RATING (0 TO 10): 5.5
Alternative Scale: ** out of ****
United States, 1997
U.S. Release Date: 2/7/97 (wide)
Running Length: 1:49
MPAA Classification: PG-13 (Mayhem, profanity)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton, Charles Hallahan,
Jamie Renee Smith, Jeremy Foley, Elizabeth Hoffman
Director: Roger Donaldson
Producers: Gale Ann Hurd and Joseph M. Singer
Screenplay: Leslie Bohem
Cinematography: Andrjez Bartkowiak
Music: John Frizzell and James Newton Howard
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Where are the flying cows when you really need them?
DANTE'S PEAK is obviously predicated on the dubious idea that
bigger is better. 1996's TWISTER brought in hundreds of millions at the
box office by showcasing relatively small (if something so destructive
can be gauged as "small") natural disasters -- namely, tornadoes. The
next logical step would be to go for something larger and more
devastating. Apparently, hurricanes weren't deemed visually impressive
enough and earthquakes have been done to death, so Hollywood has set its
sights on volcanoes with not one, but two, similarly-themed disaster
flicks. Let's just hope VOLCANO shows a glimmer more intelligence, not
to mention a higher energy level, than DANTE'S PEAK.
No one is ever going to accuse TWISTER of being a masterpiece of
originality, but, as roller-coaster movie go, it's a great deal of fun.
Part of the reason is the effective use of audio and visual effects; the
other part is that director Jan de Bont knows how to get the adrenaline
flowing. TWISTER is a rush. DANTE'S PEAK, on the other hand, is a
bore. Oh, it has its moments, but most of them are concentrated in the
final forty-five minutes. The first hour, which is all typical disaster
movie setup, is interminable.
In keeping with time-tested formulas, we have a male/female
pairing, children and animals in danger, a voice of reason that no one
listens to until its too late, and a character with a tragedy in the
past. Volcanologist Harry Dalton (Pierce "Bond, James Bond" Brosnan)
lost his beloved girlfriend four years ago when they were studying an
erupting volcano in South America. As a result of this incident, he
tends to be jumpy about any possible volcanic activity, and when there
are signs that the snowcapped mountain overlooking the tiny Washington
state town of Dante's Peak (population 7400) may be about to blow its
top, Harry calls for an evacuation. The local mayor, Rachel Wando
(Linda Hamilton), backs him up, but the others on the town council
aren't so sure. Enter Harry's boss, Paul Dreyfus (Charles Hallahan),
and his group of roving geologists (who look like refugees from
TWISTER's ragged band of storm hunters). Paul, sensitive to the
delicate political situation of spreading panic without proper
scientific evidence, calls off the evacuation. So, of course, when
disaster inevitably strikes, people are needlessly killed.
The first hour of DANTE'S PEAK is spent getting to know the
characters. Not that we need that much time, since they're all familiar
types. In addition to Harry and Rachel (who predictably become
romantically involved), we're introduced to two kids, an independent old
lady, and a dog. If you manage to stay awake through fifty-five minutes
of drivel, you'll be rewarded with some nifty special effects as the
mountain throws everything it has at the town: fire, water, air, and
earth. No stone (literally) is left unturned. It's pretty impressive,
I admit, but there's an unwelcome sense of deja vu. As recently as the
aforementioned TWISTER, we've already been there and done that, and it
was a lot more enjoyable last time around.
Brosnan and Hamilton gamely try to generate some chemistry, and,
while both are appealing in their own right, the moronic plotline and
dumb dialogue defeat them at nearly every turn. It will come as no
surprise for astute viewers to learn that the screenwriter for DANTE'S
PEAK, Leslie Bohem, also wrote Stallone's DAYLIGHT. Both movies feature
some similarly embarrassing bad lines. Meanwhile, director Roger
Donaldson (NO WAY OUT, THE GETAWAY) fails repeatedly to do anything
interesting to enliven the proceedings.
