to roaster films is that the enemy you can’t really stop you have to more deal with it’s actions. More about trying to survive it rather then fight against it. So it feels more or less hopeless and you have to use your resources to survive as it is more up to the individual and we all like to see ourselves on the screen hoping that is how we would react in similar situations heroically.

These situations also seem more likely to happen to us in real life not necessarily a volcano erupting in a city landscape but an all out emergency all over our state and trying to get to safety. Here the action is more about Escape then anything else. Trying to save as many from danger and death.

It’s hard to believe that this film cost $90 million dollars. As it certainly doesn’t look it. It doesn’t look cheap but it looks more modestly budgeted. I am guessing that most of the money was spent of effects. Which were cutting edge then, but look more rudimentary now.

The film has an innocence that films of it’s type mode to day seem to lack. Even though there aren’t many films like this made anyone or as it seems we keep having natural disasters and tragedies so much that we don’t find them as entertaining as we used to as they don’t seem so much like fantasy or one of a kind that happens once a decade or so.

What is also appealing about the film is that whole a disaster film it never takes itself too seriously. it’s not on the shoulders of one character to be the hero but everyone working together. Sure they all have their moments of being saviors but for the most part are only able to succeed in a combined effort. Some will sacrifice themselves for the greater good. All play their roles.

There is violence to a degree but never human against human kind. So for those looking for it the film does have some. Though usually very quick. The eruptions, the melting the damage done to structures which causes others to be crushed or nearly crushed. The fire rocks erupting out of nowhere. The shooting rocks.

The film lacks a cynicism. We don’t see as many examples of the worst cast scenario the film showcases humanity above all else.

It’s a film that would go well as a double feature with another guilty pleasure. The Sylvester Stallone starring DAYLIGHT. Both films i saw ferequently on the big screen at the $2 theater back in the day.

Grade: C+

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