When it comes to disaster movies, often, bigger is better. In Roger Donaldson's 1997 Dante's Peak, people tried to flee an area where a volcano erupts more quickly than expected, in Mick Jackson's Volcano (also released in 1997) a Volcanic eruption appears under the city of Los Angeles. More recently, The Discovery Channel explored the effects of an eventual eruption of a supervolcano under Yellowstone National park. In Magma: Volcanic Disaster, a made for TV movie aired on the Sci-Fi Channel, they go even bigger with the theory that a series of volcanic eruptions throughout the world could end human life as we know it. The problem with Magma is that it doesn't have the budget of the previous ones, therefore even if it is going bigger than its predecessors, it isn't necessarily better.
Let's face it, what makes a disaster movie believable is the way special effects are employed to make us feel as if we are part of this traumatic event. We identify with the characters trying to flee the catastrophe and therefore, we get a frightening experience. Unfortunately here, probably due to a lack of budget, the CGI graphics used in the Sci-Fi Channel's Magma: Volcanic Disaster to make the special effects are about the same quality as those of 1987 computer games (this coming from a feature filmed in 2005). They are so poorly done that they actually made me laugh a few times. Not something I expected for a movie of this genre. Some of the sets were quite poorly researched. In the submarine scenes, the set clearly looked as if it was made of plastic and it almost had a cartoonish look to it. I felt like I was watching a Saturday morning animated show for kids. I feel the producers should have waited for the proper funding before starting the filming process. Another sign this DVD was rushed is the fact that the only bonus features are movie trailers (including the one for this movie) and about 15 pictures from the movie.
As for the plot of the movie, it is a bit more interesting. I must say that, as I implied in my introduction, this movie borrows a lot of ideas from previous films which gave me an impression of déjà-vu more than once. Yet, it still manages to come up with something new. In this film, leading specialist in volcanology Peter Shepard (Xander Berkeley) observes a series of events that seem to confirm his mentor's Exodus theory. This theory states that the Earth's core is changing, which results in increased pressure of the magma on the Earth's crust. This pressure is released through a series of Volcanoes erupting in sequence. The US government doesn't believe his theory but still allows him to travel the world to try and prove it. He does so with his colleagues and an overly enthusiastic student (Amy Jo Johnson). The main suspense is to see if they'll be able to prove their theory, and if they'll be on time to save the planet. At least that provided some entertainment.
The two main actors are what keep Magma: Volcanic Disaster alive. They are able to show the stress of the situation despite the poor quality of the sets in which they must act. There's a certain depth to the characters, but I feel it's only there so we don't wish they die smothered in poorly rendered lava.
In the end, had I read this in a book, I would probably have enjoyed the story much more. The idea behind it isn't bad, but I feel it was rushed onto film without the budget necessary to deliver the vision behind it. I hate to say this, but the Magma: Volcanic Disaster DVD is barely worth a rental if you like that kind of movie