Even discounting the first hour, DANTE'S PEAK still isn't all that
satisfying. I suppose there's a certain degree of tension as Harry and
company flee rivers of molten lava and volcanic shockwaves in their
attempt to get out of town before it's buried in ash, but, with
everything being done according to a well-established formula, the level
of excitement stays low. Once the film is over, you'll likely
acknowledge that, although there's some nice eye candy, the experience
as a whole leaves something to be desired.
And there aren't even any flying cows to redeem the situation.
Lately there have been a string of special effects driven movies that
are lacking in story and characters. And Dante's Peak is not unlike
If you've seen Twister, you'll know the basics for Dante's Peak. A
scientist driven by a memory of a loved one lost to the "monster" of
nature. In Twister the monster was the tornado, and the scientist was
Helen Hunt's character Jo. In Dante's Peak, the monster is a volcano
and the scientist is Pierce Brosnan's Harry.
But, is that all the coincidence between the two movies? No, Dante's
Peak also has the rag-tag team of scientists, the red truck, the corny
love story, and the opening scene showing how "the loved one" was
You might me wondering how a 2 hour movie can be made out of one
volcano blowing. I know I did. The movie starts with a bang (pun
intended). But it quickly slows to a smoldering. The movie then
spends the next hour building the antagonistic relationship between
Harry and his boss and the love story between Harry and the mayor of
Dante's Peak (Linda Hamilton). This part is slow going, and had me
looking at my watch. Then all the sudden Dante's Peak explodes (who
could have predicted that?) and although the action is dry and stale,
there is enough tension to keep the movie going from here on.
On a special effects level, Dante's Peak is incredible. On a story
level it's nothing more than cold slowing lava. Is it worth seeing?
If it is a matinee showing, sure, go see it on the big screen for the
While I was watching it, I loved Dante's Peak. It was a great
action/disaster movie with lots of interesting sequences, riveting
special effects, and likeable characters. Afterwards, the movie left my
mind completely. It didn't resonate with any interesting themes or
ideas; it was just a story, and it was done. But really, what else could
anyone ask from an action movie? The effects-laden previews made this
movie look like Twister, which I did not like. Many critics have called
the two movies similar. Roger Ebert even outlines the "rules" for such
disaster movies in his review. But I disagree that adherence to the
genre necessarily makes a sub-par movie. Some formula movies work and
others don't. Dante's Peak works.
Pierce Brosnan plays Harry Dalton, a volcanologist from the U.S.
Geological Survey, who is sent to the perky little town of Dante's Peak.
Strange things are happening in Dante's Peak; or maybe they aren't.
That's what Harry has to find out. He arrives and hooks up with mayor
Rachel Wando (played by Linda Hamilton) who shows him around. The movie
spends some time getting to know Rachel, Harry, his colleagues, and the
town. The characters are likeable, largely because Brosnan and Hamilton
are so charismatic. And thankfully, as Andrea says, Rachel's kids aren't
too annoying, (as many movie kids are these days).
The movie really takes off, though, when the mountain blows. At first
there is panic among the townspeople and the panic is well-staged. Quite
often action sequences comprise a bunch of close-ups, cut together.
(That's cheaper, easier, and less interesting than actually spending
time to choreograph the sequence.) The confusion in Dante's Peak is not
entirely created through editing. There are actually carefully staged
wide shots of townspeople running and driving amok. The freeway at the
edge of town collapses and it looks like footage from the San Francisco
earthquake. A flood of water, ash, and logs sweeps down the mountain and
it looks like footage from Mt. St. Helens. Harry Dalton (the character)
is trapped in a cave-in and I fear for Pierce Brosnan's (the actor's)
After the preliminary eruption, the main characters rush from one
dangerous situation to the next, and each of these sequences is riveting
and frightening. The characters never do anything inhumanly stupid to
bring the danger on themselves (as characters often do in horror
movies), but there's always one more dangerous situation for the
characters to face. Having survived several close geologic encounters,
Harry and Rachel try to drive down off the mountain, only to discover
that the road is blocked by a lava flow. Driving on might get them stuck
in lava, but turning around might trap them on a doomed mountain. Credit
the writing of Leslie Bohem for keeping these situations tense without
feeling contrived, and for including enough of these vignettes to keep
the pace moving.
