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Details At A Glance

Category Disaster / Action Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.33:1 non-16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
Rating Other Trailer(s) No
Year Released 1997 Commentary Tracks No
Running Time 99:37 minutes Other Extras Menu Animation & Audio
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (51:43)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director Mick Jackson

Fox Home Video
Starring Tommy Lee Jones
Anne Heche
Gaby Hoffman
Don Cheadle
Keith David
RRP $39.95 Music Alan Silvestri

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles Czech
English For The Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

   Quite often nowadays, movies come in twos. There are many examples - A Bug's Life and Antz, Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line, EDtv and The Truman Show, Armageddon and Deep Impact ... and of course Dante's Peak and Volcano. This naturally brings direct comparisons between the two. I cannot help but place Dante's Peak/Volcano in the same basket as Deep Impact/Armageddon. In both instances, the former are intelligent, well produced and clever movies. The latter are, I am afraid, simply Hollywood money spinners - empty shells of movies with nothing to offer apart from flashy visuals and a quick pace.

    The premise of Volcano is silly (and simple) enough. A volcano erupts in the middle of Los Angeles. That's it. That is the whole story. There is NO character development whatsoever, so that in the end you just couldn't care less about the people in it. At no time do you care what happens to Tommy Lee Jones, who is here at his most annoying doing what he seems to do best in all his movies, which is to stand around barking orders at everybody and being generally smugly superior and treating everyone around him as total idiots. I would suggest that the people around him are total idiots for listening to him in the first place. Indeed, the first time we meet him he asks Anne Heche "what's magma" to which she replies "lava." Come on!  The hint of romance between him and Anne Heche is laughable, given that after a handful of scenes with them together we are asked to all of a sudden accept a bond between them come the end of the movie. Nah, not good enough.

    If the acting were not bad enough, we have to contend with an utterly implausible not-to-say flagrantly impossible series of events throughout the movie. This is where the movie is awarded its "action" genre status. People spend most of the movie dodging flaming lava missiles and being useless. The most incredible thing we are asked to believe is that a river of lava - red-hot, liquid rock which simply does not cool down in a hurry - can be completely halted by building barriers pushed in a semi-circle by bulldozers. Not half an hour previous we saw entire cars consumed in real-time by the same lava. Watching the lava hit the barrier (at a fair speed), and simply stop was amazing. Then, literally helicopter after helicopter come marching over like the cavalry, emptying loads of water so as to form a crust and halt the flow. Moving stuff. Yeah, stomach moving.

    It is also ironic that the only thing in the movie's favour, that which the movie relies on - the effects - are so poorly done. Time after time, scenes look artificial. There is a striking scene towards the end, when we see Tommy and his colleagues looking up at a new building which they propose to demolish (in record time). The building is clearly a model, and I nearly choked when I saw it. I mean, it looks really bad. The volcano itself looks ridiculously bad, and layering of effects is obvious throughout the movie.

    Volcano is one of those increasingly common dumbed-down for the summer U.S. audience movie, along the lines of Armageddon and Independence Day and does not deserve to be in your collection. It is a disaster movie all right, and if you want a decent volcano movie, get the far superior Dante's Peak instead.

Transfer Quality


    Whilst this is not a particularly bad transfer, it is not particularly good. It occupies that uncomfortable middle ground, being neither here nor there.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced. This is in contradiction to the packaging, which states a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The actual theatrical release was 1.85:1, so we are missing nothing. Interestingly, the overscan of my 16x9 TV rendered the image as 1.78:1.

    The image was middling in terms of sharpness, and at times was quite poor with fine objects in the distance (such as people) being lost to the somewhat excessive edge-enhancement. Any edge-enhancement is excessive in my books, and just washes away detail, and this disc had just enough to irritate me. Shadow detail on the other hand was actually quite good most of the time. There were only a couple of instances of low-level noise, and on the whole the image was free from grain or noise. Given that the image is not as sharp as the best DVDs, it was still clear enough to resolve many effects shots into clear model work, and many scenes looked ludicrously bad and artificial. I don't recall being so amazed at the cinema with the poor effects, but on DVD they show up dreadfully, and completely ruin the feel of the movie.

    Colours were rendered well, with accurate skin-tones.

    The were many instances of MPEG macro-blocking during stressful times, such as scenes with low-contrast ash and smoke filling the screen. It was especially bad when someone was behind the smoke and they were clearly broken up by inadequate compression because you are looking right at them and it is plain to see. This is something I cannot abide, and it just cheapens (even more) the look of the movie. There were few instances of film artefacts, and there were no film-to-video artefacts.

    This disc is RSDL formatted, with the layer change occurring at 51:43 during chapter 13. This is one of the worst examples of layer change I have seen in a long time - not only did the score cease for a brief moment, but there was a distinct "pop". I played over this a number of times in amazement, just to confirm that it was on the disc and not my equipment.


    There is just the one English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, and it is on the whole very good, though not enough to save the film.

    Dialogue was always clear and well recorded.

    I noticed a few instances of lip-sync problems, doubtless due to vocal looping, though the spatial integration of the vocals was always excellent with no evidence of re-recording.

    As forgettable as the movie is the score, which adds nothing to the visuals, and is a complete bore. Highlighting "dramatic" moments in the movie was an exercise in the futile, because of the total implausibility of those scenes in the first place. In fact, it was sometimes laughable.

    The surround channels were active for much of the movie, being full-range and at times stunning. Having a volcano on the screen, spewing stuff everywhere is really a no-brainer for a modern 5.1 surround soundtrack, and effective use is made of this.

    We always comment on any lip-sync problems with the discs we review, for the simple reason that potentially nothing is as off-putting; however, this is the first time I have had to report a sub-woofer sync problem! The sub was often very poorly integrated into the mix, and called attention to itself many times. Quite simply, there were times when the sub would suddenly go quiet, even when the action on screen was going full-tilt. At other times, the sub would kick in for no adequately explainable reason. Not good, though not surprising given the production quality elsewhere (i.e. lack of).



    The menu is fairly good, with the main menu being animated with the thunderous sound of a volcano accompanying it. Selecting a sub-menu invokes a flashy in-between animation. Scene selections are static. It is definitely good to see Fox apply this level of work to their menus, but please, if you are going to go this far, why not have animated scene selections? We are the poor cousins of R1 in this regard.

Theatrical Trailer (1:11)

    Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, non 16x9 enhanced and in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, this is not really the best, and it is a shame to see trailers look and sound so ordinary.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on:    Don't bother with the R1 version. In fact, don't bother with either version would be my suggestion.


    A flawed movie from start to finish in all respects, and one that is completely unsatisfying and gets worse with each viewing.

    The video is ordinary.

    The audio is very good, apart from some poor low-frequency integration.

    Another disc bereft of extras. Actually, with this title I am thankful.

Ratings (out of 5)

© Paul Cordingley
15th February, 2000.
Review Equipment
DVD Panasonic A350A (S-Video output)
Display Pioneer Rear - Projection SD-T43W1 125cm Widescreen 16x9
Audio Decoder Internal Dolby Digital 5.1 (DVD Player)
Amplification Sony STRDE-525 5x100 watts Dolby Pro-Logic / 5.1 Ready Receiver; 4 x Optimus 10-band Graphic EQ
Speakers Centre: Sony SS-CN35 100 watt; Main & Surrounds: Pioneer CS-R390-K 150-watt floorstanders; Subwoofer: Optimus 100-watt passive