Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Caution - and science - are thrown to the wind, and it's all action."

What do you look for in volcano movie? This should be a no-brainer, yet one film after another has tried to fob off audiences with human drama, either because it can't afford the effects work or genuinely thinks the personal lives of earnestly dull townsfolk are more interesting than gushing lava. Not so Volcano. With the splendid tagline 'the coast is toast,' it wears its sulphurous heart on its sleeve. Caution - and science - are thrown to the wind, and it's all action.

If you're going to tell a story about a volcano, made for a Hollywood audience, why not have it erupt in Los Angeles itself? Um, because Los Angeles doesn't have a volcano? Never mind - one can be created specially. It's not the classic conical kind but it does spit out plenty of hot, fearsome lava, which is soon rolling down famous boulevards. With the exception of ash, which never looks properly dramatic in proportion to its actual destructiveness, virtually every volcanic and seismic stunt in the book is here. There's hot gas, suffocating smoke and exploding balls of fire, plus an earthquake crack that somebody actually falls down, in proper B-movie style. None of it makes very uch sense, but that's not the point.

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Curiously, the film tries to balance this with an altogether too-capable cast. The sincerity with which Tommy Lee Jones plays the gruff emergency co-ordinator, separated from his daughter in a classic disaster movie subplot, is both touching and hilarious. Anne Heche struggles to deliver the film's mangled scientific exposition with a straight face, but the two are supported by a host of helpful minor characters who conveniently sacrifice themselves whenever things get too dangerous. Meanwhile, in a bold move for the genre, they try to figure out not only how to survive but how to defeat the volcano's evil plan and save the city.

A fair amount of money was spent on Volcano, most of which went into state of the art special effects. In their time these were widely praised, but like most such work done at the cutting edge of technology, rather than with familiar techniques, they've aged badly. The lava, in particular, looks decidedly ropey. As a result, the film requires a bit more suspension of disbelief than even some genre fans will be willing to give it. On the other hand, it still looks classy in relation to the new wave of Asylum films, and will probably thrill their audience.

The coast may not ultimately get quite the toasting it deserves, but this fiery film will still warm the cockles of those who enjoy watching large scale destruction.

Reviewed on: 15 Sep 2012
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A volcano erupts in the heart of Los Angeles.
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Director: Mick Jackson

Writer: Jerome Armstrong

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche, Gaby Hoffmann, Don Cheadle, Jacqueline Kim, Keith David

Year: 1997

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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