I assume that most of these situations were computer generated (like the
flood and the freeway collapse), and if it's true, these are the best
computer-generated graphics I have seen. They were crude at the
beginning of Dante's Peak (the peak is clearly inserted into the
backgrounds), interesting in Terminator 2 and passably believable in
Jurassic Park, but the flood scene in Dante's Peak looked frighteningly
real and the freeway collapse had me riveted. They didn't work
everywhere, like when the lava burst though the back wall of the cabin,
but perhaps for the first time, some of the computer graphics are
This movie was crafted and not slapped together. There is some
interesting camera work during the setup of the movie. The camera, in
two parallel shots started on the face of a character, then pulled back
and swung around to reveal the whole scene. It's not much, but it showed
me that some care and thought were put into the movie. There was no
superheroism, no dumb luck, no coincidences, no token sex scenes, and no
irrelevant pop music sprinkled in as an excuse for a soundtrack. Also,
three PhDs were credited as advisors. I am not qualified to say if the
science was true to life, but it felt about right and it wasn't
Although this movie may be totally forgotten in five years, it is great
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Dante's Peak (1997) *1/2 out of ***** - Cast:Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton,
Charles Hallahan. Writer:Leslie Bohem. Director:Roger Donaldson.
Much has been said about the "return" of the Irwin Allen-style disaster
film. I don't think that the comparison is entirely accurate. Sure there
were lots of cheesy "disaster" movies in the 70s, "Airport", "The Towering
Inferno", "The Poseidon Adventure" and "Earthquake" are just a few. What
made those movies watchable was the fact that every character in the film
was played by a HUGE star. That made it tolerable enough. Nowadays, all the
money goes to the special effects, so we're stuck with maybe one star, one
minor star, and a huge group of bit actors or unknowns. That's not a lot of
fun. I'd rather hear a big star spout out a silly line, than a nobody spout
out a silly line.
"Dante's Peak" is the first of two volcano movies to be released in 1997.
"Volcano", the other one, is set to be released later in the year. Even
though it has the dumber title, I think that "Volcano" should easily be
superior to this insult to our intelligence. The premise for "Volcano"
sounds interesting, an unknown volcano underneath the city of Los Angeles
erupts. The premise of "Dante's Peak" is limp. Scientists think a volcano
may erupt in a small northwestern town and spend the first hour of the film
debating whether or not to evacuate the town. The first hour of the film is
hereby proclaimed worthless, because everyone in the theater KNOWS the
volcano is going to erupt. That's why we're there.
Brosnan plays volcano expert (keep that in mind, he's an EXPERT) Harry
Dalton. In true disaster-movie style, he has suffered some sort of trauma
due to a volcano. In the first scene in the movie we see his girlfriend
killed when a hot rock hits her in the head. While this may seem tragic on
paper and it must be heartwrenching in real life, on film its pure cornball.
Hard to keep from laughing at that. And thus the tone is set for the film.
Flash forward some months to now, or whatever. We see a building. On the
building is a big sign which reads "United States Geological Institute" (or
something very similar). Then these words appear on the screen: "United
States Geological Institute" telling us that we indeed are looking at the
"United States Geological Institute". This is the mentality we are dealing
with here. We are letting people make big budget motion pictures who don't
realize that we can READ THE WORDS WRITTEN ON THE BUILDING. Director Roger
Donaldson we salute you.
Anyway, inside the "United States Geological Institute" we learn that there
is volcano activity in Dante's Peak and so Dalton's boss sends his best man,
volcano expert Harry Dalton, to investigate. Keep in mind that Harry Dalton
is both a volcano expert and the best man they've got at the "United States
Meanwhile in Dante's Peak, two punk teenagers decide to go skinny dipping in
a hot spring. As they start to make out, the creepy music plays, the volcano
gets "angry" and really heats up the hot spring, killing the naughty teens.
