Laughs erupt when Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan fall in love – and fall in lava – in Joe Versus the Volcano, a stylish comedy written and directed by Moonstruck Academy Award® winner* John Patrick Shanley.
This first teaming of the peerless stars of Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail follows the follies of a stressed-out guy (Hanks) in a dead-end job who is told he has a terminal "brain cloud." A zany jillionaire (Lloyd Bridges) makes him an offer that gives him a fleeting taste of the good life. In exchange, he must journey to a Pacific island and leap into a volcano. Is Joe doomed to be the last of the red-hot lovers? Not if the forces of imagination, romance and the charm of Ryan in three roles as the women in Joe's life have their way.
"I'm not sick except for this terminal disease?"
Have you ever run across a film that deep down you know there's nothing else like it? Really when you sit back and consider it, most movies are just variations of a similar story. The characters and settings may change and even a plot detail or two might switch up, but for the most part, a lot of films are the same thing just done differently. Then you have a weird little oddity like John Patrick Shanley's Joe Versus the Volcano. After winning an Oscar for his screenwriting efforts for 1987's Moonstruck, Shanley delivered a bizarre romantic comedy starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan that split critics and audiences with its strange story about a man who discovers how to live in the shadow of death - and a giant volcano.
Joe Banks (Tom Hanks) lives a dull, terrible, depressing, exhausting life. Each day he gets out of bed, puts on the same ill-fitting suit, and marches to work at a dreary medical rectal probe supply company where he dwells in the deep bowels of the building. With a life that depressing, it's no wonder he thinks he's sick all the time. After his latest doctor's visit leaves him with terrible diagnosis and only six months to live, Joe decides it's time to make the most of what life he has left - only he's flat broke.
As fortune would have it, the rich industrialist Samuel Graynamore (Lloyd Bridges) needs Joe's help. Giving Joe his credit cards and an unlimited amount of spending money, Graynamore recruits Joe to go to the little-known island of Waponi Woo deep in the South Pacific whose inhabitants require a sacrifice to appease their god who lives in a volcano. Graynamore can get the rare mineral he needs from the natives and Joe gets a hero's death. Graynamore's estranged daughter Patricia (Meg Ryan) is tasked with getting Joe to the island, but when the pair become shipwrecked, Joe's journey towards a grand death becomes a celebration of life and all of its little eccentricities.
I knew I had found a winner when I met my wife and she sheepishly admitted that Joe Versus the Volcano was one of her all-time favorite movies. It was one of mine as well. I first saw this movie when I was a kid and absolutely loved it. I thought it was one of the funniest things I'd ever seen and would play the tape over and over again. My family was amused by it, but they didn't quite love it like I did - so I'm pretty sure I annoyed them with my repeated viewings of it. I've always been taken by this movie. From the dreary - yet hilarious - opening credits sequence to the first time we meet Joe's boss - to the big grand finale, I just found this movie incredibly charming. It may not be big on the heavy belly laughs, but it puts a smile on your face and keeps it there for 102 minutes. It's bizarre, quirky, and most importantly void of cynicism. It's a film that celebrates life's infinite possibilities - even if you're going to jump into a volcano.
While I love this movie endlessly - I am very proud to own it on a variety of home video formats over the years - I can see why some folks would be put off by it. It's a weird movie. Most of the humor comes from the clever imagery and small details rather than a traditional setup for a joke. From the outset, the film's bleak imagery of city life and the 9 to 5 workday is dialed up past 11 to the point of being completely ridiculous. When we finally see Joe's office life, you can't help but feel sad for the poor guy as his boss Mr. Waturi (Dan Hedaya) argues on the phone as everyone sits under a demented blanket of buzzing fluorescent lights. As the film moves along, it becomes more and more absurd. If the humor of Joe Versus the Volcano doesn't grab you inside the first few minutes, nothing in the rest of the movie is likely to turn that ship around. It's just not for everyone.
I for one am glad that it's a favorite. Joe Versus the Volcano never fails to put a smile on my face. It's a move we pull out at least once a year and give our undivided attention. I love Joe's sad walk to work, his meeting the various incarnations of Meg Ryan, going clothes shopping with Ossie Davis, his fateful voyage on the Tweedledee, I love seeing Abe Vigoda as the chief of a remote Jewish/Polynesian tribe of people who love orange soda. Where do they get the orange soda from? It doesn't matter. It's just one of many details that always makes me laugh.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Joe Versus the Volcano leaps onto Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Archive. Pressed onto a Region Free BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard sturdy Blu-ray case. The disc opens directly to a static image main menu featuring traditional navigation options.
Considering how Joe Versus the Volcano has looked on home video over the years, I really wasn't expecting much. Even with an advertised new 2K scan when this Blu-ray was announced, I still didn't get my hopes up. Thankfully, this 1080p 2.40:1 transfer sinks all previous home video releases. I was used to seeing soft shots, somewhat faded lifeless colors and plenty of speckling and staining. I'm not used to seeing this film look this clean, this detailed, and this bright and colorful! It honestly felt like watching the film for the first time as the added detail resolution helped highlight a few background sight gags I'd never noticed before - like how each of Meg Ryan's characters has different colored eyes. Little things like that. Film grain is apparent without being noisy or intrusive leading to a nicely film-like presentation.
Colors, as I previously mentioned, are brighter featuring very bold primaries while leaving flesh tones healthy and accurate looking. Colors really come to life when they reach the island. Black levels are strong throughout featuring deep and inky blacks and good color separation. Aside from some slight random banding that lasts barely a second, there are no compression anomalies or print wear and tear to report.
Joe Versus the Volcano arrives with a strong English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. In terms of a full on surround experience, this audio mix mostly keeps the activity front and center. Some background sound effects keep the sides and rears engaged, but at times they're barely detectable. The big typhoon sequence enjoys the most activity as there is a flurry of channel movement filled with dialogue, sound effects, and the Georges Delerue score. When Joe and Patricia are adrift on his luggage, the sound of lapping water hitting the steamer trunks helps even out the mix, but really, this is largely a stereo mix played up with some channel spacing. Not to say that is a bad thing. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and much of the humor comes from the intricacies of conversation. When Joe and Patricia reach the island, the islander's greeting procession and the following "spa treatment" they each receive offers up another burst of great surround activity. The mix is free of any age-related issues, hiss, or pops.
As great as the transfer and audio mix are for this Blu-ray release of Joe Versus the Volcano, sadly the bonus feature package hasn't been touched. All of the extra features found here are the exact same ones found on the previous DVD release.
Behind the Scenes (SD 4:24) This is a very brief EPK bonus feature that goes through the standard motions of cast and crew soundbites.
Music Video (SD 3:56) Eric Burdon's rendition of "Sixteen Tons"
Theatrical Trailer (HD 2:15)
For some folks like myself, Joe Versus the Volcano is an early 90s comedy classic featuring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. I know this is one that divided critics and fans, but I don't get why. It's just a goofy good time at the movies with a charming cast that is void of any cynicism. I'm proud to call it a favorite and love pulling it off my shelf every time I see it. Even when I accidentally scroll over it while channel surfing in it's butchered T.V. form, I can't help myself but to stop and watch it. So on that note, fans of the film will be glad to hear that Warner Archive has delivered yet another great transfer and audio mix. Joe Versus the Volcano hasn't looked or sounded this good on home video before now. Sadly, the same can't be said for the film's bonus feature package, but even still, I'm happy to have this Blu-ray in my collection so I can replace my tired DVD. Joe Versus the Volcano is recommended.