Sony // 2006 // 87 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // January 5th, 2007
When lava attacks!
What's scarier than a river of out-of-control lava hurtling in your direction? As far as I'm concerned, nothing, which makes a lava movie sound pretty dope. Too bad the CGI in this one is about as convincing as Kevin Costner's Boston accent in Thirteen Days.
Xander Berkley of 24 notoriety is Dr. Peter Shepard, a "volcanologist," which just may be the coolest job title ever created. He studies volcanoes for a living and has lately promoted a controversial theory called "Exodus," which posits that incredible pressure from the expansion of the Earth's core will lead to mass volcanic eruptions and the extinction of life on Earth.
But the jackass bureaucrats in Washington refuse to believe him and only when volcanoes start to blow their tops around the world does he get the time of day. Now, backed by his dedicated set of graduate students, including the perky Brianna Chapman (Amy Jo Johnson, former Power Ranger), Dr. Shepard will embark on a deadly mission to ventilate the ocean floor with nukes and release the pressure pushing on the Earth's crust. Sound exciting?
Let me guess. You said "not really, no." Your instincts serve you well. Magma is principally a scientific thriller, which translates into normal-speak as "lots of talking with a booming orchestral score." Magma's got that in spades, with Shepard meeting with Washington highers-up, pointing at satellite maps, going on and on about end of life on the planet, and deferring to his spunky female graduate students (by the way, Amy Jo Johnson is like 36 years old) to offer snappy retorts to the designated government asswipe. As an added bonus, you get phone conversations, too, with Shepard and his estranged wife (Reiko Aylesworth, fellow 24 alum) mending their fractured relationship solely with long distance minutes.
When the scientists stop talking, you will get some hot man-on-lava action. Trouble is, the lava effects flat-out suck. The opening scene details a group of climbers caught on an active volcano, which then belches forth its fiery liquid death, claiming the lives of the innocents. When they buy the farm, though, it's merely a fall, a scream, then a cheap CGI sleight-of-hand where the body disappears into the lava, followed by a low-tech zap effect. In fact, any time there's lava onscreen, the film stumbles. Erupting lava, flowing lava, dripping lava, creeping lava, stalking lava (yes, there is some stalking lava), even underwater lava, it all looks very, very choosy. As a result, you'll be snapped immediately out of the movie, if you were ever dwelling within it anyway.
The goofy effects work is a bummer because, though I made sport of the talkiness of the plot, the acting is decent enough to make the cataclysm sound halfway believable. I admit I almost got into the doomsday storyline, but then a batch of putrid CGI would find its way onto the screen, and the taste soured.
The finale, which finds a fleet of submarines taking to the deep sea to release the magma farts, is the main set piece of the film. Director Ian Gilmour tries to milk the emotional ka-pow for all its worth, but the interchanging between Shepard praying and his wife struggling to escape some lava in the park she works at, and some tragedy that hits the other subs, is goofed up by the dopey exterior shots.
So, yeah I guess the low-budget computer effects really deep-sixed the whole film for me. But what the heck, it's built on the premise of Fearsome Lava Action and if that ends up blowing, what's the point?
The movie looks good (1.85:1 anamorphic) and sound fine (Dolby Digital 5.1) but it's almost more a curse than a blessing to have the sub-par effects work betrayed by a crisp video transfer. A still gallery and trailers are it for extras.
I would hate to be sucked into lava, but this low-budget eco-thriller did little to get my blood racing.
Back into the crust with you!
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Photo Gallery