Instead we get many scenes of outright stupidity that would challenge even the densest of viewers. In one scene, Tommy Lee Jones and an assistant are standing near a volcanic vent, and their protective suits start to melt (of course skin is stronger than a protective suit, so they escape unharmed). But in numerous later scenes, people walk by lava like you might walk past a lake. Maybe this is because no one seems to know it's lava. I lost count of how many times a character said something like "What is that stuff?" or "There's something really hot and glowing coming down the street, and things are melting into it. Wonder what it could be?"
In what has to be one of the worst scenes ever filmed, two characters load an injured man onto the outstretched ladder of a hook & ladder truck. Then they hang onto a dangling fire hose as the ladder is lifted above the lava. The heat is so intense that the fire hose SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUSTS, but our characters are unhurt (their boots smoke a little). I didn't know that fire hoses were so flammable...
But "Volcano"is not just a dumb disaster flick with bad science. No! It's also a Socially-Important Commentary on our Society Movie! Throughout the film there are numerous "social messages". These are so corny and contrived that they could only have been written by people who have never actually experienced them. A racist cop tries to arrest a guy for assault (in the middle of a disaster scene!), but then the two team up to help save the day. Aww. Later, a little kid notes that "everybody looks the same" when covered by ash and soot. Aww. America's racial troubles could be ended, if only a giant volcano threatened us all.
More? Oh sure, there's more! Tommy Lee Jones is the too-hard-working dad who comes to value his daughter. Said daughter is a selfish brat who learns some responsibility, and respect for her dad. There's a guy whose only role in the movie is to say obviously insulting things. This makes him the "bad guy". One can see the writers of this movie hammering his role out: "We need someone who's rich and yuppie-like and snooty. Someone like us, only not as enlightened. Someone who wouldn't make a Socially-Important Commentary on our Society Movie like we are!" Of course, bad things happen to him and all is right with the world.
In the end, the mysterious, glowing, sometimes-hot substance we come to know as "lava" is channeled into the sea, and all of LA lives happily ever after in a just and fair world. A world, of course, with a big smoking volcano plopped down into the middle of it. Certainly that won't affect the real estate values?
The lessons of this movie are quite clear. 1) lava is harmless if you don't touch it; 2) small children will inevitably wander into incredible harm (but emerge OK), and 3) only through the trauma of sudden volcanic activity will we come to appreciate the true Brotherhood of Man.
Whoever thought up this movie should be thrown into a volcano...