Dante’s Peak (1997): 9 out of 10: Pierce Bronson investigates a seemingly active volcano next to the picturesque town of Dants’s Peak. Seriously, if you name your town Dante’s Peak, don’t come complaining when something bad happens.
The Good: Dante’s Peak often gets compared to that other Volcano movie called well Volcano. In reality, though, Dante’s Peak is grounded in reality as it riffs of the Mt St Helen’s disaster while that Tommy Lee Jones vehicle Volcano is a cartoon. If I were to compare Dante’s Peak to a similar disaster film of the mid-nineties, I would actually choose Twister.
Dante’s Peak has aged better than Twister. Though Dante’s screenwriter certainly does his best to make the race closer than it should have been. Dante’s Peak stuffs every single disaster movie trope it can in its running time (Of course there is a dog in peril that leaps into the back of the pickup at the last moment.). Yet it still works, The science is sound and well thought out and while filled with ridiculous tropes, the actors and direction sell it for all its worth. Plus it ends will a truly horrifying buried alive scene that really comes out of nowhere tonally and yet really brings the movie up o the next level.
The Bad: Charles Hallahan is done dirty here. “At least he got to see the show” is hardly any compensation. Dante’s Peak tries to set him up as the obstacle to Pierce Brosnan’s vulcanist. The film is half hearted about it. To make matters worse, it isn’t as if he is wrong. As Roger Ebert said in his review of The River “The crucial flaw in the movie’s plot is that Scott Glenn’s ideas, which are supposed to make him the bad guy, sound like simple common sense.” also “You know a movie’s got problems when you find yourself wishing the heroes would agree with the villain.”
But Charles is barely a villain. As TV Tropes opines. Dr. Paul Dreyfus, despite being a bit of a Commander Contrarian, is a reasonable boss who respects Harry. While he is the most vocal in shutting Harry’s initial calls to evacuate Dante’s Peak, he continues to monitor the mountain for a week after initially promising Harry two days, and the moment he sees irrefutable proof of an impending eruption, he immediately give the go-ahead for an evacuation and apologizes to Harry for doubting him. When the volcano does erupt, he runs out to try and stop the helicopter from taking off, and volunteers to stay while ordering the other scientists to leave.
The Ugly: Dante’s Peak tries to check all the boxes and yes, we have a “this volcano talk will scare away the big investor” subplot that so goes absolutely nowhere. You are forgiven to have completely missed it was even there.
In Conclusion: In reality, most geologists and vulcanologists are not handsome James Bond types like Mr Bronson. No, in reality, they are dynamic blondes who look like Cheryl Tiegs and brighten up any room they enter. They make one want to sell all thier possessions just to move into the apartment above their garage and become thier pool boy.
I am sorry, where was I? Oh yes, Dante’s Peak. A little too by the numbers for its own good. (It wanders into Grizzly territory with how fastidious it is in checking all the tropes). Still, Dante’s Peak is a very well made by the numbers film with a good budget, decent acting and great special effects.