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Warner Home Video presents
Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)

"You have some life left, Mr. Banks. My advice to you is: Live it well."
- Dr. Ellison (Robert Stack)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: May 06, 2002

Stars: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan
Other Stars: Dan Hedaya, Abe Vigoda, Ossie Davis, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack
Director: John Patrick Shanley

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: PG for (some language)
Run Time: 01h:30m:00s
Release Date: April 02, 2002
UPC: 085391606024
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ C+AB+ C-

DVD Review

Fairytales are fertile ground for the exploration of dreams and fantasies, so it's no wonder that filmmakers often turn to them as influence. An example is Joe Versus the Volcano, a simple little yarn featuring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan before Sleepless in Seattle made them an official "cute movie couple." Designed to be rather surreal, the film is something of a daring experiment with two very popular actors in a very traditional romance story. The catch is that it's supposed to be somewhat fantastic, and not to be taken seriously. The end result is definitely a mixed bag of good ideas, bad ideas, and slightly unenthusiastic direction.

Joe Banks (Tom Hanks) lives a rather dull life at a depressing, dead-end job for a medical supply company. He feels ill and generally oppressed by his surroundings, which is understandable. At one of his many doctor appointments, he gets the news that he is, in fact, terminally ill with a condition referred to as a "brain cloud." There are no symptoms, he should be in perfect health, but in about 5 months he'll drop dead. With this realization, Joe decides to try and live his final months with some dignity. Along the way, a mysterious business tycoon (Lloyd Bridges) offers Joe a proposition: since he's going to die anyway, why not die being treated like a king and a hero? He makes a deal wherein Joe will jump into a volcano on a small island called Waponi, thus sating the natives and allowing business interests to enter the island. With a unlimited amount of money in his pocket for a few weeks, Joe sets out to reclaim some of his self-worth and have a bit of fun in his last moments of life.

The concept is near-brilliant, offering a charming idea for a simple comedy, and Tom Hanks does fill the role quite well. I've never been much of a fan of Meg Ryan, but here, she plays three different characters, each with a distinct personality. The three women with which Joe shares time during his last weeks each seem to be of a crucially different nature and she manages to turn in three comedic performances. Ideally, this is how the movie should be and, unfortunately, few romantic comedies are ever this subtle and classy. All that aside, what makes the film enjoyable for me is this creative approach to the story. The locations and situations aren't remotely realistic, or more accurately, aren't meant to remind people of their true lives (at least, I'd hope not), but frame the fairytale concept. This is more successful in the first half, but it's still a nice touch.

All the elements for a very strong picture or here, but where Joe Versus the Volcanco ultimately slips is where it focuses its energy; basically, it never tells a complete story. Parts run too long, and other parts (unquestionably when Joe arrives on Waponi Island) are way too short. Therefore, it cheats you; you invest emotion in places where it's not needed, but you're suddenly expected to actually appreciate Hanks and Ryan as a couple, despite the fact very little has really happened between them (not including her alter-ego characters). The story could have used another 10 minutes or so to flesh things out a bit—frankly, had it stayed in New York City, it probably would have been more entertaining.

Joe is not the universally bad film as I've often heard it painted, but it also isn't much of a success as either a comedy, a romance, or an adventure film. It's a mixture of all three just enough that you might grin or chuckle, but your reaction will probably be rather muted. I personally dislike most romantic comedies because I've always felt their messages and humor tend to slam you on the head with sappiness rather than being clever, but Joe takes a smoother approach by simply admitting from the start that it's meant to be ridiculous and silly. That's a smart idea, but it isn't used well. In virtually any movie, you can feel when the cast or crew have lost faith their own project, and sadly, as time goes on, Joe feels like that; kind of like a concept that's really funny when you're talking about doing it, but when actually doing it, the joke wears thin. In the end, I still feel this is worth watching, and I'll certainly watch it again every now and then, but there will always be the disappointment of the missed opportunities here.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Widescreened at 2:35:1, the image looks amazingly good and, according to Warner Bros., is an entirely new master created just for the DVD. I find that easy to believe, especially given the amazing clarity. The film looks virtually brand new, and lacks any kind of noticeable source flaws. The transfer speeds along without any hint of artifacts or pixelization. The colorful and, at times, dark cinematography is handled extremely well, adding a lot of dimension to the film. I believe this also marks the first, readily available version of the film in widescreen, which really influences the look and design, especially given the amount of wide-angle scenes and such.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The primary Dolby 5.1 audio mix is not as theatrical as one might expect, but does deliver a satisfying amount of front speaker action. There is very little surround activity, but the track is nicely balanced so that it doesn't really matter. It's a very pleasing track that has no negative issues, and sounds very much as it should. Additional Dolby 2.0 tracks are included in English, Japanese, and French. They seem roughly the same, but the latter lacks some of the dimension and clarity of the 5.1 version, collapsing too much into the center channel.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 23 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Japanese
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Music Video
Extras Review: The central piece is a promotional featurette (which is somewhat mislabeled as a "behind-the-scenes documentary"). The program was made right around the time of the movie's release, and just has some short interviews with cast and crew and a lot of clips from the film. It's fluffy and really adds nothing to the disc. The weirdest extra is the addition of a music video by Eric Burdon performing his version of Sixteen Tons, which was used for the opening credits. There's some simple bios and the original trailer to wrap things up. The 28 chapter stops are a good division of the film and there are really no complaints other than the questionable cover artwork used, which consists of a huge picture of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, obviously trying to cash in on the whole Hanks/Ryan thing, thus creating a misleading first-glance of what the film is like.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

Joe Versus the Volcano has creative moments, and is an earnestly clever idea for a movie. Most likely, though, the poorly executed second-half of the film will bother most viewers, even though it's supposed to be fantastic and unrealistic. Still, it's lighthearted enough that the flaws don't totally sink it.


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