Why are disaster movies so frequently disasters? Probably because
they are disasters first and movies second.
That director Roger Donaldson's DANTE'S PEAK would be unsuccessful
is obvious from the first scene. Rule number one of horror movies is
that the length of time until the monster appears is directly
proportional to the quality of the film. (Natural disaster movies are
little more than glorified horror flicks.) DANTE'S PEAK starts with
people dying under the flying boulders and burning debris of a volcanic
In the opening, Pierce Brosnan makes his debut as shrill
vulcanologist Harry Dalton. In Harry's first words he screams
something incomprehensible that sounds like "Get out of here." The bad
news is that you will be able to hear the rest of the dialog in the
film. ("I've always been better at volcanoes than figuring out people
and politics," Harry tells us. "I move around a lot, wherever there's
a volcano with an attitude," he explains in another scene.)
If you liked TWISTER, you'll probably find DANTE'S PEAK equally
satisfying. In both films, the star is backed up by a rag-tag team of
nerds ready to save their hero at a moment's notice. (The team is at
its funniest when the volcano erupts. When the team runs to their
computers to see the images, the only female nerd, looking out the
window, chides them, "Why look at the computer when you can look at the
real thing.") Like TWISTER, the only reason for the film to exist are
the special effects. Although the special effects by Thomas Kittle are
spectacular, the sound effects by David MacMillan are even more
impressive. Some of the explosions had me almost jumping out of my
The story happens in the small and isolated town of Dante's Peak.
Linda Hamilton plays the town's miniskirted mayor, Rachel Wando.
Unlike her usual, harsh macho role, Hamilton gives a tender and
vulnerable performance. She is lovelier and more alluring than I have
ever seen her. With better acting than Brosnan's, there could have
been a believable love story.
The plot is pure formula. Dante's Peak has just been voted by
Money Magazine as "the second-best place to live in America for cities
under 20,000," but trouble is brewing. Harry arrives and soon warns
the town he thinks their long dormant volcano is about to blow. (Key
evidence: He finds 2 dead squirrels, and 2 nude campers who got cooked
in a natural hot springs.) The city council refuses to warn the town
lest a rich developer pull out. Harry's boss comes in and decides that
it would be better not to alert the town prematurely since property
values might plummet.
After leaving the theater, my wife and I shared our oral reviews
with each other as is our tradition. This time it became almost a
contest of who could come up with the largest number of ridiculous and
predicable scenes. Let me give you some samples.
Shortly after our would-be lovers touch, they are interrupted by
the volcano's evidence of imminent eruption. Rachel's young kids drive
a car by themselves up a winding mountain road through ash so thick
that they cannot see anything at all. When confronted with a long
river of fiery lava, Harry drives his car through it but only the tires
melt -- the gas tank does not explode. When the roads are full, Harry
drives his car through a river almost as deep as his car is tall.
Rachel's mother-in-law decides she can ride out the lava flow and does
not need to evacuate her home. Finally, I learned one rule not in my
chemistry book. If you have to keep your hand in acid, you can protect
yourself completely by wrapping a coat around your hand. And the list
Copyright © 1997 Steve Rhodes