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‘Ring of Fire’ dated but still interesting

Courtesy photo
The Clay Center opens the volcano documentary “Ring of Fire” in its ElectricSky Theater on Sunday. The film runs until November.

With the presentation of “Ring of Fire” in the ElectricSky Theater, the Clay Center seems to have officially entered the flashback film business.

“Ring of Fire,” which opens Sunday at the arts and science center, might be considered vintage. It was originally released in 1991 and doesn’t appear to have been updated in the 23 years since then.

That isn’t to say that the volcano documentary is unwatchable or isn’t interesting. It is, but “Ring of Fire” is undeniably dated. The visuals aren’t as clean and crisp as a more modern digital documentary, and the equipment and people that appear in “Ring of Fire” are of a different generation.

Narrated by television actor Robert Foxworth, who might sound familiar to younger ears as the voice of Ratchet in the recent Transformers movie series, “Ring of Fire” is all about volcanoes — with a little thrown in about earthquakes.

The film explores different kinds of volcanoes and the seismic activity linked to them around the Pacific Rim, with visits to Japan, Indonesia and the West Coast of the U.S., including San Francisco, which experienced a massive earthquake in 1989, and Mount St. Helens, a volcano in Washington state that exploded in 1980.

There’s a lot of good stuff: descriptions of tectonic plates, the secret subterranean life of lava and how volcanoes help create islands.

While the film might not be as stunning visually as some of the other documentaries the Clay Center has brought in, huge lakes of molten lava and panoramas of exploding mountain tops are still kind of impressive.

Aside from the scenery, “Ring of Fire” also looks at the people who live in the shadow of these ticking timebombs and how they amble along like anyone else might, though with a cautious eye turned toward the nearby smoking mountain.

The human aspect is probably the most engaging part of the film, showing how people have lived with uncertainty, built enduring societies almost in defiance of geothermal wrath and repeatedly bounced back from catastrophe.

It is an affirming message, even though the film is probably not the latest edition on the subject.

Some of the information presented has changed.

Certainly, the landscape surrounding Mount St. Helens is probably very different in 2014 than what it looked like 23 years ago.

Plants and animal species were returning when this was filmed. By now, more have.

However, some things haven’t changed. The brutal sulfur mining at Kawah Ijen in Japan is still going on much as it’s always been. The people of Sakurajima still live with regular showers of volcanic ash, and Southern California still worries about earthquakes.

So, even if “Ring of Fire” is a little long in the tooth, a lot of what it has to say is still current and worth giving a listen.

Contact Bill Lynch at or 304-348-5195.

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