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Dante's Peak

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Dante's Peak

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton
Director: Roger Donaldson
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 95 Minutes
Release Date: February 1997
Genres: Action, Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Jamie Renee Smith, Elizabeth Hoffman, Charles Hallahan, Tzi Ma, Grant Heslov

Review by Steve Rhodes
1½ stars out of 4

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 eruption.

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 seat.

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 goes on.

Copyright 1997 Steve Rhodes

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