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John Patrick Shanley
Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Abe Vigoda, Dan Hedaya
John Patrick Shanley

An Average Joe. An Adventurous Comedy.
Rated PG.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Japanese Dolby Surround 2.0
EnglishEnglish, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Japanese narrative

Runtime: 102 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 4/2/2002

• Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
• Cast and Crew
• ď16 TonsĒ Music Video
• Trailer


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Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

To most people, 1990ís Joe Versus the Volcano stands as a minor Tom Hanks vehicle. If remembered at all, itís thought of as the first - and least successful - the least successful of his three pairings with Meg Ryan. After this, theyíd meet again in 1993ís Sleepless In Seattle, and they also reconvened for Youíve Got Mail in 1998. Each of those last two flicks made more than $100 million, while Volcano fell shy of $40 million.

Surprisingly, however, Volcano seems to have built a minor cult following over the last 12 years. To be sure, its devotees donít rival larger factions of fans for films like Buckaroo Banzai, but the film seems to have maintained a pretty decent audience over the years.

Personally, I know I saw the flick theatrically, but I remember little about the experience. I seem to recall that it did little for me, but it quickly left my mind. Iíve not thought of the movie much over the past 12 years, so my recent screening on DVD meant Volcano largely offered a new experience for me.

Volcano follows Joe Banks (Hanks), a lonely schlub who works at a dismal job. Heís a serious Born Loser sort for whom nothing goes right, though it used to be different. At one point, he was a courageous firefighter, but now heís a neurotic hypochondriac living a dead-end existence.

That latter concept becomes literal after yet another visit to a doctor. After a battery of tests, Joe learns he has a ďbrain cloudĒ and only has about six months to live. This actually liberates Joe, who departs his miserable career and becomes a much peppier person.

Soon a stranger knocks on his door: tycoon Graynamore (Lloyd Bridges). He needs a particular natural product found only on the South Pacific island of Waponi Woo, but they require nothing in trade that he can provide. Unless, that is, Graynamore can locate someone willing to leap into an active volcano.

The Waponis believe that unless someone sacrifices himself every hundred years, the gods will destroy the island. The clockís a-ticking, and Graynamore approaches Joe for the job. After all, heís doomed anyway, and heíll be able to live his final weeks in style.

Joe agrees and starts on his journey. He lives it up on Graynamoreís dime and then heads to LA, from where heíll take a boat to Waponi Woo. First he meets Graynamoreís daughter Angelica (Ryan), a self-described flibbertigibbet who looks like she came straight from a Forties film noir. She gets him prepared for the trip, and he soon encounters Angelicaís half-sister Patricia (Ryan again), whoíll accompany him on the boat.

The two take a rough ride and quickly fall in love. Eventually they make it to Waponi Woo, where a variety of semi-unpredictable events occur. All of the builds toward the inevitable climax, in which we find out what Joe does versus that volcano!

I recently read a comment about Volcano that called it ďGilliam-liteĒ, and in some ways, that interpretation seems apt. To be sure, the gloomy early scenes look straight from Terry Gilliamís oeuvre, and thereís a certain anarchic wackiness to some later bits that also feels akin to his work. However, I didnít think Volcano often came across as a Gilliam knockoff. If the early tone persisted, then Iíd agree with that determination, but Volcano eventually makes its own way in the world.

On the negative side, I occasionally thought Volcano tried a little too hard to be quirky. The Waponi culture seemed self-consciously nutty, and a shipwreck scene too actively evoked memories of Gilliganís Island. This didnít feel clever; it came across as too much of an overt wink at the audience.

Still, I canít complain too much, for Volcano never pretended to be anything other than an over-the-top semi-spoof. Much of the film seemed hammy and overdone, but that was the point. It presented settings and characters in a very artificial way and actively attempted to create a retro-Hollywood phoniness. I mean, check out the glamour lighting given to Ryan as Angelica; it nearly approached the comically overstated tones seen on Morticia in the Addams Family movies.

Volcano offered a slight story and could be too clever for its own good, but I still enjoyed it. To my everlasting amazement, Ryan was one of the movieís strongest elements. I usually donít like her, but I thought she was consistently entertaining in her three roles. (At the start of the flick, she also played Dede, a secretary in Joeís office.) As with much of the movie, Ryan overemoted, but to amusing effect. Patricia was the only role she played straight, but she kept her interesting nonetheless. Still, I preferred her haughty and throaty take on Angelica; it was fun to Ryan let loose on such a bitchy character.

