Dante's Peak (United States, 1997)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Where are the flying cows when you really need them?

Dante's Peak is obviously predicated on the dubious idea that bigger is better. 1996's Twister brought in hundreds of millions at the box office by showcasing relatively small (if something so destructive can be gauged as "small") natural disasters -- namely, tornadoes. The next logical step would be to go for something larger and more devastating. Apparently, hurricanes weren't deemed visually impressive enough and earthquakes have been done to death, so Hollywood has set its sights on volcanoes with not one, but two, similarly-themed disaster flicks. Let's just hope Volcano shows a glimmer more intelligence, not to mention a higher energy level, than Dante's Peak.

No one is ever going to accuse Twister of being a masterpiece of originality, but, as roller- coaster movie go, it's a great deal of fun. Part of the reason is the effective use of audio and visual effects; the other part is that director Jan de Bont knows how to get the adrenaline flowing. Twister is a rush. Dante's Peak, on the other hand, is a bore. Oh, it has its moments, but most of them are concentrated in the final forty-five minutes. The first hour, which is all typical disaster movie setup, is interminable.

In keeping with time-tested formulas, we have a male/female pairing, children and animals in danger, a voice of reason that no one listens to until its too late, and a character with a tragedy in the past. Volcanologist Harry Dalton (Pierce "Bond, James Bond" Brosnan) lost his beloved girlfriend four years ago when they were studying an erupting volcano in South America. As a result of this incident, he tends to be jumpy about any possible volcanic activity, and when there are signs that the snowcapped mountain overlooking the tiny Washington state town of Dante's Peak (population 7400) may be about to blow its top, Harry calls for an evacuation. The local mayor, Rachel Wando (Linda Hamilton), backs him up, but the others on the town council aren't so sure. Enter Harry's boss, Paul Dreyfus (Charles Hallahan), and his group of roving geologists (who look like refugees from Twister's ragged band of storm hunters). Paul, sensitive to the delicate political situation of spreading panic without proper scientific evidence, calls off the evacuation. So, of course, when disaster inevitably strikes, people are needlessly killed.

The first hour of Dante's Peak is spent getting to know the characters. Not that we need that much time, since they're all familiar types. In addition to Harry and Rachel (who predictably become romantically involved), we're introduced to two kids, an independent old lady, and a dog. If you manage to stay awake through fifty-five minutes of drivel, you'll be rewarded with some nifty special effects as the mountain throws everything it has at the town: fire, water, air, and earth. No stone (literally) is left unturned. It's pretty impressive, I admit, but there's an unwelcome sense of deja vu. As recently as the aforementioned Twister, we've already been there and done that, and it was a lot more enjoyable last time around.

Brosnan and Hamilton gamely try to generate some chemistry, and, while both are appealing in their own right, the moronic plotline and dumb dialogue defeat them at nearly every turn. It will come as no surprise for astute viewers to learn that the screenwriter for Dante's Peak, Leslie Bohem, also wrote Stallone's Daylight. Both movies feature some similarly embarrassing bad lines. Meanwhile, director Roger Donaldson (No Way Out, The Getaway) fails repeatedly to do anything interesting to enliven the proceedings.

Even discounting the first hour, Dante's Peak still isn't all that satisfying. I suppose there's a certain degree of tension as Harry and company flee rivers of molten lava and volcanic shockwaves in their attempt to get out of town before it's buried in ash, but, with everything being done according to a well-established formula, the level of excitement stays low. Once the film is over, you'll likely acknowledge that, although there's some nice eye candy, the experience as a whole leaves something to be desired.

And there aren't even any flying cows to redeem the situation.

Dante's Peak (United States, 1997)

Run Time: 1:49
U.S. Release Date: 1997-02-07
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1