VOLCANO (1997) 1/4 *
"Summer is early this year" (in movie critical parlance : "The awful gadzillion dollars spectaculars of sound and fury signifying nothing are already upon us")
"Cucu" : old spelling for "cuckoo," what "Volcano" drives some of us.
1. Los Angeles gets a new earthquake. No big deal as they say in the City of Big Deals. Then comes a gas explosion that steams several workers to death. Next, an underground volcano erupts, sending lava all over.
2. The epic duel starts between the OEM (Office of Emergency Management) and ODTAA One Damn Thing After Another).
3. If you have seen more than 12 movies in your lifetime you know that OEM will initially have some arguments with the LAPD, the LAFD, the LAWC (Water Company), the LASP (Stubborn People) and the like. Just momentary frictions however.
4. OEM's top banana Mike Roark looks just like Tommy Lee Jones except that he doesn't even attempt more than two facial expressions. His heart is clearly not in it.
5.Just before AHBL (All Hell Breaking Loose), newly divorced or separated Mike was going on vacation. His young daughter Kelly had flown in the night before. She is petulant and wants to have her nose pierced.
B. The people involved
1. There are many, all heroic and cast with politically correct gender and race in mind. Like a sterling Oriental-American lady MD, married to a Caucasian architect. Or like Mike's second in command, an African-American.
2. One of Mike's top people is a woman who knows all about complicated equipment.
3. The second lead is Amy Barnes, Ph.D., new to Mike, young, nice looking, a scientific whiz who know all there is to know and makes lightning fast diagnoses and predictions. She is,of course, unattached.
C. The action
1. It takes up 99.9 % of the movie as explosions explode and mega-tons of burning lava creep all overground as well as in the Underground (British for subway). Classy stuff.
2. Dad Mike rescues many people,makes split-second decisions, is all over the place. You bet that he can walk and chew gum at the same time.
3. When Kelly, alone in a car, is supposed to look scared, I think I caught her with a half-smile for one-fifth of a second. Or did I imagine this?
3a. Still, watch closely a video of some film where crowds are running from danger (like terrorists at the Super Bowl in "Black Sunday").You'll see that a lot of the panicky extras are actually beaming or laughing.
4. Early on, when two female scientists imperil their lives, it is (you can guess it if you have seen more than 12 pictures in your lifetime) that the non-doll will buy the farm.
5. The technical hows and whys of The Battle of Los Angeles will probably escape you as the principals talk fast in terms that sound like a foreign language. Take it on faith.
D. The outcome
1. It is a given that OEM and Co. will triumph. However, as the lava-fighters whoop it up, your watch tells you that there's much movie-time left and that there's more trouble to come.
2. Kelly, with a second degree burn, is taken by the wonderful lady MD to the now apocalyptic Cedars Sinai Hospital.
E. Dialogue and Personal relations
1. Original dialogue flows along with the lava. The wonderful MD to the teenager:" Kelly, I know you're scared. I'm scared too. But you've got to help."
2. Original concept. At Cedars, Kelly minds a little boy who disappears. In a nearby building about to be blown up she refuses to stop searching for the child: "You don't understand. He's my responsibility!" Kelly has matured.
3.Dad saves Kelly and the little boy. As in all great movies, rescue does not wait until the 11th hour, or even 11:59, but for 11:59 and 59 seconds. Exhilarating..
4. Original finale. Dr.Amy Barnes happens to be around.Mike, Kelly and blonde will bond.
F. PRACTICAL MATTERS
1.When it's all over, how is it possible that only 100 people have died?
2. The disaster must have cut water and electricity, but L.A.is so great that it still has water for the hoses, current for the drills, images on TV screens.
F. ETHICAL MATTERS
1. If a volcano obliterated ancient Pompeii because it (Pompeii) was so sinful, why does the far guiltier Los Angeles survive?
2. A nice point (I mean this). At the end, when Kelly looks for the kid's mom she asks the boy "What does she look like?" The puzzled kid says "They all look alike" as he points to the sooty rescuers who have not yet had a chance to clean up with Lava Soap.
G. ARTISTIC MATTERS
1. Had L.A. been destroyed, would we start getting better movies?
Written 28 April 1997