February 8, 1997 -- "Dante's Peak" is about what you would expect from a big-budget disaster movie. There are some people who like this sort of thing and others who don't. I happen to be one of those who do like a well-crafted disaster movie, so if you're looking for a review that pans the movie just because it belongs to a particular genre, you'll have to look elsewhere. Don't worry, I hear there are plenty of those kinds of reviews, including one in the Wall Street Journal.
The formula is pretty well known. First you introduce the characters, this usually includes a handsome man, a pretty woman, kids, a dog and an old person. This film has all of those, plus a volcano-watching gang of techno-geeks similar to those found in "Twister."
Then you've got the scientist (Pierce Brosnan) who has this gut feeling that the volcano's gonna blow, even though the readings on the techno-geek instruments don't back him up. The one new character is the crusty head scientist for the U.S. Geological Survey who takes a more cautious approach. This role usually is carried by a local official (remember the mayor of Amity who didn't want the tourists to be afraid to come there because of the big shark?).
The debate between the scientists over who is right about the eruption prediction is actually pretty well done. In most films of this type it usually comes down to one person being stubborn and unreasonable. Here, you have intelligent arguments on both sides.
There is a stubborn and unreasonable person in the film, however, and that's the old lady that doesn't want to leave her house on the volcano. However, this character is believable when you recall there was a real person who behaved exactly the same way. This person, of course, was an old man named Harry Truman who died in the Mt. St. Helens eruption after refusing to evacuate his house in the exact same situation.
Despite all the warnings, one thing leads to another and the main characters get stranded in the town threatened by the volcano. Will they escape? Who knows, but you know the dog won't get a hair singed on its shaggy little head. Other than that, the suspense had me on the edge of my seat.
If you are a real disaster film fan you know I haven't mentioned the most important thing yet. Here it comes. You want to know how good the special effects are. The special effects are great. They've got freeway ramps collapsing, they've got bridges being washed away. They've got a dam breaking. It is really spectacular stuff. The only thing that looks fake is that big matte painting of a mountain in one of the opening scenes behind the Universal Studios back lot.
The acting is pretty good, too. Brosnan and the pretty lady, Linda Hamilton, make a good team, and the kids are good, too. The old lady and the dog are just so-so. The crusty old scientist, Dr. Paul Dreyfus, is well-played by Charles Hallahan. This movie rates a B. Oh, some critics will tell you its bad, but maybe they haven't seen "Daylight." Now that's bad.
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