We're watching a slasher movie here folks.
Volcano expert Harry Dalton arrives in town and is escorted around by the
town's mayor and coffee shop owner (Hamilton). The mayor is divorced with
two kids, and gee whiz, I wonder if hunky Brosnan and sultry Hamilton will
end up together at the end? You know, I wish there were more movies where
the two leads, a male and a female, went through hell on earth and then go
their separate ways.
Anyway, volcano expert Harry Dalton makes his expert conclusion that the
volcano is going to erupt and the town should evacuate. But before they can
begin, his boss and a team of volcano experts show up. They listen to his
expert opinion, and immediately brush it off. His boss basically reacts like
"I know you're an expert and my best man and all, but next time, why don't
you just stick to what you know?"
The volcano teams goes up to the volcano to send some sort of robot down the
volcano to take scientfic readings. Again, slasher-movie mentality takes
over. The robot malfunctions, creepy music starts to play, and one scientist
goes down, alone and against all logical advice, to repair it. The scene
plays as if this action angers the volcano, and the volcano makes rocks fall
onto the scientist. I know that's not how it's intended to seem, but it
Well AS WE ALL KNOW, the volcano does erupt, and the movie gets SO stupid at
this point that it makes the first hour look like "Citizen Kane". For
various inane reasons which I don't even feel like talking about, Brosnan,
Hamilton, and the kids all travel TOWARDS the volcano instead of away from
it, and then spend the rest of the film trying to get back out. Thank god
volcano expert Harry Dalton is along to help out. For example, when
journeying across a lake to escape a rapid flowing river of lava, Dalton
notices that the lake has turned to acid. He is able to scientifically
deduce this because the bottom of the boat is being eaten away by acid. His
expert advice to the group is "don't touch the water". Thank god he's with
"Dante's Peak" is an hour of nothing, twenty minutes of special effects (all
of which are in the trailers), and then has just about the most
ANTI-climatic ending to any disaster movie ever. I could have written the
script in less time than it takes to actually run the film. I've got my
money riding on "Volcano".
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I must confess that before I went to see 'Dante's Peak' I was expecting
it to be a repetitive disaster movie fashioned after the succes of last
year's 'Twister'. A quick studio cash grab to capitalize on the tremendous
box office rewards reaped by that film. 'Twister' has made well over two
hundred million dollars and there are usually copycats abound after a hit
'Dante's Peak' is nothing like 'Twister'. It's a film that builds
momentum slowly before unleashing its fury of special effects. 'Twister'
took a dive right at the beginning and was nothing more than a lamentable
chase picture and gave us characters we never really cared about where as
'Dante's Peak' is a thoughtful rendition of characters and technical
academics blended nicely for pure entertainment courtesy of director Roger
Donaldson ('The Bounty', 'No Way Out'.)
The town of 'Dante's Peak' is on the verge of a major volcanic eruption
after lying dormant for quite a while. A geologist (Pierce Brosnan) who lost
his wife in a volcanic disaster in Columbia four years earlier is sent by his
superior along with a research team to investigate disturbing activity around
that area. Brosnan is convinced that the town is in for a major eruption but
his superior and the town's politicians urge him not to jump to any
conclusions which could upset major economic plans to be set in motion by a
businessman who will pump eighteen million dollars into the local economy and
create about eight hundred jobs. Should word of a natural disaster get out,
then they can kiss the cash goodbye. The town's mayor (Linda Hamilton) leans
towards Brosnan's theory of a disaster brewing but goes along with the
majority and puts off alerting the town.
This movie has state of the art special effects which are truly
convincing and eye popping. If you think the movie will only display visual
effects of volcanic activity, you are very wrong. Bridges collapsing, hydro
lines falling, buildings breaking apart and mine shafts in chaos are only a
few goodies to enhance the audience's viewing enjoyment.
In film, the rule of suspension of disbelief should be applied to truly
enjoy 'Dante's Peak' but it is a slam bang adventure film which takes its
time to get where its going and never looks back once its there.
OUT OF 5> * * * 1/2