Joe Versus the Volcano (Blu-ray)

June 27, 2017 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Let’s face it, when you think of Tom Hanks and his films, most of us won’t immediately think of Joe Versus the Volcano. The 90’s were a good decade for Mr. Hanks and this film represented the first in a trio of collaborations between he and Meg Ryan. This one is the most overlooked of the bunch, with 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle getting most of the attention (and box office). 1999’s You’ve Got Mail seemed a bit forced, but was a box office success nonetheless. Turning our focus back to this film, it was written and directed by John Patrick Shanley (who also wrote Moonstruck and later Doubt), it’s an offbeat film that was rather enjoyable to watch. This is the epitome of a film that was before its time, so let’s delve into the world of Joe.

Tom Hanks plays Joe, aptly enough. he’s essentially a drone who goes to work every day at a job that he hates (as does all of his co-workers). His overbearing boss, Waturi (Dan Hedaya) doesn’t make life any easier for him. Somewhat of a hypochondriac, Joe soon finds out he has health issues. The two hemispheres of his brain are acting up. They are forming a “brain cloud” and though he will feel great for a few months, he will not live another year. Joe treats this as an epiphany of sorts and quits his job feeling free and having a newfound respect for life. To make matters more interesting, Joe is then greeted by Graynamore (Lloyd Bridges) who offers a very interesting deal: Joe gets to live like a king for the last few months of his life on an island inhabited by a tribe and, of course, a volcano. To appease the tribe, Joe must sacrifice himself by throwing himself in it. Odd, but then again he figures that he’s going to die anyway, so why not make the best of it?

In somewhat of an offbeat role for Hanks, he certainly went on to better things. Don’t get me wrong, I rather enjoyed this movie and it’s nice to see Hanks when he did movies for $20 million a pop. Ryan is great as well, portraying no less than three roles in the film. This is the classic definition of a movie that is underappreciated by the masses and, hence, it did terrible at the box office. But don’t feel too bad, we know that Hanks would go onto win two Academy Awards in the next five years and that Ryan would use this as a launching pad to do another “umpteen” romantic comedies. Give Joe and his Volcano a chance, you just might like what you see. I did.

Video: How does it look?

There was a new transfer created for the 2002 DVD and now, fifteen years later, we’ve got this on Blu-ray. Warner did create a new 2K scan of the film and the result is stunning. Though some grain tends to permeate, the entire film seems to have a bit more life to it. Colors pop a bit more, detail has been improved and it’s just a clearer picture from beginning to end. The opening scenes with Joe in his job are purposely dark and muted, but once he starts his journey the colors seem to explode off the screen. Black levels are on target and flesh tones are accurate.

Audio: How does it sound?

The previous Dolby Digital 5.1 track has been replaced by a DTS HD Master Audio mix. Granted, it’s not as impressive as the video, but it does sound pretty good at times. In any case, the sound is nothing to complain about, nor is it anything to write home about. The surrounds are used, though sparingly and the dialogue doesn’t suffer from any distortion. Still, something about the whole mix left me feeling a bit uneasy. Maybe if I didn’t know it was remixed I wouldn’t have noticed (or cared), but I did and I do. Still, there’s nothing wrong with it and it more than serves it’s purpose here.

Supplements: What are the extras?

There does appear to be a new addition to this Blu-ray that wasn’t on the old DVD, but it’s nothing to get too excited about since it’s just a music video.

  • Behind the Scenes Documentary – Don’t let the word “documentary” fool you, this is a basic five minute EPK with some interviews (early 90’s style) with Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan and John Patrick Shanley.
  • Music Video – Eric Burdon’s “Sixteen Tons” is shown.
  • Theatrical Trailer

The Bottom Line

Overlooked, under-praised and underrated – Joe Versus the Volcano remains my favorite collaboration between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. It took me a while to warm up to it, but it’s really a great movie. It’s nice to see Warner give this a new transfer and bring it to Blu-ray. In a world that’s now dominated by superhero movies, endless sequels and the like. We never know how much time we’ll have in our lives, and this is a movie that teaches us to embrace what we have, and not what we don’t.

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