Directed by Roger Donaldson. Starring Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton, Charles Hallahan, Grant Heslov, Elizabeth Hoffman, Jeremy Foley, Jamie Renee Smith. (1997, PG-13, 108 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Feb. 14, 1997
Jaws with a bigger shark. Well, not entirely, but this pyroclastic disaster flick frequently raises the comparison, especially in the film’s earlier scenes. The small, tourist-supported town of Dante’s Peak, near Washington’s Northern Cascades, is gearing up for its annual Pioneer Days festival, and readying itself for a new influx of out-of-towners to arrive when the dormant volcano that looms over the community begins to make ominous rumblings. Harry Dalton (Brosnan), a volcanologist from the U.S. Geological Survey arrives in town to check the situation and quickly determines that the slumbering giant is indeed waking up, and everyone within a 10-mile radius is in grave danger. What with the incoming tourist trade, however, this isn’t what the town elders want to hear, and so Dalton’s warnings go unheeded until the mountain finally, literally, blows its top. Throw in Hamilton as the town’s leggy, divorced mayor Rachel Wando, her two kids (Foley and Smith) and crotchety mother-in-law Ruth (Hoffman), and you’ve got a character-heavy disaster movie that would make Irwin Allen proud. The early Jaws allusions (dim-witted selectmen, young lovers as early victims, festival seating at a natural disaster, and others) don’t distract from the real show here, which, of course, is the mountain’s final, catastrophic eruption. In a cinematic decade marked by Things That Go Bang, Dante’s Peak puts its money where its effects are and goes it one better: Not only do we get the volcano’s explosive disgorgement, but also floods, earthquakes, lakes of acid, fire, and even brimstone in the form of toxic sulphur dioxide emissions. The only things missing are the locusts. It seems almost beside the point to bring up the notion of plotting and characterization in such an effects-driven film – nobody’s going to rush out to catch Dante’s Peak on account of the Shakespearean-caliber thespians involved. Nevertheless, both Remington Steele and “that Terminator chick” (as the guy in front of me referred to Hamilton) acquit themselves admirably despite some woefully ponderous dialogue and the ludicrous notion that four-wheel-drive trucks can navigate lava flows on rims alone. Right. Take this behemoth for what it is (a big, dumb summer blockbuster released a tad early) and you won’t be let down. And if you are, well geez, Volcano’s opening soon anyway.