Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Dante’s Peak – Every 70’s Disaster Flick Cliche Crammed into Two Hours of Better Effects

Written by Leslie Bohem
Directed by Roger Donaldson

For a while in the mid-90s, it seemed that the advent of computer-generated special effects brought on a resurrection of disaster films, with special effects supervisors intent on showing the public just how terrific their work was. Twister and Volcano were two of the fruits of this trend.

The same year Volcano was released, so was Dante’s Peak. Set in the northern cascades, Dante’s Peak tells the story of a volcano that’s about to erupt.

For the mountain, and its eruption, are really the star of the show, not the actors. The storyline that precedes the eruption is ripe with clichés, and it doesn’t get any better once the mountain starts spewing.

To start off with, Pierce Brosnan is Harry Dalton, a volcanologist with a monkey on his back. You see, he lost his fiancé to a brutal eruption a few years prior, and just hasn’t been the same since. Sent off for a much-needed vacation, his boss at the U.S. Geological Survey office, Paul (Charles Hallahan) asks him to have a little look-see at this particular mountain after some unusual activity is detected.

If that isn’t enough, as Harry arrives in the town of Dante’s Peak, it’s being given an award for the Money Magazine Second Best Place to Live in America, Population Under 20,000. At that moment, I knew the town was doomed; there was no hope. Towns in movies just don’t get awards like this unless they aren’t going to exist by the end.

Linda Hamilton is Rachel Wando, the single mother/mayor of Dante’s Peak who Harry begins to fall for during the course of the movie. The suspense builds as Harry keeps stating he believes the mountain will blow, and even gets his boss to come up with a team to monitor the mountain. Rachel wants to believe him, but when a few weeks have gone by with no eruption, the USGS is ready to pack it in and leave.

Is anyone surprised to learn that’s the time the mountain decides to put on a show? Of course, Rachel’s kids decide on their own to rescue Grandma who lives up on the mountain, and Rachel and Harry return from a town meeting to find them gone just when the town has to evacuate.

Are you clichéd-out yet? I sure hope not, because there’s still plenty more to come as Rachel and Harry try to get her kids and get out of town before the mountain completely explodes.

Of the two “erupting” movies that came out in 1997, I like Dante’s Peak better, even with all of the clichés. The movie is fun and mindless without completely insulting your intelligence, and fine if you don’t expect anything more than that. Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton seem to share believable chemistry, and also seem to be having fun making this film. It’s what really makes the film watchable to me. Well, that and the special effects.

There’s not enough I can say about the special effects here which are really mind-boggling. Some of the shots are familiar to those of us who watch a lot of disaster documentaries on Discovery Channel; they use shots of the Mt. St. Helens eruption. However, there are many shots of the pyroclastic cloud and lava flows that are incredible. There’s an especially nice sequence where the lava completely destroys a house almost around the characters that are great to watch.

The Bonus Materials on the DVD are interesting. Getting Close to the Show: The Making of Dante’s Peak was quite a long piece that covered a lot of material. There were interviews with the cast & crew. These were interesting but typical. The biggest point of interest is the fact that when they tried to get in touch with the more well-known volcanologists to consult on the film, they were all dead. Most of them don’t survive too long in their field.

There’s a nice sequence showing how the special effects were done as well. I found this to be almost as interesting as the film itself.

Also in the Bonus Material is Feature Commentary with director Roger Donaldson and Production Designer Dennis Washington. I didn’t watch the whole thing as the material seems to be the same as what’s covered in the “Making of” documentary. Other Bonus Material included Production Notes, Cast and Filmmakers Biographies, and Theatrical Trailer.

If you’ve liked the disaster flick genre, this is definitely a passable film. The story is riddled with plot holes and overused clichés, that left me groaning at times, but I do enjoy the film overall. I’ve watched it a few times, and it’s basically brain candy, although more enjoyable than most.

Did I mention the dog in peril……

1 reply »