Film: Volcano

It's Armageddon on Earth!

We're going to put as many people in front of it as it takes. Listen up, people! Let me tell you what's south of us: no more museums, no more department stores, just homes! People! If we turn and run now, they're going to be defenseless! You don't like my plan? That's good. Give me another plan, but don't tell me we're backing out!
Mike Roark

Volcano is a 1997 Disaster Movie directed by Mick Jackson and starring Tommy Lee Jones. He plays Mike Roark, head of the Los Angeles Emergency Management Center. One day, after an early morning earthquake, Roark discovers fire erupting below the city. A scientist, Dr. Amy Barnes (Anne Heche), points him to volcanic activity brewing underneath the La Brea Tar Pits. Later that night, an actual volcano, later named Mount Wilshire, emerges from the tar pits and erupts.

It's up to Mike and his management team, including his second-in-command Emmit Reese (Don Cheadle), to save the city from total destruction.

"The tropes are toast":

  • Artistic License Geology: The volcano exists purely because of the Anthropic Principle...
    • California is a geologically complex place with many centers of volcanic activity, but most of them aren't anywhere near the Los Angeles Basin. The closest volcanic rocks are millions of years old from long extinct volcanic activity, and the Los Angeles area has no volcanoes active or even recently extinct, with no volcanic activity anticipated in the foreseeable future of human presence.
    • And of course, the La Brea Tar Pits are in a deep sedimentary basin associated with a transform boundary, and for bonus points, they are tar pits. The LA basin is also full of oil wells. Petroleum deposits cannot form geologically in the presence of volcanic activity anywhere in the vicinity; you can't have oil, tar, and volcanoes in the same place, period.
    • This volcano erupts only two products - volcanic ash and fluid lava. Deadly gas makes only a brief appearance and never on the surface. In reality sulfur dioxide, which even minor eruptions emit in quantities measured in megatons, is a NFPA Level 3 toxin.
  • Artistic License Physics: They place concrete barriers in a cul-de-sac so when the lava reaches them it'll dam itself, but they face it in the wrong direction for the dam to work. In real life dams and bridges need to have the arc against the point with the most pressure.
  • Cat Scare: Or more... a Rat scare. A couple rats spook two of the characters. But they press on deeper into the storm drain. Then they see the charred rats as the Thermal Camera goes nuts...
  • Cassandra Truth: No-one believes the experts about the coming eruption. Though considering no-one else seems to even know what lava is, this was an uphill battle from the beginning.
  • Chekhov's Volcano: Averted, since the titular volcano is not yet formed in the beginning of the movie. But given its title...
  • Confiscated Phone: Roark confiscates a cell phone from a radio reporter when his own phone becomes unusable.
  • Conflict Ball: A black guy and racist cop are fighting while the eruption and lava flow are going on.
  • Convection Schmonvection: Played anywhere from painfully straight to completely averted, as the plot demands.
    • The whole movie runs on this trope. A lava flow like depicted wouldn't be stopped by much of anything man could put in front of it...all that really could be done is evacuate and run like hell, but that wouldn't make for half as interesting a movie.
    • In some scenes lava represents no threat to anything it isn't directly touching. Even if you're directly above it and a few feet away, inside or on top of a metal vehicle that is actually melting in the heat.
    • In another scene the main character has to get away from the heat emanating lava 10 meters below a manhole. Basically convection that works by the Rule of Cool.
    • The weirdest example was the death of Stan, jumping into a lava flow to save a life (See Heroic Sacrifice). He didn't simply burst into flame and vaporize when he hits the lava; he melts. Guy had a skeleton of titanium, and it still didn't save him. Neither did his ability to stand five feet above molten lava unscathed as a subway car melts around him.
    • There are too many instances to count where individuals are standing directly on the other side of concrete barriers redirecting and holding back lava.
  • Down L.A. Drain: In the finale, they demolished an empty high-rise so it would fall into the path of a stream of lava flowing down a street, directing it into a storm drain where it would flow into the sea.
    • Unlike most examples, Ballona Creek is used instead of the Los Angeles River.
  • Feet of Clay: Minor example with Kelly having a scene with her father about what to do during an earthquake, yet during an actual earthquake she just sits in bed and screams until her father pulls her out and puts them under a doorway. Justified. In a phone conversation with Kelly's mother, she warns Mike of Kelly's tendency to freeze up in a crisis.
  • Fight To Survive: Trying to stay alive after a freaking volcano pops up in Los Angeles.
  • Four Is Death: The subway train that gets derail and eventually destroyed by the lava is number four.
  • Genre Blindness: The usual disaster movie ignorance is of course present but no one in LA has a clue what a volcanic eruption or lava looks like. Sure, the first time people actually see lava it's understandable they do a double-take. However it soon gets to the point where the film seems to be set in an alternate reality where the very existence of volcanoes is an obscure geological fact completely unfamiliar to the general public.
    TV Anchorwoman: Well, we now have a name for this crisis. It is, according to the US Geological Survey, a "volcano"
  • Idiot Ball: Surprisingly few of the main characters grasp it for a disaster movie. Instead, it's passed between reporters, none of whom are aware of what a "volcano" or "lava" is, and who insist on running "rescued animal" human interest stories while the disaster is ongoing. They should have sacrificed a few of them to the volcano gods to appease them - would have worked as well as anything else!
  • Ignored Expert: Anne Heche's character.
  • Infant Immortality: All the small children survive. And so does a small Jack Russell named Bill. Just in case that wasn't enough to assure you no innocents were harmed there is even a brief news report on vets setting up an emergency pet shelter.
  • Jerkass: The yuppie husband who wanted his doctor wife, Jaye, to stop working with the injured downtown because they were just poor people. He finally stalked off, never to be seen again on screen once his wife insisted on doing, y'know, her job.
  • Karmic Death: Stan, the Metro manager who refused to stop the Red Line subway. At least he goes out in a Heroic Sacrifice, albeit a hugely pointless one.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The guy mentioned above as a Jerkass, who wanted his doctor wife to leave behind the injured and flee the city, owns a new office building. It gets knocked down to channel the lava.
  • No Endor Holocaust: America's second largest city has a volcanic eruption take place, yet the body count at the end of the film is a paltry 100 with a few thousand injured. Considering the destruction on screen, not just from the lava itself but numerous secondary fires and the accompanying mass panic, this result is nothing short of divine intervention. Oh and the city now lives under a blanket of poison gas and razor-sharp pulverized rock (the "ash") from the actively erupting Mount Wilshire.
  • Red Shirt Reporter: At one point, a reporter is standing only barely on the right side of the concrete barriers holding the lava back! Convection Schmonvection indeed...
  • Red Shirt: Conventional Red Shirts are everywhere in this movie. If there's a major operation or event (the eruption, a lava flow, the controlled detonation, etc), almost guaranteed someone's going to die in it.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Kelly. She claims to not need a babysitter but she freezes up constantly, forcing people to drop what they're doing (which in once instance includes trying to save someone else's life) to bail her ass out.
    • She distracts her father from rescuing two trapped firemen - when she had plenty of time to get away from the lava - and they burn to death. She also just sits and stares at a freshly ejected lava bomb, until a bit of said lava spits out from it and hits her in the leg - giving her a second degree burn. Kid has Plot Armor about 10 feet thick.
    • Another instance has her losing a kid she was put in charge of looking after. She finally locates him on an exploding street...then decides to stay there and wait to be saved.