Beyond a choke... a disaster of a movie

Volcano (15)

Directed by: Mick Jackson. Starring: Tommy Lee Jones

In a real disaster, people are as likely as not just to stand there while the world falls apart around them, or under them, or on top of them.

It's to the credit of Mick Jackson's new disaster movie Volcano that we do see a few citizens of Los Angeles simply standing around disconnected when their neighbourhood turns out to be the birth place of a new volcano, and lava, the devil's bright treacle, begins to flow towards them. They're just extras while the film's sketchily drawn characters are being educated by crisis, as the genre has come to require.

Disaster movies seem to confront the meaningless unpredictability of nature, while resolutely denying it. Every foreshortened strand of narrative shows a sharp learning curve, as Americans reconsider their lives right up to the moment of death.

When Pompeii was destroyed by Etna, there is no evidence that the citizens had time to sift through their life choices and emotional baggage. By and large they curled up and died. Here, under a grey snow of ash, Angelenos consider what is really important, and what is not. The film's body count - a hundred - is astonishingly low, which may be partly a matter of hanging on to a 12 certificate.

It is also characteristic of the disaster film to retract the specific prospect it seems to offer, of our contemplating death on a large scale without individual self-improvement, as casual mass extinction. It's no coincidence that the most mysterious and metaphysical of disaster films, the most frustrating and satisfying, is the one where the relationship between human behaviour and natural retribution is most opaque - Hitchcock's The Birds.

Tommy Lee Jones plays Mike Roark, director of the City's Office of Emergency Management, who is supposed to be on holiday but can't keep away from the office. He's meant to be looking after his daughter Kelly (Gabby Hoffman), who is terrified of the slightest little earthquake.

As the disaster builds, Mike sends Kelly to the safest place there is, and wouldn't you know, it turns out to be the hottest spot of them all. He is constantly being forced to choose between his private and public responsibilities, constantly refusing to choose, and somehow managing to fulfil them both without loss. Meanwhile, an idealistic young doctor comes to understand that her boyfriend's priorities are altogether self- seeking. Since Los Angeles is the city of Rodney King and OJ Simpson, a racial mini-drama is also included.

There are two white policemen with different attitudes to an awkward black citizen, one confrontational and one conciliatory. Good Cop wants him to go home, Bad Cop handcuffs him. Then, when everyone pulls together to build a lava barrier, they find the true nature of community.

The theme of unity underlying diversity is spelled out near the end of the film. A boy separated from his mother is asked to identify or describe her. Everyone in view is smeared with grey ash, the toxic flakes of volcano dandruff, and he says, "Look at their faces. They all look the same." Lava can be an agent of bonding, in fact lava calls out to lava, the molten interior core we all share.

It's typical of the haphazard construction of the film that we don't even see the boy reunited with his mother. Similarly Anne Heche (playing the film's OCS - Obligatory Cute Seismologist) is brave, independent and far-seeing for most of the running time, and then abruptly takes a back seat to male heroics, agreeing to locate Kelly for Mike. From then on, it's all reaction shots for her, horror or relief, and mild romantic by-play.

The tone of the film isn't altogether serious, but the humour works best when it isn't spelled out - the building of the American Lung Foundation, for instance, wreathed in choking smoke.

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Life and Style
news

As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”

Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Service Desk Analyst- Desktop Support, Helpdesk, ITIL

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

    Service Desk Analyst - (Active Directory, Support, London)

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst - (Active Di...

    Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

    £30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

    Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, VBA)

    £30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition