Monday, 26 October 2020

Movie Review: Dante's Peak (1997)

A natural disaster drama, Dante's Peak consists of predictable plot elements enlivened by spectacular special effects.

In a prologue set in Colombia, volcanologist Harry Dalton (Pierce Brosnan) loses the love of his life Marianne when their team is too late to pull out of a village and a nearby volcano erupts.

Four years later, Harry is dispatched to the small picturesque town of Dante's Peak in Washington State to check on unusual seismic activity at the long-dormant namesake mountain looming over the town. He connects with Mayor Rachel Wado (Linda Hamilton), a single mom of two kids and owner of a local coffee shop, and meets her ex-mother-in-law Ruth (Elizabeth Hoffman), who lives at the base of the mountain. 

Harry notices enough unusual activity to send for a full US Geological Survey team, including his boss Paul Dreyfus (Charles Hallahan). As a romance blossoms between Harry and Rachel, the team members deploy an array of sensors. Although the data is inconclusive, Harry instinctively senses a disaster is near. Just when Paul concludes no eruption is imminent and plans to pull out, a catastrophic eruption commences. Harry has to race to try and save Rachel's family and his life.

A throwback to the disaster movies of the 1970s, Dante's Peak lines up all the familiar cliches: the one scientist who foresees the disaster, the leaders of a quaint town who choose not to believe him fearful of spooking the businessman investor planning to pump money into the town, instinct and experience clashing with hard data and instrumentation, a romance forged under the stress of impending doom, and assorted annoying family members and pets, some more deserving of their fate than others.

Writer Leslie Bohem does just enough to make the two central characters interesting, the prologue effectively outlining the scar of loss on Harry's psyche, while Rachel is the small town gal done good despite the pain inflicted by a derelict ex-husband. Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton stay within the confines of the material but do elevate the quieter moments above purely derivative fare.

Where Dante's Peak does shine is in the special effects department, and when it's time for disaster to strike, the film is a visual feast. The science may be suspect and many details defy logic, but director Roger Donaldson dedicates the final third of the film to the volcano's angry eruption, and the scenes of carnage are widespread and all-consuming. Excellent digital effects and miniature model work bring to life tremors, earthquakes, lava rivers, fires, acidic lakes, collapsing freeways and bridges, and finally a spectacular pyroclastic cloud released by a blow-the-top-off-the-mountain explosion.

Dante's Peak is about to lose its status as the second most livable town in American (population under 20,000), and it will not go quietly.



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