The operator of a tropical hotel conceals the mounting threat of the island's active volcano when his laissez-faire partner and a renegade oilman start asking questions. When the volcano finally blows its top, a small group of hotel residents make a dangerous trek to higher ground, but not all will survive as the peak spews smoke, fire, and lava across the island.
This relaxed disaster movie signals the end of the first Golden Age of Disaster movies. It is appropriate, then, that it was produced by Irwin Allen and recycles a variety of cliches that spanned the seventies. When Paul Newman and Jacqueline Bisset start sipping wine on the beach with the volcano in the distance, for example, we know to start counting the minutes until the mountain blows.
With both Paul Newman and William Holden playing roles very similar to those in "The Towering Inferno", it isn't difficult to draw parallels between the two movies. "The Towering Inferno", however, was a unique project involving a joint venture between two studios, a huge budget, an all-star cast, and a blockbuster script culled from the best elements of two popular novels. Does When Time Ran Out represent what we should expect from Irwin Allen when all of the cards AREN'T stacked in his favor?
When Time Ran Out harkens back to the drama-heavy days of the original Airport, with a web of infidelity that will make your head spin. Battle lines are quickly drawn between the defensive developer of the island (Franciscus) and a renegade oil driller (Newman) who believes the mountain is, as he puts it, `a powder keg.'
Occasional visits to the volcano's crater provide distraction while the relationships between the characters are cultivated for the disaster. The oilman stirs up trouble when he wants to see for himself that the mountain is safe before drilling in a high-pressure oilfield. However, it's just ridiculous to think that his inspection would involve stepping into a laughable protective capsule and being lowered inside the smoldering volcano. Naturally, the capsule--with a glass floor!--experiences a series of unexplained malfunctions that send him hurtling towards bubbling lava at the bottom of the crater.
It's the kind of special effect that Irwin Allen was famous for from his television days on The Time Tunnel and elsewhere. But the silver screen requires a much greater level of believability than is needed by television. When Time Ran Out contains some of the worst effects in the history of the genre--images which aren't even acceptable for the SMALL screen. What happened to the Master of Disaster?
When Time Ran Out is heavy on talk before the volcano erupts, but the runaway action we were expecting during the buildup simply never arrives. Only two action sequences occur with the Newman followers, and they both involve a large group of people taking a very long time to cross a treacherous path to safety. It's a snooze-fest all around.
The special effects are ho-hum, even though Irwin Allen attempts to diversify the experience with flaming meteors fired from the volcano and a tidal wave that inexplicably levels part of the same island whose shock wave created it! They're not enough. Most of the visuals are clearly pre-existing volcano footage placed on a chroma-key in front of the actors. And the rest of the eruption footage appears to be poorly executed post-production animation.
The lush tropical setting is a refreshing change of pace for most disaster movies, and Jacqueline Bisset and Paul Newman try their best to keep things classy. But an unnecessary cock fight in the village and a preposterous laboratory perched on the rim of the volcano immediately suggest that this movie needs a dose of reality--and adrenalin. The first Golden Age of Disaster Movies closes with this whimper as `time runs out'-- on the genre.