movie film review | chris tookey

Dante's Peak

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  Dante's Peak Review
Tookey's Rating
6 /10
Average Rating
5.75 /10
Harry Dalton .......... Pierce Brosnan, Rachel Wando .......... Linda Hamilton, Lauren Wando .......... Jamie Renee Smith
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Directed by: Roger Donaldson
Written by: Leslie Bohem

Released: 1997
Origin: US
Length: 112

Here is almost every action cliche you have ever known, if not necessarily loved. In the pre-titles sequence, there’s the Traumatic Event in the Hero’s Past Which Has Scarred Him For Life (see also Cliffhanger and Lethal Weapon). This time, it’s a volcanologist (Pierce Brosnan, pictured) looking shaken, if not stirred, as his girlfriend is brained by a boulder.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Four years later Pierce’s private life still in pieces, when he hears that Dante's Peak, a volcano which has lain dormant in Washington State for 7,000 years, is causing rumbles of anxiety among seismologists. He heads Northwest, where sure enough he finds a scenario ripe for disaster. He is just in time for a festival proclaiming this to be the "second best place to live in America."

Pierce piercingly notices the Ominous Portents: dead squirrels, dying trees, a couple of young people scalded to death while skinny-dipping in a hot pool (just as in all those old teenagers-slashed-to-death B-pictures, this is meant to serve them right for taking baths together before marriage).

He embarks on the obligatory Vain Attempt To Warn Everyone, whereupon the town elders disregard him and hush the whole thing up for the sake of property prices, tourism, and business confidence. Evidently, none of them saw Jaws, or they would realise that this is asking for trouble.

Frankly, I found the elders hard to believe. Wouldn’t the suspicious death of two strangers cause unwelcome publicity, anyway? Wouldn’t the sudden appearance of a lethal jacuzzi just outside the town perturb the locals a jot? Maybe this is the downside of living in the second best place in America - it’s only the best place that wouldn’t have homicidal hot spas and poached people.

Our hero is duly bawled out by his boss (Charles Hallahan) whose time-honoured role is to pooh-pooh the hero’s warnings and perish - just as Sylvester Stallone’s superior did in the tunnel disaster movie, Daylight, also penned by this film’s screenwriter, Leslie Bohem, whom I suspect of being a piece of computer software.

Pierce stays on, possibly out of Dante’s pique, but also because his intuitive instincts are so finely tuned to disaster that he might be related to Bill Paxton, who had an identical talent for tornadoes in Twister. Besides, Pierce is falling in love - prior to nearly falling in lava - with the local Saintly Single Parent (Linda Hamilton), who has obviously been taking lessons in saintly single-parenting from her counterparts in Jerry Maguire and Phenomenon.

After the obligatory lull before the firestorm (cue a soppy romantic interlude, when Pierce tells Linda puzzlingly that making love is like riding a bicycle, which left me wondering who, in that case, has the puncture repair kit), our hero discovers proof that something nasty is going to happen real soon and addresses the townsfolk, whereupon Dante’s Peak turns into Dante’s Inferno and everyone panics - except the saintly single-parent’s grey-haired mother-in-law who won’t come down from the mountain, whereupon her two grandchildren go up to rescue her and her dog, which means of course that Pierce and Linda have to drive up there after them.

This is the kind of movie where hundreds perish horribly, but for some reason we’re meant to care more whether or not grandma’s dog gets to live. This worry will not exercise any of us who saw Independence Day and Daylight, and know that the one, cast-iron rule in such flicks is: THE DOG NEVER DIES.

But enough of the less than earth-shattering plot. What you really want to know is: are the special effects worth seeing? I’m afraid they are. Not only this, but I actually found my interest aroused in what are the early warning signs that a volcano is about to explode. Even though Brosnan and Hamilton play characters barely substantial enough to be dismissed as cardboard, they endow the roles with charm.

Director Roger Donaldson marshals the computer-generated mayhem with some skill, as the characters are threatened with battering by basalt, poisoning, drowning in sulphuric acid, suffocation by ash, being swept away by breaking bridges and crushed in a collapsing mine.

If this is Dante’s Peak, I wouldn’t like to see Dante’s Trough. Here is one of those disaster movies which brings Hollywood into disrepute. I would have preferred to feel a little more anxious about the leading characters’ survival, and to have been able to draw a stronger moral conclusion from it all than “better be safe than sorry”. If only half the effort spent on this movie’s visual and sound effects had been spent on the script...

But Dante’s Peak fulfils one of the unrecognised functions of disaster movies. It engenders a sense not so much of danger, as of cosy complacency. Those who enjoy scenes of spectacular destruction will find everything in it that they can desire. And there’s nothing so unfamiliar that it’ll make you spill your popcorn.

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