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Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)


Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)

5 Beers

Once upon a time there was a guy named job who had a very lousy job…

…and, with those words, the very first Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan romantic comedy was tossed out into theaters in March of 1990 and … bombed.  But the comic intelligence of Joe Versus the Volcano, in which Ryan plays THREE characters, was never EVER deserving of that commercial reception.  This is transcendent tale of modern life as we know it; a fable by way of severity in expression that recognizes just how rubbish are ways and means are in the grand scheme of things.

The opening moments of the film – in which Joe Banks shuffles his way into his soul-sucking job along with the rest of the flower-stomping sheep – is sheer genius and, as it is followed with the mundane gruel of office chatter, resonates deeply with anyone trapped in a career they never wanted.  The film is a misunderstood master slice of black comedy.  Truthfully, what Joe Versus the Volcamo says about this life is both profound and quirky; its sweetness as it unloads a whole bunch of truths about the life we choose to make so monotonous and dreary is worthy of constant praise.

This is a glorious movie and I am thrilled for it to finally land on blu-ray.

Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley (writer of Moonstruck and The January Man and writer/director of 2008’s Doubt), Joe Versus the Volcano is an existential black comedy that is both unconventional and hilarious in its approach to one man’s choices after he learns that he has an incurable disease – a “brain cloud” as his doctor puts it – and agrees to travel to a little island with a big volcano and jump right in.  If I am being honest, though, this is a film that begs us to ESCAPE our own self-inflictions.

Warner Bros Archive Collection has finally issued the film on blu-ray.  It is appreciated, but I do wish they’d spend the money and release the film properly with a better transfer.  The film needs a color restoration as some of the scenes and their lighting is lost here.  It’s also far too fuzzy.  The visual punch of the upgrade (while limited) is nice, but there are a lot of details LOST that other distributors would spend the time and care with.  The film – while most of its auteurs are still among the living – also needs a decent batch of supplemental material.  None of that is here.  Poor Joe Banks.

From tedious office life beneath harsh florescent lighting to picking out clothes and deciding on luggage for a planned one-way trip, Joe Versus the Volcano – featuring memorable performances from Ossie Davis, Lloyd Bridges, Dan “I am not arguing that with you” Hedya, Abe Vigoda, and Robert Stack – comes into focus as a demented comedy in constant, eccentric ways.  Probably why the film gets mixed responses. 

Truthfully, this comedy IS a rebellious film that has received more than its fair share of criticism from critics AND audiences.  And then there are those, like the late Roger Ebert, who sing (or, in Ebert’s case, sang) its praises far and wide.  Guided by the production design ingenuity of Beetlejuice’s Bo Welch, the film is constantly engaged in challenging its audience and pushing the boundaries of commonplace story structures.

Live like a King and die like a man!  Joe Versus the Volcano is finally issued on HD.  Thanks to some pretty fantastic performances from Ryan and Hanks as a hapless man who becomes a hero, the black comedy is DEFINITELY ready to be rediscovered by those that appreciate escaping the constant suicide that is this life.

Blu-ray Specifications:

Released by Warner Bros Archive Collection, the 1080p MPEG-4 AVC of Joe Versus the Volcano is presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, preserving the theatrical intent.  While the HD upgrade is welcomed, there is a lot of improvement that still needs to be done with the transfer.  Edges are not clean.  Colors are stronger than on the DVD release and black levels are boosted, too.  Unfortunately, the “life” that was once so great about the movie has all but “flatlined” with this lazy release.  The sound; however, does get a bit of an upgrade with its lossless DTS-HD MA presentation.  While not as articulate as it could be, there’s a bit more of a response in it than with the picture.



Special Features:

Complete with original poster art for the cover, the special features include a vintage look at the making of the movie, an Eric Burdon video for his cover of “Sixteen Tons”, and a theatrical trailer.  Nothing is new which is unfortunate.

Behind the Scenes Featurette (4 min)

Music Video (4 min)

Theatrical Trailer


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