Dante's Peak (1997)
Dante Peaks Eventually
I've always been better at feeling out volcanoes than people - Harry
"Dante's Peak" came out in the same year as "Volcano", in fact it came out before, but in the battle of two similar movies it came out second best, not that "Volcano" was itself a great movie. The trouble is that "Dante's Peak" is a rather functionary disaster movie which takes a long time to get going and when it does it's close to having lost your attention when all the action and excitement of the volcanic disaster kicks in. It also doesn't help that for me casting Pierce Brosnan as a Volcanologist, a science geek, is just wrong as he is just not believable and spends most of the movie on a charm offensive as he woos Rachel Wando played by Linda Hamilton. All of which doesn't stop "Dante's Peak" from being entertaining but it also doesn't stop it from being anything other than ordinary with about 20 minutes of special effects driven action being the best part.
4 years after losing the love of his life in a volcanic eruption, Volcanologist Harry Dalton (Pierce Brosnan - The Mirror Has Two Faces) has become very cautious when there is a chance of another eruption. Called in from vacation to check out Dante's Peak due to possible signs of activity, Harry convinces town mayor Rachel Wando (Linda Hamilton - Terminator 2: Judgment Day) that they should be prepared for the worst. Unfortunately he is over ruled by his boss Paul (Charles Hallahan) who believes Harry is being over cautious but is proved wrong when all of a sudden Dante's Peak comes to life putting everyone in risk especially Harry, Rachel and her two children who find themselves stuck up the side of the mountain.
After a rather atrsy fartsy opening full of slow motion where we learn that 4 years earlier Harry Dalton lost his girlfriend during a volcanic eruption "Dante's Peak" then becomes a play it by numbers disaster movie. We learn that Dante's Peak the volcano is showing signs of coming to life, we meet various characters, many of them slightly quirky and before we get to the action of the volcano erupting we get the naysayers who don't think anything will happen. To put it simply "Dante's Peak" is a disaster movie which runs through a play book and never strays from the well worn path of so many other movies. Even the romance as Harry and Rachel obviously fall in love is nothing new and seems to be the focus of much of the movie.
What this means is that "Dante's Peak" is a movie where you sit back and wait for the excitement to start. Unfortunately for a movie which is only 108 minutes long it spends over 3 quarters of this on the build up, the signs of trouble brewing and the opposition of those who don't think there is reason for alarm. It also spends a lot of time on the romantic side of the movie as we watch Harry charm his way in to the life of Sarah and her children. Sadly all of this build up is rather dull with very few moments of possible danger interjecting any excitement into things and watching Pierce Brosnan turning on the charm borders on the cheesy.
The knock on effect of this is that "Dante's Peak" loses your interest just when it's about to get exciting with the volcanic eruption. Now it has to be said that there are no surprises when it comes to the action and much of it borders on the daft such as driving a jeep across molten lava and a boat being eaten away by a lake turned to acid but at least it's sort of exciting. In many ways the action is a mixed bag as there are some truly stunning scenes embellished beautifully by special effects but there are just as many action scenes which are just too over the top and unfortunately it ends up making "Dante's Peak" a disaster movie which borders on being cheesy.
What really doesn't help matters is the casting of Pierce Brosnan as the hero Harry Dalton, not that he can't play heroic characters but here he is just unbelievable being what is basically a science geek. He's just too charming, to much of a ladies man and the movie seems to focus on this too much meaning that when he is called to be all heroic it just doesn't really fit in with the character. Despite this I quite enjoyed the pairing of Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton with Hamilton putting in the most enjoyable performance of the movie. It almost feels like Hamilton realised that "Dante's Peak" was a bit of a mess so just tried to have fun playing the town's mayor and it shows.
Aside from this lead pair no one else really makes an impression with their various cliche characters. Although you have to laugh at the over the top Grant Heslov as coffee loving Greg. It's a stereotypical character played for laughs and Heslov achieves this with his bouts of nervous energy.
What this all boils down to is that "Dante's Peak" is frankly a less than spectacular disaster movie. It is entertaining but all very functionary as it basically works through the disaster movie playbook and throws up absolutely no surprises. It's also rather unbalanced with far too much time spent on a rather dull build up that the actual excitement of the disaster and Pierce Brosnan miscast as a science geek too often feels wrong although Brosnan and Hamilton do work well together.
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