Directed by: Paul Shapiro
Starring: Michael Vartan, Lauren Lee Smith, Terry O’Quinn, Ian Tracey, Brendan Fletcher, Agam Darshi
Many of the more recent disaster movies feature environmentalists as heroes, but rarely have they been as annoying as in Ring of Fire. First, there’s Emily Booth, divorced mother and passionate activist with a self-righteousness that is off the scale. In a smaller part we find Peter, oily strategist in the local activist organization who doesn’t hesitate to use tragedy for political purposes. And third, there’s the street protester who is a former school bully who still, as an adult, isn’t above bullying one of his former victims (now a security guard for a big oil company) to provoke a fist fight that can be filmed and put online to score a cheap publicity victory. I had a hard time sympathizing with any of them – and I’m a goddamn pinko liberal kind of guy myself!
Apart from the above, the made-for-TV miniseries/movie Ring of Fire is a pretty run-of-the-mill disaster film that boasts slightly better production values than many other TV disasters. There’s even a couple of recognizable actors, led by Lost’s Terry O’Quinn, thrown in there. So it’s a well-produced show, but in the story department it is too formulaic and too drawn-out to hold your attention all the way.
The above-mentioned Emily (Smith) is not only a shining light in the local environmental movement, she is also a divorced mother with a troubled relationship to her son and ex-husband. And in the keep-it-in-the-family tradition of the modern disaster genre, she is also the daughter of oil tycoon Oliver Booth (O’Quinn) with whom she has an even more troubled relationship. As dad’s company convinces local authorities to let them drill for oil in a natural reserve, thanks to new and supposedly clean-and-safe technology, Emily badgers unfortunate scientist Dr. Matthew Cooper (Vartan) until he helps her secure evidence that the oil company plays dirty, drilling deeper than allowed. Drilling too deep might mean they hit deposits of compressed lava, which if released might lead to a volcanic chain reaction of global proportions.
And guess what happens? Yep. As the drill hits the lava the shit hits the fan and a huge volcanic eruption destroys the entire drilling station and lays waste to a small town in the vicinity. As this happens, Emily’s son, Dylan, is on a school excursion and gets trapped in the school bus along with his friends and teacher. Also, a group of drillers, including a whistleblower who tipped off Emily that the oil-company was hiding the truth, get trapped in the control room, and have to find a way out. Meanwhile, Dr. Matthew Copper ignores the dangerous aneurysm he has been diagnosed with and comes up with a crazy idea to stop the looming ”extinction level event”. Yeah, the climax involves explosives. What did you think?
The first half of Ring of Fire is mildly entertaining with several warning signs, including animal deaths, earthquakes and gas explosions, before the main attraction of the volcano exploding. The story is also moving forwards at a decent pace – until the disaster is a fact. Then it all kind of stops, and way too much of the second half is dedicated to soul-searching and hand-wringing and formulaic character moments, and people generally being upset but not accomplishing very much. I’m sure it’s all very emotional, but I’m a guy so I don’t have any feelings. Get to the explosions already!
As I said, Ring of Fire is production-wise above average, and is primarily let down by the stereotypical script (with dialogue that tends towards the preachy as soon as Emily comes onscreen), clichéd direction and bloated running time (a full three hours in the DVD version). The CGI is so-so, some shots look quite good while others don’t really hold up. On the positive side, I like Michael Vartan as the solemn scientist.