Blu-ray Review – Joe versus the Volcano – Warner Archive

Joe Versus the Volcano

Director: John Patrick Shanley 

Screenplay: John Patrick Shanley

Minutes: 102

Year: 1990

Score: 4.53

Release: Warner Archive

What would you do if you knew you were going to die? Would you give your life to someone else in exchange for a comfortable out? Would you fall in love with Meg Ryan, or an analog for Meg Ryan? If you are unfamiliar with it, this is the theme of Joe versus the Volcano.


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.

The film asks a heavy question. What would you do. On the morning of the day which I started writing someone asked what movie would you watch if you were going to die the next day. While I would not expect my answer to be Joe versus the Volcano I don’t also think I would be clever enough to watch something as timely as the Michael Powell film A Matter of Live and Death; which would be an ideal coda.

These questions are rather pointless to ask, when you think about it. Why burn calories planning the last moments when you should be existing in these moments. But that is for another time. John Patrick Shanley crafted an interesting story by putting this question out there, especially when you consider the end, which I should not because you may want to watch the movie.

There are some issues. Big issues. I cannot be sure but it seems that they wanted to stretch their Meg Ryan dollars a little thinly by having her be the three love interests of Tom Hanks rather than hire some different actors, but budgets are budgets I guess. While that is a flippant issue a major one is how they treated the denizens of the volcanic island. I know and accept that it was not a real island, but their appropriations of native customs for a gas feels tasteless. I would be interested to see if this was a common response 27 years ago when the film originally saw release but that would be worth as much energy as answering my earlier questions.

Is the film cute? Sure, but there is not enough for me to try and sell you on this picture. That said it would be unjust to ignore the importance of the film on the future of the 1990’s. Shanley paired Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan which would bring us love and tingly feelings on Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. For that I can appreciate this film. I am just not sure that alone is a strong enough reason.

Director: 5 – Cinematography: 6 –  Edit: 6 – Parity: 1 – Main performance: 6 – Else performance: 3 – Score: 6 – Sound: 4 – Story: 5 – Script: 4 – Effects: 3 – Design: 4 – Costumes: 6 – Keeps interest: 9 – Lasting: 0