Dante’s Peak (1997) — Not quite the disaster everyone thought it’d be

“Get real, Beavis. She’s just clearing her throat. She hasn’t even started to sing yet.”

Justin’s rating: The coast is toast, you say? Well, this peak ain’t weak!

Justin’s review: Dante’s Peak sits at the crossroads of not one, not two, but three ’90s movie trends — a resurgence of disaster flicks, an explosion (sorry) of CGI extravangzas, and studios that put out competing movies with the same extremely specific idea. Coming out just months before Tommy Lee Jones’ lackluster Volcano, Dante’s Peak ended up being the superior volcano disaster flick… and a tidy little cult movie as well.

Volcanologist Harry (Goldeneye’s Pierce Brosnan) is sick of people snickering that his job is dumb, so we shouldn’t be surprised that he’s the pyroclastic equivalent of a storm chaser, rushing around the globe to wherever stuff is supposed to blow up. In a bold move, this film almost immediately informs us through Harry’s organization that the town of Dante’s Peak is almost certainly due for massive destruction and impressive visual effects.

As an added bonus, he gets to flirt and meet cute with the town’s mayor, Rachel (Terminator 2’s Linda Hamilton). Because what is more romantic than a heady bouquet of flaming death and scalding destruction? They actually do have pretty good chemistry together, although I suspect that would be true for anyone you would pair with smoky-voiced Brosnan.

Dante’s Peak might as well be called Foreboding: The Movie for all of the “that little tremor is probably no big deal but the soundtrack is going to be ominous as all get out even so.” But unlike a lot of movies of this ilk, there’s not quite as much in the way of local or government obstinance. You kind of expect a whole lot of denial, but, no, once there’s convincing evidence, people generally believe the threat and take action. Maybe not soon enough to get them out of the path of immediate destruction, but it’s refreshing to see even so.

Once the eruption begins, it’s certainly not boring. Goofy at times? Oh, oh yes. That’s most of the fun. This volcano isn’t just content to erupt — it’s got to stalk and pounce on the cast like a horror movie villain. A grandmother melts into an acid river, kids drive a truck UP an exploding mountain, and a truck with a snorkel successfully swims across a river. It’s glorious.

But it’s not all clichés and schlock. Some of the images and scenes work remarkably well, starting with the first time the camera pans up to see the mountain erupting like a nuclear bomb over the landscape and continuing with panicked citizens trying to outrace the oncoming pyroclastic flow. Maybe the setup of the movie is a little unbelievable, but the actual threat of a surprise volcano is easy to comprehend as terrifying.

Fully half of this movie is the eruption sequence, which is helped by a mixture of CGI, practical effects, and even footage of Mt. St. Helens from back in the day. Actually, there are far more practical effects than anything else with CGI to accentuate scenes, as it should be. And Dante’s Peak is absolutely ruthless with how many people it kills, although most of the deaths are usually implied or shown as part of widescale destruction.

Everything about Dante’s Peak boldly states itself as “very serviceable” — and that’s not an insult. The people are likable, the threat believable, and the special effects are a whole lot better than that “other” volcano movie. I had a blast (sorry sorry) and I think you would too.

Didja notice?

  • Did this movie start DURING its climax?
  • Did she get a flaming fireball through her skull in the car? That’s hardcore.
  • This movie loves its semi-dutch angles FOR EMPHASIS
  • The hot springs… of DEATH
  • Harry has so many pairs of glasses
  • Harry’s cute little magic trick
  • “Wherever there’s a volcano with an attitude”
  • Chunky laptops
  • Nothing like quoting Rob Schneider’s “coffee time” SNL sketch to date your movie
  • This robot is a piece of trash
  • Rescue pilots like to wait for an emergency to re-negotiate rates
  • Sure, the kids are driving a truck up the mountain now
  • “This rig can take it, the engine has a snorkel.” THE ENGINE HAS A SNORKEL.
  • A car crash in the river
  • Lava pouring into a house
  • That’s a whole lot of dead fish
  • She jumps into the acid lake when the boat is like three feet from the dock? What did that prove?
  • Of course he knows how to hotwire a truck, who doesn’t?
  • At least Paul got a Wilhelm Scream
  • Happy dog-leaped-into-the-truck music moment
  • Sure, let’s just drive right down into a mine

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