Thursday, May 24, 2018
DISASTER MOVIES MONTH: Dante's Peak (1997)
Mount St. Helens, the deadliest volcanic eruption in U.S. history, certainly pushed volcanoes into the public imagination more than ever. Even though the event was over a decade old by that point, I recall hearing a lot about Mount St. Helens as a kid. And it's obvious that this is where “Dante's Peak” drew its inspiration. The film mentions the Washington mountain by name and filmed inside its crater. The public showed that they were willing to watch real life tragedy transformed into cinematic entertainment. “Dante's Peak” would be a decent money-maker in 1997.
Volcanologist Harry Dalton is still reeling from a personal tragedy. While escaping a volcanic eruption in Columbia, his wife was killed. Years later, he obsesses over his work. When he gets news that Dante's Peak, a scenic town in Washington state, has reported some seismic activity, he's not impressed. The longer he stays in the town, the more concerned he becomes. The local hot springs are boiling people alive. Poison gas is seeping out of the ground. The local drinking water is overtaken by sulfur. As Dalton grows closer to mayor Rachel Waldo, and her two kids, Dante's Peak explodes. Lava, ash, and toxic smoke rains down on the small town.
Unfortunately, “Dante's Peak” does not maintain a consistent tone. The film's opening sequence, inspired by the 1993 Galeras tragedy in Columbia, is harrowing. We then leap to the sweet scenes of Brosnan and Hamilton flirting or cutesy banter among the volcanic research team. This is intercut with intense moments, like a skinny-dipping couple getting boiled to death. That all-over-the-place approach continues even after the volcano bursts. Hyper-violent scenes of landslides wiping out traffic co-exist with ridiculous scenes of the family dog being rescued. Or goofy scenes of Brosnan's indestructible Chevrolet Silverado surviving all sorts of stuff.
A big element undermining “Dante's Peak” is its atrocious direction. Okay, yes, you can always understand what's going on. Director Roger Donaldson, previously of “Cadillac Man” and “Species,” never veers into the incoherent. However, many of his choices are baffling. A number of early scenes are shot at Dutch angles for no particular reason. These moments sometimes also feature some distracting handheld camera-work. Once the disaster begins, Donaldson also throws in some tacky slow-motion. A car crash at the end throws in several super perturbing crash-zooms. One of the most embarrassing moments features a poorly deployed Wilhem Scream too.
[THE DISASTER MOVIE CHECKLIST: 7 outta 10]
 Awards Bait Ballad
[X] Corrupt or Incompetent Authority Figures
 Destruction of Famous Landmarks
[X] Grim Predictions
[X] Group In-Fighting
[X] Heroic Sacrifices
[X] Massive Collateral Damage or Explosions
[X] Pets or Kids are Imperiled but Survive
[X] Romantic Couple Resolves Problems
 Star-Studded Cast