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A volcano erupts in downtown L.A., threatening to destroy the city.
For more about Volcano and the Volcano Blu-ray release, see Volcano Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on October 10, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.0 out of 5.
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche, Keith David, Gaby Hoffmann, Don Cheadle, John Corbett
Director: Mick Jackson
» See full cast & crew
Volcano Blu-ray Review
This Blu-ray fizzles.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, October 10, 2013
Like other "partner" films -- Deep Impact and Armageddon, Red Planet and Mission to Mars, even Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down -- there's always a "better" and a "lesser" and Volcano is the unfortunate second fiddler to the superior Dante's Peak. Both are "volcano disaster" movies and both released within months of one another way back in 1997. In Dante, a volcano threatens a small mountain town. In Volcano, the lava-spewer threatens to melt away huge portions of Los Angeles. But the one with the smaller scope is the better, bigger film. But Volcano is no slouch. It's a bit hokey, sure; the special effects are merely decent; and the movie feels a bit scattered; but all in all it delivers a fast-paced, mostly exciting, and occasionally emotional Disaster movie experience that enjoys a fairly high re-watchability quotient and a good performance from lead Tommy Lee Jones and several recognizable co-stars.
In a moment of crisis, Los Angeles' Director of the Office of Emergency Management is given broad control of city resources to battle said crisis. That crisis is now, and it's a doozy. An early morning earthquake may be common enough in the City of Angels, but it still rattles the nerves and makes the local news. But what begins as a little tremor turns into something else altogether. Lava begins to spew onto the surface, destroying businesses and jeopardizing residences. OEM Director Mike Roark (Tommy Lee Jones) finds himself in the middle of a dangerous situation -- lava is spewing from the ground -- made all the worse by the presence of his daughter, Kelly (Gaby Hoffmann). She's injured and turned over to a kindly doctor who takes her to a triage unit set up outside L.A.'s Cedars-Sinai hospital. Meanwhile, he comes to learn the truth behind the baffling eruption with the help of a scientist named Amy Barnes (Anne Heche). With time running short, Roark and Barnes must devise a plan to not only save what they can of the city, but ensure that the lava doesn't pose a threat beyond the immediate.
Volcano plays out like a condensed Disaster miniseries and, really, shows the sort of punchy, fast-paced excitement that many of the overlong three-hour TV "Disasters" should strive to emulate. There's the usual wide cast of characters, a bunch of randoms who quickly become intertwined as disaster strikes, even if they're separated from a larger group. There's the usual father-daughter dynamics and plenty of think fast, life-and-death scenarios that involve the film's foundational characters and its secondary and tertiary faces all. It's quick to develop and doesn't waste much time on character development beyond what's absolutely necessary to tell the story. The action isn't so much sprawling as it is large in scale and very dangerous. There's an immediacy to the movie that's helped by a more focused approach and an effort to create an always intense and evolving atmosphere rather than try and juggle a lot of excess noise at any given time. Volcano may not be the pinnacle of Disaster entertainment, but it shows a firm grasp of the concept and could teach a lot of other -- significantly more bloated but otherwise similar -- movies a lesson.
Volcano also benefits from its cast. Tommy Lee Jones feels like a natural as the lead, a man with a take-charge attitude but also a tenderness he wears on his sleeve not only for his family but also for his community. He portrays a man dedicated to his profession and a true leader, open to suggestion but unafraid to move fast and make a decision -- right or wrong -- to help save lives under the pressure that falls on his shoulders. Jones makes the movie quite a bit better than it deserves to be, elevating it from lower-end Disaster flick to crowd-pleasing Thriller. Don Cheadle shows his acting prowess with a unflinchingly natural performance as the man supporting Jones' character from the control room. Anne Heche is strong as an expert in her field and nearly a match for Jones, both as a performer and in terms of her character's qualities and role in the film. The two play well one against the other and make for a rather good on-screen pairing. The film does feel a little heavy-handed at the end with its blatant message on humanity; covered in soot, everybody looks the same, a child observes, but then the rains come and rinse everybody clean, anyway. It's an honest enough message but feels tacky and tacked-on. Fortunately, it doesn't leave much of a bad taste in the mouth when the credits roll thereafter, or, at least after another silly little moment that portends future trouble from L.A.'s hottest new attraction.
Volcano Blu-ray, Video Quality
Volcano spews forth a pedestrian, DVD-quality transfer. The film fares worst over the title sequence. Dirt appears static and definition remarkably poor. Things clear up for the rest of the movie, however, though the image never offers the sort of stable, accurate, film-quality appearance Blu-ray fans rightly demand. There's a flatness and pastiness to the image, a smoothed-over appearance that shows some well defined general details but always lacks that crispness of a stronger transfer. Colors can be fairly bold but lack nuance, whether green grasses, lava reds and oranges, or firefighter yellow. The palette never impresses but does deliver a fairly even appearance, even though much of the film takes place at night and under the influence of a gray, ashy overlay. Blockiness and banding aren't major issues. Black levels are decent, but flesh tones capture that flat, monochromatic pasty appearance. Minor wear-and-tear and dirt are occasional problems. Fans hoping for Volcano to be looking spiffy in high definition will be greatly disappointed.
Volcano Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Volcano erupts onto Blu-ray with an effective, but not great, Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack. While it regularly cranks out some hefty sound effects, there's not much real clarity and precision placement. Chaotic scenes without the rumble of the quakes and the flow of the lava sound nearly empty; a brief emergency room scene near the beginning sounds disturbingly vacant beyond character voices. However, a solid rumble follows but it, nor any like it, never really digs deep to find that real precise, chest-rattling, deep-down bass. Music is light and airy, nicely spaced and fairly clear, but it, too, lacks that pinpoint clarity offered by better tracks. The surround speakers do carry a nice load throughout, though oftentimes the track feels more like a barrage of moderately defined sounds rather than a full-on immersive sound field. Dialogue, generally, does comes through neatly and evenly from the center. Overall, this isn't a bad track -- it's loud and aggressive when need be -- but it certainly comes up well short of its potential.
Volcano Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Volcano contains no extras, and no menu is included. The film begins playback immediately after disc insertion. Optional English SDH subtitles must be switched on or off in-film with the remote control.
Volcano Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Volcano won't be remembered as one of the great Disaster movies. If anything, it will be remembered as the lesser film to Dante's Peak. That's unfortunate, because there's a solid little entertainer here that's favorable, focused, and enjoys a rock-solid performance from Tommy Lee Jones and features several other familiar faces in key roles. Volcano isn't perfect, but it's a fun and re-watchable little slice of escapism that should please genre fans. Anchor Bay's featureless Blu-ray offers disappointing video and adequate audio. Recommended for purchase only at a rock-bottom price and to fans who don't already own the widescreen DVD.
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Volcano Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Mick Jackson's Volcano Gets U.S. Release Date - July 17, 2013
Anchor Bay Entertainment has revealed that it plans to bring to Blu-ray director Mick Jackson's disaster thriller Volcano (1997), starring Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche, Gaby Hoffmann, and Don Cheadle. The preliminary release date set by the studio is October 1.
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