Volcano is the second volcano movie this year to mark its 25th anniversary as Dante’s Peak reached the same milestone in February.
This is the first screenplay for both of the film’s screenwriters, Jerome Armstrong and future Oscar nominee Billy Ray. They don’t hesitate at all and have us on the edge of our seats from the beginning. An earthquake hits LA and this is just the beginning! The film is non-stop action from there on out.
When disaster strikes Los Angeles, the city’s Office of Emergency Management has the power to take full control. Michael Roark (Tommy Lee Jones) is the director of the OEM. He’s on vacation with his daughter, Kelly (Gaby Hoffman), when an earthquake hits LA. Working with assistant director Emmit Reese (Don Cheadle), OEM takes control following the discovery of seven utilities workers burned to death in a MacArthur Park storm drain. It only gets worse from here on out. A local geologist, Amy Barnes (Anne Heche), studies the science and believes that a volcano is forming underneath the park. But without physically studying the storm drain and finding the necessary evidence, Roark can’t do anything.
One thing Roark does recommend is closing the Red Line. However, Los Angeles MTA Chairman Stan Olber (John Carroll Lynch) isn’t a fan of this decision and makes his opposition known. It’s ignorance on Olber’s part. If he listened, trains wouldn’t have been caught in the lava when all hell started breaking loose. Moreover, Stan wouldn’t have died while saving the life of a train operator.
While Roark works with Barnes in saving the city, it’s a professional relationship. There’s no forced love story and that’s one thing I enjoy about the film. They also work with police lieutenant Ed Fox (Keith David) when it comes to stopping the lava at Wilshire and Fairfax. While this is happening, a racist cop detains a local Black resident who is trying to save homes in a nearby neighborhood. At the end of the day, other cops call out the racist cop. Some things just don’t change. Their plan works but Barnes later realizes that the magma is still flowing in the subway. It gives them a half hour to evacuate the hospital and block the lava’s path in order to send it straight to the Pacific Ocean.
The Los Angeles Tar Pits have been known for causing trouble. Most recently, the site played home to a sinkhole that sent people back some 10,000 years into the past. But before this, the site played home to the formation of an active volcano known as Mount Wilshire back in 1997. Watching the film plays even better when you’ve actually been to the area. If not for La Brea, I probably would not have visited the Tar Pits back in November. But I digress.
While the disaster itself is what draws people into Volcano, there’s a father-daughter store at the heart of the film. You can’t help but feel for Michael Roark when he sends his daughter to Cedars-Sinai after her leg suffers burns by a lava bomb. The two only reunite when Michael saves Kelly’s life as she was about to walk into the path of a condominium building collapsing after the demolition.
You know you’re in Los Angeles when the train operator is reading Writing A Screenplay That Sells. What impresses me the most about Volcano isn’t the CGI. It is the 80% full-size replica of Wilshire Blvd. between the Tar Pits and Fairfax. Upon rewatching, I’m like, this is a lot of impressive CGI for the late 1990s or an entire set. There’s no way that the actual places would be so comfortable with all the destruction. Even still, you’re talking about an entire city block full of museums! At one point, you can see people trying to save paintings at LACMA. It’s also fun to see the future home of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, too.
Volcano might not be the best volcano movie from 1997 but the action never stops.
DIRECTOR: Mick Jackson
SCREENWRITERS: Jerome Armstrong and Billy Ray
CAST: Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche, Gaby Hoffman, Don Cheadle, Jacqueline Kim, Keith David, John Corbett, Michael Rispoli, John Carroll Lynch
20th Century-Fox released Volcano in theaters on April 25, 1997. Grade: 3.5/5
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