Reviewed by: Dawn Cole
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton / Director: Roger Donaldson / Released by: Universal Pictures
You need not wait long for a big dose of excitement in this film!
“Dante’s Peak” opens with Dr. Harry Dalton (Pierce Brosnan) and his fiancee, Marian, caught in a violent volcanic eruption in Columbia. You watch in horror as they try to escape. Huge chunks of flaming lava explode around them like rockets. Panic stricken, they drive through ash and mud rain. You get a feeling they might just make it when, suddenly, a projectile of burning lava crashes through the roof of their truck and strikes Marian on the head, killing her.
Four years later Dr. Dalton gets a call from his boss, Dr. Paul Dreyfus, alerting him to some seismic activity in America at Dante’s Peak. Dalton is to monitor the situation there.
Harry arrives in town during a Pioneer Days celebration as Mayor Rachel Wondo (Linda Hamilton) is accepting an award naming Dante’s Peak the 2nd most desirable place to live in the USA. Rachel takes Harry up the mountain to do some testing. Her children, Graham and Lauren, and her mother, Grandma Ruth, come along—eager to swim in the hot springs.
The kids soon find dead, maggot infested squirrels on the trail. Harry notices several dead trees in the area also, alerting him to the possibility of deadly gasses coming up from the ground and killing vegetation and small animals. He conducts more tests in the lake and finds unusually high pH levels. The kids and grandma head over to the hot springs for a dip. Harry grabs Graham and stops him just before he jumps in. As the hot steam clears we see two nude, adult bodies floating face down. They are young lovers who, only hours before, had taken a dip and died when the volcano belched hot gasses and lava into the springs.
Harry instructs the Mayor to call an immediate meeting of the city council to put the town on alert. When Harry’s co-workers from the US Geological Survey arrive, his boss interrupts the council meeting and tries to put the town leaders at ease. Boss-man Dryfeus says that only scientific evidence, not Harry’s opinion, will be the factor to put the town on emergency alert. The boss' team of geologic experts monitor the area for a week and conclude that this is a quiet volcano.
…That evening Dr. Dalton bursts in on his sleeping boss to show him the city tap water, full of sulfur, a sure sign the volcano is very active.
Panic. A town meeting is hastilly called the next day, during which quakes start “swarming” (coming closer and closer together and increasing in intensity) and Sulfur Dioxide emissions rise as the volcano spews ash.
The town becomes the scene of a chaotic mass evacuation. The quakes intensify, causing freeways to collapse and sending cars bouncing. Buildings implode, electric poles snap, gasoline tanks blow up. Harry goes with Rachel to get her children, but discovers that Graham has taken the car to go get Grandma Ruth. Rachel and Harry start up the side of the volcano to rescue everyone, and the road behind them is destroyed in landslides.
As they desperately speed to Grandma Ruth’s cabin, their only escape from flowing lava is across the lake, via boat. All the fish are dead, and Harry realizes the lake has turned so acidic it is eating the boat’s hull away. The propeller dissolves and the boat is sinking. Suddenly, stubborn old grandma jumps in the lake and pulls them to safety. The heroine dies a short time later from horrible burns and shock.
After taking a truck from a forest ranger’s station, they flee down the rugged mountain terrain.
Meanwhile, back in town, everyone left alive is trying to escape. But the only way out is across the bridge, and it is swept away. Harry is forced to drive over partially cooled lava (still hot underneath) to get to the town. He arrives on wheel rims, the tires burned off.
The volcano gives one last, huge blast sending a deadly piroclastic cloud (super heated, violent poison gas) raging down the mountain. Harry drives into an old mine shaft to escape the deadly blast. Sealed within the cave, the group must face their final drama…
Areas of Concern:
“Dante’s Peak” is intense, and not recommended for children. My teenager left the theater with shaking knees and fear knowing we live only a few hours from volcanoes. This film has a very realistic feel. That’s what makes it so good, and keeps you on the edge of your seat. There are two scenes of nudity; the young lovers at the springs. Badly burned bodies are shown; the lovers and Grandma Ruth. There are mumerous swear words (including God’s name taken in vain several times), bar scenes, and wagering at a pool table. Sex is discussed, but never depicted because the volcano keeps interrupting them! One graphic scene shows a compound fracture to Harry’s arm, bones sticking out. Dr. Dreyfus is killed after being swept off the bridge.
Want to Know More About Volcanoes?
If you want to know more about volcanic activity and how geologic structures are formed quickly during an eruption, I recommend the video “Mount St. Helens.” This compelling documentary shows how one of the most amazing geologic events of the 20th century—the eruption of Mount St. Helens—provides incredible scientific evidence for the world-wide flood of Noah’s day!