Movie Review: Dante's Peak

Dante's Peak (1997)

Rated PG-13: For Gore and Violence

Running Time: 118 minutes (1 hour and 48 minutes)

Genre/s: Action, Adventure, Disaster, Drama, Survival

Released on February 7, 1997 (US Release Date; Available For Worldwide Viewing)

Presented by Universal Pictures

Writer: Leslie Bohem

Director: Roger Donaldson

  • Pierce Brosnan as Harry Dalton
  • Linda Hamilton as Rachel Wando
  • Jamie Renée Smith as Lauren Wando
  • Jeremy Foley as Graham Wando
  • Charles Hallahan as Paul Dreyfus
Source 1, Source 2
Disaster movies are never really noted for being Oscar-worthy materials. Most of the time, they tend to skip pass the research phase, in favor of totally blatant and the most unrealistic, yet at times, visually striking, explosions. But at the expense of scientific accuracy, these movies inevitably become less thrilling, and all the more cheesy and nearly laughable. Back in the 90s, two volcano-centric movies battled it out to see which among them is the far more superior disaster flick, and in the end, it was this film's box office rival, Volcano, who received much more favored reviews. For our latest movie review, as part of my Earth Science homework (Yes, I still do that gimmick, even after banding together with some of my classmates in two different script reviews in the past year), take a look at one of the only few times that Hollywood actually got the scientific aspects of the film at closer to reality, and is admittedly also way better than most movies under this genre. Welcome back to Dateline Movies, and this is our official movie review of Dante's Peak!

Also, since I took all the effort already to watch this movie in our Earth Science class, and even do a homework on this, I would be stricter with the scientific accuracy, but just this once, because Dad and I review, at times nitpick, movies for their entertainment, and at some points, criticize scientific inaccuracies if they detract the overall viewing experience. And since I am clearly not the brightest mind in our classroom, I decided to consult some certain sources online, who also reviewed the movie!

What is the movie about?

The quiet town of Dante's Peak is suspected to be in danger of a majorly catastrophic volcanic eruption. Fearing this, ace volcanologist Harry Dalton, played by Brosnan (GoldenEye), heads straight to Dante's Peak, but despite finding enough pieces of evidence that suggest that such disaster is imminent, his efforts are being made futile by the actions of his superior, Paul Dreyfus, played by Hallahan (Executive Decision).

With the town on the brink of total annihilation, Dalton must join forces with the mayor Rachel Wando, played by Hamilton (The Terminator), to notify the population of the incoming threat, and with her children, Lauren, played by Smith (Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering), and Graham, played by Foley (Casper: A Spirited Beginning), they must find a way to make it out alive!

What we think of the movie?

I got to hand it to them. For a movie that encounters several cliches, the end result is still a lot more entertaining than the messiest Roland Emmerich entry, although I do find some of his movies like The Day After Tomorrow pretty decent. And unlike the usual Emmerich-helmed out-of-this-world disaster bonanza,  this one actually did its homework. Something that most modern popcorn-fodder flicks tend to ignore, especially if that certain flick is pretending to be smart. In fact, much of the thrills originate from how realistic the plot is.

Specifically, the moments building-up to the explosion that we have all been waiting for, despite a boring first half that unfortunately has the potential to make the next few minutes ineffective. One of those include the rise of sulfur dioxide that results to the death of two young lovers simply just taking an, ahem, dive by the lake, which was nicely executed as it gave me some chills when they both met their Creator, although I would like to comment a little bit on just how increasingly fast the acidity level rose. This is also clear in the near ending of the movie, wherein the boat that our main protagonists are using to escape the now ravaged Dante's Peal, is quickly melted away, even though, if I am not mistaken, would not take a mere handful of seconds for this process to happen. This is a movie after all, not a Netflix mini-series with thirteen episodes to fully develop.

And speaking of the acid level, why is Dalton not immediately bothered by the, if I am not mistaken, 3.4 pH level reading on the lake? That reading clearly indicates that the lake is too dangerous to swim in. He could have warned the kids before they nearly could have been disintegrated into oblivion!

Another moment would have to be the discovery that heavy amounts of carbon dioxide are being released, leading to the deaths of vegetation and animals, mostly squirrels, as it just shows how truly terrifying it is to know that the town that was voted as the "second safest town" to live in is about to be decimated by a supposedly inactive volcano.

After doing further research, specifically on the effects of ash fall on human beings and other walks of life, I am baffled at how the residents of Dante's Peak could still breath, despite the fact that inhaling high ounces of ash will cause one to bleed internally, given that certain sharp particles can and will make that possibility happen. But hey, the screenwriter ought to find ways to pad the running time a little further, right?

