James Bond and Sarah Connor team up in Dante’s Peak, directed by Roger Donaldson and marking the 25th anniversary of its 1997 release.
The late 1990s brought about an array of disaster movies. Whether it was volcanoes or comets, audiences were on the edge of their seats. Dante’s Peak was the first of the two volcano movies, arriving in February 1997. Volcano would arrive two months later in April. In any event, the 25th anniversary is a good time to revisit the two films. It’s been sometime since watching both of them but I recall being a fan of this one more so than the latter.
The opening credits align with a volcanic eruption that had an emotional impact on Harry Dalton (Pierce Brosnan). The USGS volcanologist witnessed the death of his fiancé, Marianne, in their attempt to escape Colombia. Four years later, he’s called into work and sent to the small town of Dante’s Peak to investigate recent seismic activity. The stratovolcano is dormant but you always want to err on the side of caution. Harry meets Mayor Rachel Wando (Linda Hamilton), who brings along children Graham (Jeremy Foley) and Lauren (Jamie Renée Smith), to check out the lake and springs. Harry spots a pair of dead bodies right as Graham is about to jump into the springs. Rachel ends up inviting Harry over for dinner as a way of thanking him.
Where Harry prefers to be cautious and have the town prepare for an evacuation, his boss, Paul (Charles Hallahan), disagrees. It isn’t until Harry notices the contaminated water before Paul starts taking action. Ultimately, he realizes Harry has been right this whole time. Unfortunately for everyone, it’s too little, too late because the volcano is going to erupt. All the while, Harry has gotten to know Rachel and her children. While the town hall was going on, Graham and Lauren were driving up the mountain to pick up their stubborn grandmother, Ruth (Elizabeth Hoffman). It takes some battling but she eventually relents. Unfortunately, it’s too late. The only way is by boat and it won’t be a long ride in acidic water. Ruth sacrifices herself to get them to safety at the dock. Meanwhile, they find a truck and save Ruth’s dog, Roughy.
The USGS team preps their evacuation following the National Guard’s arrival. However, the dam breaking means they will not have long to do so. Paul loses his life in the process of crossing the bridge. Meanwhile, Harry saves a emergency beacon before fleeing for safety with Rachel and the kids. It’s a good thing for doing so because this beacon is what ultimately saves their lives as they hold up in the mine.
Both James Newton Howard and John Frizzell contribute music to the film. Howard mainly composes the theme and a few other cues. It’s Frizzell who does the heavy lifting. Their contributions are exactly the type of music required for a disaster thriller such as this one.
I’m not a geologist or volcanologist but I’m a sucker for disaster flicks. You can’t keep me away from them, both good or bad. The release of Dante’s Peak saw the USGS set up a FAQ on their website. A scientist at Maryland set up a guidebook. Obviously, no disaster film is going to be 100% accurate but the best ones are those that come close enough. It should be noted that it’s not uncommon for a volcano to erupt so suddenly after earthquake activity. Mount St. Helens didn’t erupt until seven days after such activity with the big event coming seven weeks later. Cut to 1989 and the Redoubt Volcano in Alaska erupted after 24 hours of seismic activity. According to the USGS, the most unrealistic part of the film is the fast-moving lava. The earthquakes would also need to be powerful to collapse buildings.
Dante’s Peak might take some liberties with the science but the film remains an edge-of-your-seat thriller 25 years after its release.
DIRECTOR: Roger Donaldson
SCREENWRITER: Leslie Bohem
CAST: Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton, Charles Hallahan, Grant Heslov, Elizabeth Hoffman, Jeremy Foley, Jamie Renée Smith, Arabella Field, Tzi Ma, Brian Reddy, Kirk Trutner
Universal released Dante’s Peak in theaters on February 7, 1997.
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