Time Runs Out on Disaster Movies
It is very tempting to really rip into "When Time Ran Out..." Irwin Allen's final big screen production because you could say there is a lot wrong with it. Firstly by 1980 the disaster movie genre was on the verge of destruction and whilst we have a storyline surrounding a volcano on a tropical island what we watch is the same formula which was used in the likes of "The Towering Inferno" and "The Poseidon Adventure". Talking of which we have a cast which includes Paul Newman, William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Sheila Allen and Veronica Hamel all of which had appeared in some of the 70s biggest disaster movies and makes this feel like a desperate attempt to trade on their names. But most significantly is that "When Time Ran Out..." features some truly shocking special effects which are so shamefully bad that they are laughable. The irony is that if "When Time Ran Out..." had better special effects and was made at the start of the 70s no one would say it was bad.
As tourists arrive on a tropical Island for the opening of a new volcano, island owner Bob Spangler (James Franciscus - Hell Boats) is trying to keep the news that the Island's volcano has been showing increased activity a secret. Even when it starts to erupt he tries to prevent panic with his lies but a small group lead by Hank Anderson (Paul Newman - The Sting) think otherwise and try and make it to a safer part of the island navigating a dangerous route to get there.
So as already pointed out "When Time Ran Out..." is basically your generic disaster movie formula only this time transposed to an Island where there is a volcano and a greedy business man opening a hotel. Typically the first part of the movie introduces those characters who we will end up following when it is the battle to survive whilst also highlighting what the danger is. And obviously the danger is the volcano which gives us the first shocking special effects driven scene as three men descend into the volcano in a special capsule to observe what is happening.
Having delivered the predictable set up we then get the typical element of greed as we have Island owner Bob Spangler trying to hide the volcanic activity from those who could close the hotel down. And when it becomes apparent that they are in deep danger as the volcano erupts he is the greedy one who tries to prevent any panic or people leaving. Continuing on with this formula based disaster we have the small group who decide to try and reach safe ground a path littered, well sort of, with danger and obstacles as people get plucked off one by one.
So we have this generic disaster movie which runs through the disaster movie play book and never deviates from the path set out by the more memorable disaster movies of the early 70s. And just to really make it generic is that with several actors contracted to producer Irwin Allen, so we have many notable faces from his previous disaster movies as well as a few from other 70s disaster movies. It makes "When Time Ran Out..." quite cheesy when you have Paul Newman and William Holden playing similar characters to what they did in "The Towering Inferno" and the same can be said of Ernest Borgnine and Red Buttons who starred together in "The Poseidon Adventure". And to be honest you get a sense that many of these actors did the movie just to complete their contracts with Allen because even Paul Newman seems like he is on auto-pilot through out the entire movie.
With the exception of a seriously abrupt ending there is technically nothing wrong with "When Time Ran Out..." as a story and if it had been made back at the start of the 70s it probably would have done a lot better. Actually that is a lie because it does have one major problem and that is the dire special effects especially when it comes to the volcano spewing balls of fire towards the hotel. These are some of the worst special effects I have seen and the budget must have been minuscule because they are not even up to the standard of the special effects used at the start of the 70s.
What this all boils down to is that in reality "When Time Ran Out..." ends up feel like a desperate last attempt to deliver a big screen disaster movie using the same formula as those from the early 70s. But with it being so routine and suffering from some terrible special effects it is sadly a poor movie.