And by the way - since when did Ryan look hot? Sheís always been the cutesy girl next door; while I never thought she was unattractive, she never did much for me. However, as both the Graynamore sisters, she came across as very sexy. Actually, Angelica reminded me a lot of Nicole Kidman, and that ainít a bad thing!

As for Hanks, he neither helped nor harmed the movie. He lacked much presence and didnít create a very compelling character. During the early parts, that made sense, but as Joe grew, I didnít feel the change. Nonetheless, Hanksí work did nothing to mar the flick, even though he didnít add any spark to it.

An unusual romantic comedy, Joe Versus the Volcano isnít a classic, but itís reasonably interesting nonetheless. The movie occasionally seems too self-conscious and precious for its own good. However, for the most part it provides an entertaining and clever experience that merits a look.

The DVD Grades: Picture A- / Audio C+ / Bonus D

Joe Versus the Volcano appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. To my surprise, the picture looked quite terrific, with only a few small concerns along the way.

Sharpness appeared solid. The movie always came across as nicely crisp and accurate. Never did I discern any significant softness, as the film remained detailed and distinct. Jagged edges and moirť effects caused no concerns, and I also detected no signs of edge enhancement. As for print flaws, some light grain appeared at times, and I also saw a few specks of grit. However, these stayed very minor and provided no real distractions. Overall, the image was clean and clear.

Volcano provided a dazzlingly varied palette, and the DVD replicated those hues remarkably well. Colors presented very bright and vivid tones throughout the movie, and they looked absolutely stunning much of the time. The hues were a genuine treat that consistently seemed solid and vibrant. Black levels seemed deep and rich, while shadow detail was appropriately heavy without excessive opacity. Ultimately, Joe Versus the Volcano offered a terrific image that never betrayed the age of the source material.

While not bad, the Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of Joe Versus the Volcano certainly didnít approach the heights of the filmís picture. The audio betrayed a fairly heavy emphasis on the front channels. Within that spectrum, the movie showed consistently good stereo separation and delineation. Effects displayed fairly solid spread and integration across the front, but they never seemed terribly lively. Really, much of the track stayed pretty oriented toward the center.

Surround usage followed that example. The rear speakers generally offered little more than basic reinforcement of the music and effects. On a few occasions, they kicked to life; the typhoon sequence featured the surrounds in a fairly prominent manner. Nonetheless, the focus remained on the front, and the rear speakers played little role in the proceedings.

Audio quality seemed acceptable but unspectacular. Speech seemed somewhat stiff and thick at times, but for the most part dialogue came across as reasonably distinct and natural. I heard no edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects showed good clarity but lacked much range; they didnít feature a great deal of depth. Low-end seemed a bit stronger for the filmís score, which was the most positive aspect of the track. The musicís fidelity appeared fine for the most part, but I still felt the mix could have used more active bass; no, I didnít expect it to rock my subwoofer, but the dynamics seemed a little too restricted. In the end, Volcano offered a clear and serviceable track, but it seemed fairly lackluster even by 1990 standards. It did the job but offered nothing more than that.

One oddity: not only does Volcano include Japanese subtitles, but also it includes something called a ďJapanese narrativeĒ text track. I actually activated this for part of the movie, but I never saw anything on the screen. Weird!

Only a few extras show up on Joe Versus the Volcano. Cast and Crew provides a listing of some actors and filmmakers along with filmographies for Hanks and Ryan. Behind the Scenes gives us a four-minute and 20-second featurette. It includes brief interviews with Hanks, Ryan and writer/director John Patrick Shanley, some shots from the set, and film clips. A few decent nuggets emerge, but overall this is a slight and uncompelling piece.

We find a music video for Eric Burdonís rendition of ď16 TonsĒ. It offers the usual combination of movie scenes and lip-synching from Burdon. Itís a silly clip that doesnít seem very interesting. Finally, we get the theatrical trailer for Volcano.

While some more extensive supplements would have been appreciated, I suppose itís good enough just to get a DVD release for a fairly obscure film like Joe Versus the Volcano. Granted, the presence of two major stars probably played a role in that decision. Though Tom Hanks seemed somewhat bland, Meg Ryan provided some of her best work ever in three different roles.

The movie itself fell short of its goals but still worked reasonably well for the most part. I didnít love Volcano but I enjoyed most of it. The DVD provided surprisingly terrific picture quality along with adequate sound and a paucity of extras. In any case, it seemed like a fairly good disc that should get a screening for fans of quirky little comedies.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0238 Stars Number of Votes: 42
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