1997; Rated PG-13; 112 Minutes
Pierce Brosnan: Harry Dalton
Linda Hamilton: Rachel Wando
Jamie Renée Smith: Lauren Wando
Jeremy Foley: Graham Wando
Elizabeth Hoffman: Ruth
Charles Hallahan: Paul Dreyfus
Produced by Ilona
Herzberg, Staci A. Hunter, Gale Anne Hurd, Geoff Murphy, Marliese
Schneider and Joseph M. Singer; Directed by Roger
Donaldson; Screenwritten by Leslie Bohem
by DAVID KEYES
shots capture mere glimpses of a volcanic eruption. Innocent
souls without a clue of what's going on scrounge in the
streets, looking for a place of protection or relief. City
buildings are flattened as the impact of the pyroclastic
cloud scourges the sky above and the streets below. When
you sit in a movie theater, and these things unfold, one
thing is clear. You are about to witness the ultimate Armageddon.
Peak" begins with a stern interpretation of volcanic disaster
and its numerous consequences. Then it develops into an
ambitious tale of fury, catastrophe, tragedy, trepidation
and pure terror. It's like one of those old news reels that
discusses a natural disaster and its upshots just as they
unfold. Audiences sit there and glare at the screen in paralyzing
awe, as the impressive visuals pear us into the most fearsome
elements of Earth and, perhaps, memories of the past. Most
people have, undoubtedly, experienced a natural disaster
in their lifetime, and when you view a movie like "Dante's
Peak," some strange and scary notion clouds your mind. No,
you aren't watching this movie: you're having it happen
this, you're probably thinking, "what is he talking about?
After all, the 'Dante's Peak' movie that came out last year
was scathed and reviled by critics and audiences everywhere.
Could he possibly be talking about the same movie?" The
answer is: yes, and for those who've never actually seen
the movie themselves, take it as proof that you shouldn't
believe everything that you hear about the movies.
impossible to understand why so many have disowned "Dante's
Peak" as great film craftsmanship, and it's even more impossible
to to believe that most of the criticism is directed to
me, a fan of the movie, all because I give it four stars.
this evidence, it has come down to the following conclusion:
audiences have truly lost their respectable tastes in film.
They are so blinded by formulaic situations that they'd
actually consider a movie like this garbage. It's obvious
that they are looking for the great things in all the wrong
of what any living being says, "Dante's Peak" is, by no
means, a bad movie. It's one of the best of the decade,
likely. In order for me to make better sense of my actions,
allow me to pinpoint the numerous reasons:
approach: before February, 1997, can you honestly
cite a movie (other than "When Time Ran Out...") that
focused on the damage and death a volcano can cause? Can
you honestly find a movie that has approached the subject
of volcanic catastrophe in such a tormentingly realistic
way? I find it unlikely, since most of Hollywood's infamous
disaster pictures concentrate on earthquakes and tornadoes,
perhaps because audiences find them more favorable subjects.
However, the recent catastrophe of volcanic activity
throughout the planet has prompted increased awareness
of the subject. That may be a reason why film makers
got together and made "Dante's Peak," and perhaps that's
also the reason why people hate the movie. Maybe they're
not ready for this subject matter. Maybe they're not
ready to deal with the possibility of volcanoes causing
so much death and damage. Maybe they're blinded. Have
you ever thought of that?
visuals: HA! I'd like to see you take 100 million
dollars and make special effects sequences this good!
In fact, I'd like to see you make them this realistic.
Compare these scenes to old news shots of Mount St.
Helens. Is there much difference? Not really. If you
think there is, perhaps you need a cat scan?
characterizations: Has it been a common thread shared
by all disaster films that the people facing them panic
and scream their heads off? One thing "Dante's Peak" appropriately
tackles is the human element involved in the natural disaster.
Brosnan and Hamilton aren't running and screaming while
this mountain blows: they want to survive, and they attempt
to look on the bright side of things, never giving up,
even at times when death seems like it's just around the
Example: when the whole family is cruising through that
acid-filled lake, and the boat is ready to sink, do
they panic? Do they stand up and shout for mercy? Do
they slap their hands together and proclaim that they're
going to die? I think not. They don't give up, and not
giving up is a factor in surviving the whole thing.
geological background: Do I really need to pinpoint
all the times that accurate geological events and terms
are cited in this movie? In case you're one of those unfortunate
souls who really have not seen the film, let me bring
you up to speed.
Disaster films, in the past, have often neglected to
prepare information, history and complete awareness
of their subjects. Disaster pictures need to know how
these things work, what makes them tick, what makes
them react and what makes them go off. "Twister" from
1996 never completely explained how the tornadoes worked
and reacted to their surroundings, and for that, the
movie did not work as well as it should have."
It's safe to say that the people who made "Dante's Peak"
were aware of the complex history and background of
volcanoes. Characters explain it geological structure,
interpret how earthquakes and explosions are measured
and elaborated, and focus on making the subject more
aware of its possibilities, both in the past and possible
future. In other words, it provides us information and
examples of how the volcanoes on our planet work, how
they are built, and what sets them off.
story direction: You may also be aware that the common
disaster formula shrouds the disaster itself by a confusing,
fragmented story that often gets lost as the picture unfolds.
Luckily, the "Dante's Peak" story doesn't develop that
much, and considering how disaster pictures have developed
themselves, it's probably safer that we have these small
stories, so that we don't expect much from the ones that
are enormous, and aren't let down when they lose their
vibe and make the whole movie self-destruct.
To make a long story short, disaster movies don't need
big stories, and "Dante's Peak" is better without one.
Okay, so the formula for all these types of movies is
the same, but would you have it any other way?
I mean, who wants to see everyone die at the end? Who
wants to see the mountain not blow up? Who wants to
see everyone survive? The disasters are going to occur
with or without us involved, and there's no real way
to prevent them. When you see a disaster movie, the
movie makers determine who lives and dies, and how big
the disaster is. But truthfully, can it be done any
other way? Would you enjoy a film where the disaster
does not happen? I think not.
list goes on and on and on, to the point where I, myself,
can't list everything good about "Dante's Peak." I could
spend even more time criticizing those who consider the
movie "bad," or unsatisfying, but as you may have realized
already, I've done that quite enough as it is.
even us "Dante's Peak" fans feel the need to blow our tops
once in awhile.
1998, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
Please e-mail the author here
if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.