B.G. Hilton – Author

In Search Of… S05E07 Dangerous Volcanoes

Safe volcanoes need not apply.

Disaster porn again, this time about erupting volcanoes. The main focus is the 1980 eruption of Mt Saint Helens in the USA’s Pacific Northwest. The footage of the devastation is very impassive, as is Nimoy’s stentorian narration of the various types of destruction meted out by the volcano. Other bits are a little silly – a lone swing moving back and forth in a devastated backyard. A shot of a mountain with narration suggesting it is like a horror movie monster, biding its time before striking. But for the most part it is pretty effective.

There are interviews with locals – a woman with the BIGGEST sunglasses ever, a local sheriff in a tin star and check jacket. From what I gather, local authorities were aware of the danger before the eruption, but were not entirely successful in keeping people out of the area. There’s some more ominous music as the sheriff opines that he feels the mountain will erupt again.

And then science! At the University of Oregon people look at rocks and things with dials on them. We speak with a vulcanologist. (Hm… Vulcanologist? Vulcan? There’s a joke here, somewhere.) Anyhoo, his name is Alex McBurney, and explains volcanoes in a way that would do the Vulcan Science Acadamy proud. (Nope. That wasn’t it.)

Now we’re in full educational film mode, as we discuss the difference between different types of volcanoes and their signature eruption patterns – all with classic late 1970s/early 1980s science show animation. This is all good, sound science, with only the ominous electronic music to remind you you’re watching In Search Of…

Science Officer McBurney talks about how difficult it is to make predictions in an eruption, chuckling a little as he does so. This segues awkwardly into Nimoy wondering if it will be possible to predict future volcanic disasters, such as the VOLCANO YOU’RE LOOKING AT RIGHT NOW! That could go off at any time.

There’s footage of a volcano erupting and Nimoy is talking about Krakatoa. I’m in the middle of thinking that Krakatoa erupted before the invention of motion pictures, when Nimoy’s narration takes an odd turn, declaring Krakatoa much larger than the footage we are watching. So… honest, I guess, but still odd. Now talking about Mt Etna in 1669, now talking about the eruption of Mt Pelée in Martinique in 1902, Vesuvius… Just random volcano facts, now, over footage that clearly doesn’t correspond to the narration. “How many more lives will be lost to these rivers of lava as they are released from deep within the bowels of the Earth?” Nimoy wonders aloud. This is mostly just volcano themed filler, here. The bit where Nimoy claims the eruption of Vesuvius ‘mummified’ people in Pompeii is… no, those are plaster casts, my dude. Photography is nice, though.

The narration here is doing a lot of work trying to make volcanoes terrifying. And look, there are places people live where they would be in danger of an eruption. Maybe you live in one of these places yourself. Personally, I live in the least volcanically active continent on Earth, so I’m honestly not that worried.

Cascade Range: “which will next erupt?” Now going through and naming volcanoes one by one and wondering if it will be the next to kill. It’s almost like watching a detective movie, with Nimoy as Hercule Poirot counting off the suspects.

Now looking at the towns around the volcanic Mt Shasta. Spooky music, while Nimoy considers what would happen if/when it erupted. Oh, now we’re watching a simulated evacuation of one of the towns, apparently arranged specially for the show. How nice of them. Tense music, cop cars with sirens, lines of evacuating cars, a man in police uniform running, a guy looking at smoke on the mountain before leaping into his van. It’s like a TV movie of this era, only without some annoying romantic subplot where a big-city feminist learns to love some completely unlikable country boy. Oh, now kids being dragged off their bicycles and pulled to safety by a National Guardsman. Why not leave them on their bikes? Surely they’d go faster. Less dramatic, but. Shots of the town, empty what looks like stock footage of an eruption. It’s hilarious.

Sudden tonal switch! We’re looking at seismographs and magnetometers. Can we even predict eruptions with all our science? Or should we ask someone sensitive to ‘harmonic tremors’?

Remember, there’s no such thing as a bad question.

Yes, in the very last moments of the episode, we go from a fairly reasonable (if unnecessarily fearmongering) discussion of volcanoes, to something more essentially In Search Of. A blonde woman had a migraine headache before the St Helens eruption which has gotten better and worse depending on the activities of the Cascade Mountains.

She has a headache while being interviewed, which apparently corresponded to a tremor detected elsewhere, so point for her, I guess? But now we’re done with her, and talking about Native Americans. A Native leader from the St Helens region claims the eruption is the spirits of the Native dead taking revenge on the White Man. Fair enough, I guess. We kind of have it coming.

In conclusion: volcanoes are dangerous, but volcano/Native burial grounds combos are worse. One of the more obvious take-aways from an In Search Of… episode, but hey, it’s better than the take-aways of some other episodes.


“No, it hasn’t happened yet. Mt Shasta still stands. The eruption you just saw was created by the In Search Of… team, through the use of a model.”

Summing Up

Cool footage: 8/10, Narration: 7/10, Spooky music: 8/10, Volcano psychic: 3/10, Fun: 4/10. Overall: 30/50. Pass.

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B.G. Hilton - Author