Decade of Disaster: Dante's Peak (1997)

by robotGEEK

I always tend to go through phases when it comes to the kind of movies I watch. I remember last year I went through a "classic disaster" phase where I decided to finally check out some of these epic disaster flicks that permeated the 70's, creating both iconic classics, and some real duds. I think we can all agree that The Towering Inferno is the peak of how great a disaster flick can be, even by today's standards, but then films like Earthquake and Airport felt surprisingly flat. Anyway, I decided to dig into some 90's era disaster flicks, where we saw somewhat of a resurgence in that genre with films like Armageddon and Volcano to name a few. It was my absolute love of Volcano that reminded me that there was another Volcano disaster flick released that very same year, Dante's Peak. And this was the norm back then. If you recall, lots of similar films were released within the same year baring very similar ideas, competing for the top spot at the box office in those respective genre's. For example, we had Armageddon and Deep Impact (1998), Volcano and Dante's Peak (1997), and so on. 

Dante's Peak is fucking phenomenal. While this was released the very same year as Volcano, and they are both about a Volcano erupting, they couldn't be anymore different. Where Volcano was just an old school type of disaster flick that wastes no time with character development or anything like that, instead focusing on the destruction and havoc and nonstop thrills and excitement, Dante's Peak instead focuses on the people that will ultimately be affected by this impending disaster, taking the time building a story centered around an expert who's sent out to Dante's Peak, a small isolated town, to do some readings on the mountain/volcano, only to be immediately alarmed that something bad is about to happen, much to the dismissiveness of his superiors. As he gets close to the small towns mayor (Linda Hamilton) and her kids, she too realizes their town is in danger, yet the local office officials are more concerned about their economy and what an evacuation could do for business, rather than the safety of their little town. 

Dante's Peak is split right down the middle, with the first half building up some great tension as things become more and more clear that a disaster is inevitable, giving us time to get to know the characters, and most of all, care about them. Right at the middle mark, disaster strikes and Dante's Peak becomes the film I had hoped to have seen when I was younger. It's balls-to-the-wall epic destruction at it's finest, made all the more intense because you know the characters well by this point and actually care what happens to them. And there are some truly riveting, intense and harrowing moments that will leave you biting your nails. 

The effects work is downright amazing. Honestly, I didn't expect it to be this good and look this badass. One of the things this film has going for it in regards to it's effects work, is that it was made in the 90's. Sure, CGI was already becoming the norm, but practical effects were still being utilized quite regularly and Dante's Peak was 98% practical effects and they were phenomenal. I was in awe (like the bridge sequence) of some of the things I saw, knowing full well that there was no way that was or could be real, but rather models, yet I couldn't tell and that's what blew me away. And that's one thing this film does well, or even better than Volcano, is that it makes you believe because it looks so fucking real. 

I realized recently that I'd never actually watched Dante's Peak in it's entirety before. I remember trying it once, way back when it was released, and I must have gotten bored or impatient with the first half, which is the part of the film that takes its time building up the story, tension and relationships, before letting all hell break loose. Watching it today, that is the very thing I love about this film, yet as a teenager, I just wanted to see destruction. In that sense, I can understand why I just didn't take to this film like I did Volcano, which hits the ground running right from the start. And even if I did watch the entire thing back then, I doubt I would have enjoyed it as much as I did today, as a 45 year old. So in a sense, I'm happy I waited because I just absolutely loved this experience from start to finish. Loved it. 

Ultimately, I couldn't pick one over the other, as I love both Volcano and Dante's Peak equally, just in very different ways. I'm sure others feel the same, though judging from the comments on my Volcano post on Instagram, people tend to pick one over the other. I can't. I love them equally, even though they're two totally different types of films. 

Dante's Peak is currently streaming on HBO Max. You can also pick it up cheap on Blu Ray, for around $10, for your physical media collection. 

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