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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Movie Review: VOLCANO


"Lava? Right here in L.A.?"
-- Mike Roark

Volcano is a 1997 action film directed by Mick Jackson. On a regular day in Los Angeles, a moderate-sized earthquake entices Mike Roark (Tommy Lee Jones), the head of the city's Office of Emergency Management, to put his vacation time with his daughter Kelly (Gaby Hoffman) on hold so that he can investigate the ramifications. After a number of city workers are injured and killed in some of the sewer system, Mike elects to search the area himself, finding an incredibly high temperature level in some of the city's subterranean areas. He calls on a geologist named Amy Barnes (Anne Heche) for help, and she offers the theory that there could possibly be some sort of volcanic event occurring beneath the city streets. Miffed by the idea, Roark shrugs off the theory and goes about his business in finding a way to ensure everything is fixed properly. After a massive aftershock the following morning, however, Mike comes face to face with the start of a volcanic eruption as lava starts to burst out of the La Brea Tar Pits. Head to head against the deadliest crisis he has ever seen, Mike steps up to the challenge and leads the charge to stop the super-hot substance from destroying everything in its path.

I can distinctly recall seeing the trailer for Volcano in theaters as I waited to watch one of the Star Wars "Special Edition" re-releases in early 1997. As an eight-year-old living in Los Angeles County, the sight of a volcanic eruption in Downtown L.A. frightened me to no end, and I can remember closing my eyes and covering my ears at the preview playing before me. I soon forgot about the trailer as my film of choice began, but I'll always remember that initial feeling I had when I first heard about Volcano. Over the years, I have seen bits and pieces of the film, ranging from a few seconds on television to a clip here or there on the Internet. I've always had a desire to give it a view, despite the fact that it's been relatively panned by critics and audiences alike. Something about it entering my consciousness at such a young age has continued to draw me to it, and now that I've finally had the opportunity to give it a view, I figured I would share my thoughts on the flick.

To be fair, there probably isn't a ton that I can say now, fifteen years after the fact, that's going to cause any sort of revelation about this film and its place in cinematic history. It's your typical disaster flick, with a so-so story about survival and heroism, and the character development is forced yet still underdeveloped. Essentially, we're just getting the reactions of characters to the events surrounding them, but there isn't anything terribly in-depth about the film at all. It's a shallow movie that doesn't force you to think, and some of the scenarios are downright outlandish. It forces emotion on its viewers through a string of "heroic" acts - always shot in slow motion, by the way - that serve as the only true feeling within the film itself. I can't say that this film ever truly deserved to be considered a "quality" flick, but who knows, right?

The cast proves to be decent, but it's not as though anyone is truly stepping up to the plate to stand above the rest. Jones and Heche as serviceable in the leading roles, and the aforementioned Hoffman is okay in her limited amount of screen-time. Don Cheadle, one of my personal favorite actors, manages to shine just a little bit brighter whenever he's on-screen, and his presence alone makes this one worth watching for me personally. We get a decent bit from Jacqueline Kim as a selfless surgeon trying to help the injured, and we even get a bit performance from Keith David, so that's nice, I guess.

Also, I do have to say that I'm not quite sure how to critique the film's special effects. At times, the computer-generated lava flow seems to look very realistic, but at other times, it's so blatantly apparent that it's been crafted by through CGI. The sign of strong computer-generated effects is the inability for the viewer to distinguish between the effect and the real world, and at times, Volcano succeeds in doing just that. It just isn't consistent throughout the entire film. There are a few moments where you simply have to laugh at the shoddy effects and take it for what it is. At a time when films were creating realistic-looking dinosaurs for Jurassic Park or brilliant effects for Titanic, it's hard to explain how Volcano managed to drop the ball.

And still, despite everything I've just said, there's something endearingly entertaining about the film that stems from its simplicity. From the start of the film, we can hear the engine revving in the background, and as soon as it steps on the pedal, the film never lets off and never allows the viewer a moment to look away. Sure, there are going to be moments where you'll laugh at something over-the-top and ridiculous, but you're going to be honed in on the movie as it progresses forward, laughable as it may be. It's a selfless film that holds no delusions of grandeur; rather, it simply offers what it has and does its very best to keep us engaged until the final credits role. In that simple task, I think Volcano is a triumphant success, and although it's nowhere near the most intriguing of the disaster films, I have to say that it's definitely one of the most entertaining.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: D+
Should You Watch It? Maybe

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