Dante's Peak

on February 07, 1997 by Pat Kramer
   Not since "Jurassic Park" has a movie so stunningly created, through the use of special effects, such a realistic and terrifying disaster as that of "Dante's Peak," a film about a seemingly idyllic town in the Cascades that's suddenly transformed into a fiery death pit when a long-dormant volcano springs to life. This film is intense, from beginning to end, with an edgy score that keeps you poised at the edge of your seat, anticipating the worst. However, it is a film that works well for many reasons, including its stars' portrayals of realistic characters with warmth and depth and the all-important special effects, in which the filmmakers have apparently spared no expense.
   The film stars Pierce Brosnan ("Mars Attacks!") as Harry Dalton, a U.S. Geological Survey vulcanologist who is sent to the Pacific Northwest town of Dante's Peak to explore possible seismic activity. Dalton arrives as the townspeople are celebrating a major event: having been selected as the second-best place to live in the U.S., population under 20,000. In the process, he meets town mayor Rachel Waldo ("The Terminator's" Linda Hamilton), an attractive single mother of two who becomes increasingly concerned about the safety of her beautiful little town.
   As a major investor gets ready to sign a lucrative contract, promising new jobs to the townspeople, Dalton discovers alarming signs of life in the mountain that towers over the town. However, in lieu of the impending deal, skeptism prevails--even his own U.S.G.S. team and supervisor do not feel the urgency of causing alarm. When earthquakes begin to rock the town, however, all hell breaks loose as the residents try to flee for their lives from the encroaching cloud of incandescent gases, rivers of hot lava, the hot ash that begins to rain and the cascading flood of fast-moving melted snow.
   Supporting both actors are some of the most magical special effects ever created to portray natural disaster, including 3-D digital computer generated imagery complete with a 3-D lava sequence, a 3-D pyroclastic cloud, some of the largest scale-model miniatures ever built and live-action practical effect shots. Add to that the prowess of producers Gale Anne Hurd ("Aliens") and Joseph Singer ("Daylight") and terror-realm screenwriter Leslie Bohem (also "Daylight"), Run") plus the adventure/drama talents of director Roger Donaldson ("Species"), and the result is a unified effort that succeeds creatively as well. Overall, Dante's Peak is a film that explores not just natural disaster but the human elements involved that contribute to it: the reckless nature of greed, political indifference and volatile nature of human beings when their lives are at stake. Starring Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton. Directed by Roger Donaldson. Written by Leslie Bohem. Produced by Gale Anne Hurd & Joseph M. Singer. A Universal release. Action/drama. Rated PG-13 for disaster-related peril and gore. Running time: 108 min
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