DirectorJohn Patrick Shanley
Release Date(s)1990 (June 20, 2017)
Studio(s)Warner Bros. (Warner Archive Collection)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C-
Once upon a time, a man named Joe (Tom Hanks) found out that he had six months to live. Fed up with his daily existence and dead-end job, he took up an offer to help a group of natives on the island of Waponi Woo by jumping into their volcano to appease their fire god. Along the way, Joe met a variety of people, one of whom (Meg Ryan) followed him to the island where they fell in love with each other, which was unfortunate for Joe as it stood in the way of him fulfilling his appointed duty. And so goes the tale of Joe Versus the Volcano, one of the least understood mainstream films of its time.
Based upon the strength of John Patrick Shanley’s script for Moonstruck, the fledgling director was given the keys to the wheel of Joe Versus the Volcano, but sadly, it wasn’t fully appreciated at the time (outside of Roger Ebert who loved it). It was also the beginning of a career spanning three films together for Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, who have dynamite chemistry in it. There there’s the film’s color palette, which includes bright, colorful hues in the lights of the New York City skyline, and later on, in the windows of the apartment buildings during Joe’s and Dede’s date. It reminds me of Starcrash in a way. All of the stars in the cosmos in that film are soaking in color, rather than maintaining a traditionally black and white appearance. It doesn’t make logical sense, but in a fable sense, it’s completely rational. One might argue that it was ahead of its time since we’ve had many films like it since, most of which are held in higher regard.
While the film was mistakenly marketed as a simple romantic comedy upon its initial release in 1990, it’s now more accepted for what it is: a fairy-tale with a whimsical yet somewhat melancholic nature that has more in common with Wes Anderson than it does Nora Ephron (I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Anderson cites it as an influence). Joe’s journey from an uncaring nobody to a proactive somebody is an endearing allegory, but one that’s presented with an upbeat nature, a quirky glee, and an inspirational upturn.
The Warner Archive Collection presents the film on Blu-ray for the first time with a fresh 2K transfer taken from an interpositive element. The result is the best the film has ever looked on home video with mostly well-resolved grain and high levels of fine detail. It’s highly film-like with incredible depth, particularly during the ocean-bound scenes and island sequences. The color palette is fairly lush with a range of hues, from bold primaries to fertile secondaries, not to mention accurate skin tones. Black levels are deep with wonderful shadow detail, including the dull and drab interiors of the American Panascope Company. Brightness and contrast is also commendable, and there are no leftover instances of dirt or debris. It’s exceedingly clean and stable, and is presented with a high encode. The audio is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. Although the film was released to theaters in stereo, the 5.1 presentation is no slouch. Although a primarily front-heavy presentation, the rear speakers do open up the opportunity for sound effects, particularly during the rainstorm aboard the Tweedledee. Georges Delerue’s score, as well as the radio-friendly music selection, also has moments to shine in the surrounding speakers. LFE activity is minimal, but dialogue is well-produced and dynamic range is high. The extras have been carried over from the film’s DVD release, which include a brief 5-minute behind the scenes EPK featurette, a music video for “Sixteen Tons” by Eric Burdon, and the film’s theatrical trailer, presented in HD.
With a cast of wonderful supporting characters and an enchanting story, Joe Versus the Volcano is, hands down, one of my favorite films. I actually feel a little sorry for audiences and critics who saw it for the first time expecting something conventional. It’s a beautiful film, and one that I’m happy to finally own on Blu-ray. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons