Ossus Library Index Non-Fiction Movie Index


Directed by George Casey (1991, Graphic Films Corp.)
Narrated by Robert Foxworth

A visit to several volcanoes around the world, and the cultures that live in the constant danger of eruption.



3+ stars

March 20th, 2003, on the OmniMAX dome

    A rather impressive look at volcanoes, with computer animation that is quite illustrative, considering its simplistic form.

Fortunately, the movie has an international flavor. It starts off in space, showing us the ring of volcanoes that border the Pacific ocean. The movie can be forgiven if it stops at three American locations for so long, though I don't know if I can forgive the narrator's statement that San Francisco is the heart of civilization.

The film was made partially in the wake of the San Francisco earthquake of 1989 (or 1990?). My parents went to a conference in that city only two weeks after the quake, and were awed at the scale of damage. Seeing it on IMAX is something that really underscores how life was impacted. Of course, the devastation by nature, which was spread out over the entire city, leaving nothing completely unaffected, is somehow not as awful as the very concentrated damage from New York in September 2001.

Mount St-Helen's was extremely exhilarating. To think that people witnessed the destruction of that mountain is terrifying. I liked the way we actually saw the side of the mountain slide away in a series of still images put together and superimposed over the IMAX film.

The Hawaiian volcanoes were by far the most impressive. I was completely overwhelmed by the flowing lava, as it moved like a river, burned up streets and houses, and dripped into the ocean. The heart of the volcano was beautiful. I could not keep my eyes from the rivers of lava, especially as it was constantly churning over itself, like mini tectonic plates. It was really difficult to remember that this was molten rock, and not some grit layer on churning water.

Except for San Francisco, the American sites played mostly on the devastation, and not on the way lives were affected. Fortunately, though we don't really get personal with those who live in the shadow of a volcano, we do get to see the impact in places like Japan and India. We witness evacuation drills on small Japanese islands, which are then covered by grey ash. It was almost absurd watching one man wipe off his car afterwards, as if he was brushing off snow! We don't get to see the Hindu worshipers who must visit the temple facing the volcano, but the Buddha statues seem to say it all, as if we are facing death proudly.

The computer graphics that show us the layers of magma and mantles, as they grind against each other and mount towards the surface are done in a wire-frame outline. This give a surprisingly detailed show of what is happening, especially since it doesn't allow fancy backgrounds or cross-sections to interfere. The scene where we travel up a magma shoot, through a bubble-like reservoir and finally into the cone of the volcano, sticks in mind because of the intensity of the movie.

The narrator stays, for the most part, behind the scenes, not bringing attention to himself. He mainly lets moving images of the volcanoes and the raging magma, not to mention the devastation it lays in its wake, tell the story for him.

Definitely not a standout IMAX movie, this one is still entertaining and informative, in the style of the infant IMAX movies of the late 1980s. It takes advantage of the IMAX camera to wow us with close-ups and quick passes over and around things that we would not normally want to get close to. The only annoying feature was the near-constant ghost of the helicopter rotors at the top of the domed screen, as they were barely visible, but left traces every once in a while. Distracting. The film, though, and the subject matter, made the movie worthwhile.

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