Oct 20, 2014
When Time Ran Out... (1980) (part 8 of 8)
They all walk a little ways, it’s hard to know how long, and Brian announces, “We’re here.” There’s a cave they plan to hide in to keep safe. That is, assuming they’re not killed by a possible rock slide, choking ash, or an oxygen-sucking eruption.
The volcano lets loose with another violent eruption. At the hotel—remember that place?—everyone is still watching from the veranda. Bob and Iolani are still watching from his veranda. Nikki sits at her vanity giving herself a meaningful stare in the mirror. Does that count? Ah, who cares at this point.
A second identical explosion to the one we just saw happens, only this time a giant fireball spews out on a direct collision course with the hotel. The guests scream and try to run. Iolani screams into Bob’s shoulder. Nikki watches out the window, via her mirror. It shatters as the hotel is hit and explodes in a horribly cheap, superimposed explosion.
From their vantage point on the other side of the crater, Hank and Kay can somehow see this and react to it. [?] Hank goes back into the cave and tells the others, “Everything’s gone. Guess we’re the only ones left.” Brian slowly processes the information and asks if they go on now. Hank says no, they’d better wait and rest until it’s all over. So, everyone finds a spot to sit down. And I can’t help but notice that for being on a now-deserted tropical island, in a cave, in the middle of the night, this place is really well lit.
The article continues after these advertisements...
Findly helps Conti sit down and Conti thanks him for saving his life. Findly says he owed him anyway, and he can thank him in New York. Conti reminds him he’ll be indicted as soon as they land. Findly says he’ll chance it. “When you can see again, come looking for me. All I want is a twenty-minute head start.”
“That’s fair, Francis,” Conti agrees. What? Fair? The man blinded you and you’re giving him a head start?
Hank and Kay are all lover-y like in front of everyone. Get a room, you two! Rene and Shelby watch. Rene says it reminds him of Rose and himself when they were young, long ago. Shelby says he understands, but I think he’s only saying that because Rene is weirding him out.
The next morning, Hank awakes to sunny skies, birds chirping and a woman’s head at his crotch. No, it’s not what you think. He wakes the others. They exit the cave and Brian tells them they’re on the other side of the island. He says something about the lava not reaching this far, or coming this way. I don’t know. It was a little vague.
Hank walks off to explore and Kay starts to follow. But Shelby grabs her by the arm, saying, “Kay, you know I wish you only the best.” Which, I guess, wraps up that love triangle plot that hasn’t been mentioned in two hours. They hug, she thanks him, and then she stands by Hank. Everyone takes one last stare at the volcano. Hank squeezes Kay’s arm and says, “We’re going to be okay.” And then they all start down the mountainside. The End. Seriously. That’s it. How’s that for a weak ending?
This movie could have been so much better. Or at least a warning to the people who made Volcano and Dante’s Peak. It’s a genuinely good story idea: A group of disparate people with few escape options confronted by the wrath of nature. And yet they botched it. I blame three departments: casting, SFX, and storyline.
Generally, the cast was good. But I had a big problem with William Holden as Shelby. In essence, it’s the same character he played in The Towering Inferno. When he complained to Bob about contingency plans, I really expected him to say something about the faulty wiring and sprinklers that didn’t work. But I guess casting him eliminated the need for a backstory.
My other casting problem is the bad case of Fu Whitemanchu Syndrome in having Edward Albert play Brian, the half-native. He’s wearing enough bronzer to be Hercules, making his affected native boy act all the more insulting. Okay, and Jacqueline Bisset played her character poorly from time to time, making Kay come off as just plain strange.
The special effects were pretty bad. The volcano capsule thing defied all logic in how it was set up and maneuvered. The explosions to simulate volcanic eruptions never looked like molten rock exploding. And the matte paintings, though expected, were pretty bad.
All that I’d willingly overlook if the story made sense or had a satisfying conclusion, but this one didn’t, for several reasons:
1) Characters did things without motivation simply to advance the plot (i.e. Tiny being at the crater, Findly standing with Conti on the veranda.)
2) Hank keeps saying the lava is going to go over the ridge and Bob says it won’t. And technically, Bob was right. It never did. A huge fireball hit the hotel, but it wasn’t a flow of lava. So why set that up as your motivation for leaving? After Conti was hit, Hank could have said, “A bigger rock could hit the hotel and engulf it in flames, we better go,” and that would have been enough to justify the conclusion.
3) One of the biggest problems is the sense you get all along that the movie wants you to believe that Hank is the hero. Because he’s really not! Hank tries to convince his guys to leave the oil rig; They refuse, he backs down. Hank tries to get the people at the hotel to head for safer ground; They refuse, he backs down. He leaves it to Brian to get them to safety. Everybody that goes with him either saves themselves or dies by their own mistakes. He even has to rely on the old man to save him in the end. So Burgess Meredith is the hero by default!
4) The danger never felt all that dangerous. The tidal wave didn’t kill anyone important to the plot, and was more like an afterthought put in for effect. And it actually weakened the continuity of the plot even more, because it wasn’t noticed at the hotel. The ledge never seemed too dangerous, because even the blind guy had no problems with it, and they cut away from the scene before everyone finished crossing, like the movie itself was bored by the idea. And the bridge was weak. Every single group that crossed had a problem at the same halfway point! Halfway across, plank gives out. Halfway across, explosion. Halfway across, bridge weakens. Halfway across, explosion. Come on! Why they absolutely needed to cross the bridge was left unexplained, too.
And finally, 5) that ending. They hide out in a cave and wait for the movie to end. That’s just ridiculous! Have them do something! Do they get saved? Do they have to go back to the other side to meet the boats? Do they start a new colony of tightrope walkers? What? And the final line is even worse than Steve McQueen’s “You know where to find me” from The Towering Inferno. I was not prepared for the weakness of that ending and was very disappointed.
Yet, so help me, because it is a disaster movie and fatally flawed, I can’t help but be attracted to it. One nearly last note, the stunning polyester, brushed denim, and 70’s footwear actually earned this an Academy Award nomination for costume design! It was up against Somewhere in Time, The Elephant Man, My Brilliant Career and lost to Tess. Rightfully so.
And finally, in case you were wondering, there were at least 255 meaningful stares in this movie! Yes, I watched the movie once just to look for stares. Some people would call that lame, but I call it dedication!