Dante's Peak
Rating -

Disaster (US); 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

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Written by DAVID KEYES

Camera 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.

"Dante's 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 to you.

Hearing 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.

It's 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.

With 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 places.

Regardless 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:

  • Great 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?

  • Outstanding 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?

  • Appropriate 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 corner.

    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.

  • Accurate 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.

  • Repository 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.

  • Formula: 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.

The 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.

Heck, 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.
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