Dante’s Peak

(Roger Donaldson, USA, 1997)


There are many echoes of Twister (1996) in the big-budget disaster film Dante’s Peak: a hero (Pierce Brosnan) with memories of a primal trauma; a crack team of nerdy scientists; a token bit of political intrigue; an emphasis on the cosmic wildness of nature.

Writer Leslie Bohem and director Roger Donaldson also include memories of Jurassic Park ([1993] – terror in the dark), The Birds ([1963] – small town paranoia) and Star Trek (passim – a communal sing-along to “Row Your Boat”).

Mercifully, this film is rather better entertainment than the terminally creaky Twister. Not that it is any less corny – there are the usual hooks and through-lines devoted to the main characters (adults and children alike) overcoming their fears and selfish impulses.

But the scenes devoted to a volcanic eruption and its ensuing devastation are as frightening and spectacular as anything in Independence Day (1996) or Daylight (1996).

Like Twister, Dante’s Peak emphasizes abstract, video-game-style carnage, and downplays the traces of actual human death. This is spelt out with stunning clarity when the scientists watch the horrifying death of one of their colleagues and add this chipper epitaph: "At least he got to see the show"! It is hard to dislike a film with lines like that, or this, from Linda Hamilton: "A man who stares at a rock must have a lot on his mind – or nothing."

MORE Donaldson: The Getaway, Species

© Adrian Martin March 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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