The best, most scientifically accurate moment from the movie, which is still a pretty epic moment from a visual standpoint, is the volcanic explosion that we have all been waiting for in the entire movie. Not only did it, according to my sources, perfectly capture the destructive tendency of a volcanic explosion, it is just simply mind-blowing to see on-screen. Yes, even for an obscure 90s disaster movie, the computer-generated mass destruction is wonderful and shocking to behold, even if in real life, I would be absolutely horrified. At least they made use of their CGI budget the best they could. Although in all honesty, I am once more annoyed at the fact that Dalton and company have evaded the powerful blast, almost entirely unscathed.

But to be frank, almost none of these scientific mistakes bothered me. That is, until I literally just saw Dalton drive through a pile of hot, steaming lava, and make it out alive. Okay fine, we get it that they are the people the audience should be rooting for, but is the movie actually trying to make me believe that lava magically cannot melt the truck, and even if the tires are completely destroyed, are they expecting me to believe that the truck can still drive and evade the upcoming explosion? I can let it slide that it is just a movie and all that, but if we are sacrificing a piece of logic that is as simple as lava being uncontrollably, dangerously abrasive, for the sake of delivering a happy ending, then you are just messing with the audience. Okay, that seems to be a tad bit harsh of a criticism, and I do not mean it to be offensive in some way, but yeah, you get the point.

With regards to the story, it is as every bit of cliched and predictable as it can be, even for a somewhat entertaining movie such as this one. I really did not relate to any of the characters, at all, namely because each and every one of them is either a complete stereotype, or totally devoid of personality whatsoever. We have Harry Dalton, the "charismatic workaholic with a bad past", Paul Dreyfus, the "ignorant boss", and the "forced-in love interest", Rachel Wando. Also, funny or, in a way, appealing as some of his co-workers may be, including Terry Furlong, played by Kirk Trutner (The Medallion), Nancy, played by Arabella Field (National Treasure), Gregory, played by Grant Heslov (Good Night, And Good Luck), and Stan, played by Tzi Ma (Arrival), none of them technically delivered some emotional gravitas. Not even the Wando children could add anything to the flick.

While we did get a backstory for Dalton, whom we learned had lost a fiancee, named Marianne, played by Walker Brandt (City Slickers), at the very beginning of the movie, after a ballistic projectile hit her head, it adds little to none to Dalton's character. I have to give props to the director for making that opening montage emotionally heart wrenching for a time though.

I also do not like how, for more than half of the movie, we are forced to a very sluggish, and a very less than compelling love story with almost non-existent chemistry between our two leads. Yes, we all need to have a quiet build-up, or a "calm before the storm", but if it is an introductory half that contains cliched and unoriginal dialogue, and almost zero thrilling moments, aside from the ones that we talked about awhile back, then you know that the movie is doomed.

Despite my fair share of dislikes, there are some positive notes that made the movie at least worth watching. Aside from the visual spectacles that we already discussed before, I have to give credit to director Roger Donaldson for making certain simple moments such as having Dalton cartoonishly outrun the blast, and eventually having his arm get broken, seen in a fairly graphic manner, emotionally effective. Even in a moment such as having the family dog race towards their escape truck made all of my classmates on the edge of their seats, despite me, being the typical nitpicker of the classroom, was only mildly on edge. I do feel some sympathy for the heroic sacrifice of grandmother Ruth Wando, played by Elizabeth Hoffman (The River Wild), who pushed their boat to the nearest shore, after the acidic lake made their engine unusable, ultimately leading to her death. That is a good scene.

My most favorite scene would have to be the opening volcanic eruption Columbia, exploring the death of Marianne. Not only was it exceptionally thrilling, made all the more suspenseful by John Frizzell's (More like John "Sizzle", am I right? You know, because, the movie is about a volcano. Get it?) decent score, with some material by James Newton Howard, notably the opening theme, but it is just a small glimpse on how emotionally gripping the movie could have been, had they avoided all the annoying cliches.

And finally, despite the script completely making the characters bland and one-dimensional, at least Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton, and the rest of the cast tried their hardest to show-off their acting ranges. On the bright side, their work here is not as un-energetic as the performances that we saw in the Fantastic Four Reboot.

Overall, this okay (?) and mildly entertaining, but forgettable movie has very little to offer, but thanks to some good performances, and a few fine action sequences, as well as the power of science, you might as well check this out!

I just came to the realization that reviewing movies from the scientific perspective is fun, since I fairly enjoyed getting to learn a few facts while doing research on the movie. You know what they say? "You ought to learn something when you are watching a movie". I do not remember who originally said that, or if I said it correctly, but regardless, whoever said that watching movies is a waste of time clearly does not know what both "fun" and "education" mean. And with that comes the end of our review of Dante's Peak. To conclude this post, we decided to share all the trailers that we can fit in this post, that they just released last San Diego Comic Con, which were supposed to be added on a post of their own. Also, breaking news! We are now going to do season reviews of various shows, starting with Thirteen Reasons Why, and the first two seasons of Daredevil, as well as the current season of Game of Thrones. Leave any recommendations for us to binge watch! Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!


Post a Comment