31 Days of Guilty Pleasures – ‘Volcano’

Jason McDonald

A few years ago I did a daily countdown to Halloween that featured some of my favorite scares from 31 different horror movies. This year I’m bringing back the feature, but this time we’re taking a look at some of my favorite guilty pleasures.

There’s no rhyme or reason to how these movies are being listed, so the placement on the countdown doesn’t denote any sort of ranking. Also, my definition of guilty pleasure is a movie that ranges from either being not very good to outright bad, but there’s something about it that still makes it endearing to watch.

It’s a disaster weekend! The next two films we’re gonna talk about aren’t “horror” films, but I’ve always felt disaster films have been bed buddies with horror movies.  If you really think about it, natural disasters are a lot like slasher movie villains.  Instead of a killer waiting in your closet though, it’s a a volcano waiting to emerge underneath you.

In ‘Volcano’ Dr. Amy (Anne Heche) suspects that a volcano is forming in Los Angeles after a series of strange earthquakes.  Unfortunately, no one takes her seriously and the city is unprepared to deal with the sudden appearance of a volcano in the La Brea tar pits. Together with Mike Roark (Tommy Lee Jones), they must try to figure out how to save as many lives in Los Angeles before the whole city burns.

I remember the first time I heard about “Volcano” was by watching my VHS copy of “Independence Day.” One of the trailers on the tape was this great cheesy teaser letting you know that there was an unknown volcano in Los Angeles.

I was blown away! In 1997 I was a kid who LOVED natural disasters.  That’s not to say I watched the TV gleefully whenever it happened, but I was fascinated by why they occurred and the impact they had.  So I was thrilled about seeing what a Volcano would do to Los Angeles.

And what does it do? It blows the shit out of Los Angeles! I figured things would burn, but it turns out when lava hits a building it just explodes! I think Los Angeles is made out of asbestos or something.

And while all that destruction is nice, my favorite thing about disaster movies is watching people come together and put the greater good above themselves.  Like this hero.  Drew Carey’s brother manages to fireman carry a pretty hefty guy through a burning train, then jump a few feet into burning lava, and while burning he tosses the guy the guy the rest of the way. What a large hero man!

I later had a science teacher in high school tell me that everyone would be pretty much dead in this scene because they’re way too close to the lava. I don’t know if that’s true, but I’ll believe it anyways.

And then there’s this scene where everyone gets unified behind one plan. We’re talking cops, firefighters, construction workers, and random city workers.  Everyone unites together behind Tommy Lee Jones to try and make one final stand to prevent the lava from reaching homes.  Honestly the whole thing makes me kind of emotional.  Also I forgot Keith David was in this. What an awesome movie.

But my favorite ultimate sacrifice in this movie is when they plan to finally stop the lava by demolishing a building and diverting the flow into the ocean.  Unfortunately, things don’t go according to plan and a SWAT officer is trapped under some debris.  Not wanting to leave him behind, one of Mike’s cohorts stays behind with him and tries to free him, but when they realize they aren’t going to free him the SWAT officer and Mike’s friend move forward with the detonation. What a ballsy movie. Also the other SWAT officers are dicks for not making sure they all got out of the building.  There’s only a handful of them, how did they not realize one was missing?! Do they not use the buddy system?

This scene also highlights the worst part of the movie and that’s the daughter of Mike.  Her whole gimmick in this movie is to stand around looking dumbfounded and to not try to get away from lava. I’m not saying I was the smartest kid, but I had enough sense to move away from the big fiery lake of death.

Yeah, this is just another cheesy natural disaster movie, but I still enjoy it because it hits close to home as a So Cal native and it has some good moments of people uniting together against a threat.  It’s not the best movie, but it has enough moments to help me appreciate it.


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      1. P. Boyd October 28, 2018 at 4:02 am

        It’s an engrossing movie! was part of the film crew and had a great experience

        • Jason McDonald October 28, 2018 at 5:19 pm

          Really? That’s awesome, any fun stories?