Mike Nelson of Mystery Science Theater 3000 Reviews:


The coast is toast

Now here's Mike Nelson:

I hate to start this thing by nitpicking, believe me, but the movie really should have been called Lava, not Volcano. The film, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche, really was long on lava and, as far as I could tell, had only one small—quite small, really—volcano. And, despite all the hype, the coast was not, at any time during the film, toast. The coastal city of Los Angeles, California, was indeed in no small danger of being incinerated by flowing magma, but the situation was competently handled by disaster workers, and only the most pessimistic naysayer would describe the situation by saying, rather unhelpfully, “The coast is toast.”

You may accuse me of being rather picayune, but when a film endlessly hypes—on television, radio, the sides of buses, billboards, drink mugs, cheese-erito wrappers, Fruit Roll-Up packages, the underside of dirigibles, and family-size toilet tissue packs—that ‘The Coast Is Toast!,” I expect to see the entire coast—say, from Long Beach to Oakland—and every one of its millions of inhabitants incinerated into unrecognizable char. Do not misunderstand me. I don’t actually have a desire to see that; I just want my expectations managed with more integrity.

In the first act of Volcano: The Film That Shamefully Misrepresents Its Content, we learn that Stan Olber, head of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, and Mike Roark (Tommy Lee Jones), head of the Office of Emergency Management, have trouble cooperating when their respective jurisdictions overlap. If that plotline doesn’t get your blood boiling, then perhaps the story of the seismologist who is reluctant to be interviewed on camera will. I understand they cut the scene in which the City Registrar collated taxpayer information because it was too graphic.

Things pick up when seven transit workers are burned to death right near the La Brea Tar Pits. Actually anyone who’s been talked into driving more than a mile to see the La Brea Tar Pits has indeed been burned, badly. There’s not much to see, and parking is hardly convenient. Anyway, seismologist Dr. Amy Barnes (Anne Heche) is brought in to investigate the incident, and she soon warns the shar-pei-faced Tommy Lee that the titular volcano may be forming under their feet. Then the movie pretty much follows the plot of Earthquake (in Sensurround), and you half-expect to see George Kennedy yelling at Lloyd Nolan, or Richard Roundtree hanging with Marjoe Gortner.

There’s some good special effects as the lava flows down Wilshire Boulevard, burning up all the Koo Koo Roo’s, Carl’s Jr., In and Out Burgers, Jack in the Box, El Polio Loco, and all those other chain restaurants with the incredibly stupid names that L.A. seems to love so much.

And just what does Carl’s Jr. mean? Carl’s Junior.. . what? Carl’s burger is junior? Or is it referring to persons younger than Carl? If Carl’s restaurant is junior, then there’d need to be a larger restaurant named “Carl’s Sr.” to put it in the proper context, and there is no “Carl’s Sr.” Again, nitpicking, perhaps, but you just can’t go around naming things nonsensically and expecting everyone to buy into it. If I named my store “Clean White Cotton Underpants,” and then you came in and discovered I sold nothing but custom kitchen cabinets, you’d be upset, and you’d have every right to be! Or if I called my restaurant “Phil’s Double,” and then just left it at that, with no explanation, I’d be hurting a lot of people. That’s how I feel about “Carl’s Jr.” I’m hurt and angry.

As for Volcano, I was neither hurt nor angered by it. I liked it. Perhaps I was drunk on nitrates from all the luncheon meat I had had that day, or perhaps the botanicals in my wife’s hair products that I accidentally used made me susceptible to corny scripts, but I found it pretty entertaining. It was kind of like an old war movie—really corn ball, but with a heart. It’s not my favorite movie ever (that would be Heartbeeps), but it’s a decent stupid disaster movie delivery system.

My fear is that its success will lead to more films with clever tag lines, like, say, for a film about a rocket aimed at a town in New York called Buffalo Shot, the tag line would be, “Watch Upstate Go Down.” Hmmm, that’s not very good. Okay, the movie depicts a horrible avalanche in Denver. It’s called Snowball’s Chance, and the line reads, “Colorado, Rocky Mountain DIE.” Ew. That’s terrible. Try a film about a paramilitary group taking over a Missouri landmark called Arch Nemeses. The poster would read, “St. Louie Is Kablooie.”

Oh, I like that. I’ve got to call Casey at Universal and get this baby on the fast track.

As for Irwin Allen disaster flicks, find out what happened when time ran out for the deadly swarm of bees

"Volcano" availabilty on video and on DVD from Amazon.com

Not to be confused with "Dante's Peak" (1997) starring Pierce Brosnan as a thoughtful scientist trying to warn a town of an impending volcano eruption, or Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks" in which Pierce Brosnan plays a thoughtful psychologist...MonsterVision review & host segments for Mars Attacks

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Books by Michael Nelson available from Amazon.com include Movie Megacheese. Mike's episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 are available from Amazon.com on both video and on DVD, and he co-wrote the MST3000 book

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© 2000 Michael J. Nelson. All rights reserved, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles & reviews. Mike Nelson is no relation to Lloyd Bridges and has never run low on air while hunting around under the sea.