Dante's Peak is a movie about a volcano set in the Pacific Northwest named, obviously, Dante's Peak. At its foot is a town, also named Dante's Peak.United States Geological Survey Vulcanologist Dr. Harry Dalton (Pierce Brosnan) is sent to the area to check out the volcano; after a few incidents involving par-boiled skinny dippers and some flirtation with Mayor Rachel Wando (Linda Hamilton), he tries to send the town on alert. Unfortunately, he is shut down by his superior. The town happens to be second place in the 'most desirable small town to live in the US' list, and they don't want any "crazy" accusations scaring away the tourists, which the town's economy depends on. Besides, there's a million to one chance that it could go off. What could happen?Surprising everyone except Harry, it erupts.Unlike so many other disaster movies, Dante's Peak is noted for its relative scientific accuracy, although they did embellish a little for the sake of the action. Some geologists say they enjoy this movie because they get to see volcanologists in the field and some factual science along with their explosions.
This film contains the following tropes:
Abandoned Mine: Graham uses it as a hideout/clubhouse, and when the volcano erupts, it's where Harry and the Wando family hole up until help arrives.
Artistic License - Geology: It tried to get some research done, but they ultimately could not get it all right. Fluid lava is not known for being a sign of an explosive eruption. Likewise, Outrunning the Pyroclastic Flow is impossible in Real Life if you are already in its path (Wikipedia puts its speed at "up to 700 km/h"); the mine they held up in should have been rendered a Death World by the hot gas and sheer temperature. And that far in the mine should have been wiped out the second the flow hit.
On the other hand, they aren't shown to be actually outrunning the pyroclastic flow: they traveled a much shorter distance than it did — it was gaining on them the whole way, and people have survived pyroclastic flows by being underground at the time they passed over them. The most famous example is a prisoner in the St. Pierre jail on the island of Martinique, when Mount Pelee erupted in 1902.
Attack of the Town Festival: The volcano just happens to wake up during the Pioneer Festival where the town receives the "Second most desirable place to live in the US" award.
Bittersweet Ending: The movie is quite happy to show that the Dante's Peak town, the namesake snowcapped mountain and everything around them is reduced to an uninhabtiable hellscape by the eruption.
Closer than They Appear: Dr. Dalton keeps an eye on the pyroclastic flow in his driver's side mirror while attempting to outrun it. However, there's no "objects in mirror are closer than they appear" label.
Convection Schmonvection: Dr. Dalton manages to drive a car over a flow of magma and manages only to melt the tyres, and lava flows into the living room of a log cabin and only catches the immediate area on fire. The commentary on the DVD says the lava-crossing sequence was mostly done for real. Wait... WHAT?
Death by Materialism: When the volcano is erupting, a helicopter pilot is bribed by the would-be investor (and would-be alternate suitor for Rachel) to get him out of the danger zone. Against his better judgment the pilot takes the money, but the volcanic ash in the air fills up his engines and every occupant dies in the crash.
Disappeared Dad: The Wando children's father left Rachel and them. Ruth, his mother, holds Rachel responsible for that, and their relationship is adversarial as a result.
Hollywood Science: Although it's known for being scientifically sound, it's still an action movie.
Volcanic ash should have all the main characters either dead or dying because it's incredibly fine and will get into their lungs and kill them. But seeing as this is just a disaster movie, this is excusable.
Ignored Expert: Dr. Dalton, although the movie does subvert how the trope is usually played - Dr. Dalton doesn't have enough conclusive evidence, and the economy of the town could be ruined if he was wrong. The second Dr. Dalton finds proof that is more concrete, it's immediately taken seriously; the town was in the middle of a town meeting discussing the evacuation plan when the volcano started erupting.
Improbable Cover: Harry, Mayor Wando and her kids escapee the eruption of the titular volcano by hiding in a mine.
Infant Immortality: Oh like you really believed the kids or the dog would die...even though Harry's team advised him against going after them. On the other hand, this movie did give grandma third-degree burns...
It's Personal: Dr. Dalton's first warnings aren't taken wholly seriously because he's a bit too tightly wound, thanks to losing his fiancée in an eruption.
Jerkass: Ruth crosses into this after the eruption, actually having the nerve to act like it's not her fault that the kids risked their lives to save her from her own stupidity.
Jump Scare: The thought of seeing a kid almost jumping into the very same hot spring where two people were boiled alive really hits home.
Laser-Guided Karma: The greedy helicopter pilot — shown earlier in the film demanding overtime for flying through lunch and extra pay for emergency services — tries to air lift people out of town in exchange for an extortionate $15,000 fee when his engines become clogged by volcanic ash, killing him and his passengers in a fiery crash.
Love Triangle: Elliot — Rachel — Harry. Elliot loses, and is a poor sport about it.
Never Mess with Granny: Ruth saves everyone by jumping into a lake of sulfuric acid and pushing along a boat with four people in it so they can get to the docks. Goddamn. It actually makes up for the fact that she was the reason they were there in the first place.
Official Kiss: Harry and Rachel have been attracted each other for the whole couple weeks he's been in town. The night they agree to have a go at taking the relationship to the next level is the night Harry gets his evidence the volcano will erupt. They don't have another moment together until they're rescued — at which point they kiss, each glad the other is alive.
Ruth. She spends the whole movie hating on her daughter-in-law for driving away her son and abandoning her grandchildren. And then she pooh-poohs the danger of the volcano because the daughter-in-law is dating the geologist. But once things prove to be deadly, she performs a Heroic Sacrifice and saves everyone, living only long enough to apologize.
Dr. Dreyfus. Though he had sound reasoning, his guess was wrong and it cost lives. Once he realized an eruption was imminent he volunteered himself to stay behind. He brings up the rear in the USGS evacuation and is their only lost member.
Shaggy Dog Story: The main characters go up the mountain in order to rescue Ruth, but she ends up dying anyways.
Stuff Blowing Up: Not just the volcano, but also a helicopter and a gas station.
Shown Their Work: Although not perfect, it does get a lot more of the science right than usual, maybe 60% to 70% of it. That's a good percentage for Hollywood.
Suit with Vested Interests: Elliot, the man who was going to invest in the town as a tourist attraction (and who was also interested in Rachel before Harry showed up). He bails on the town immediately upon realizing there's a significant chance of the mountain erupting, and is the one who paid the chopper pilot fifteen grand to fly him out.
Paul actually invokes this on the town council who were taking the threat seriously until he points out the damaging effects on tourism.
Tempting Fate: Dante's Peak receiving their award for being such a great town to live in.
You'd think a trained pilot would know better than to attempt to take off in the middle of an ash storm. There's a good reason civil aviation grinds to a halt when there's a major volcanic eruption.
Rachel's two kids steal her truck so they can drive up the mountain to rescue grandma. Even they realize that it's a dumb idea. Dr. Dalton and Rachel save them before the lava flow can kill them, making this a subversion.
Grandmother Ruth refuses to listen to the warnings of a member of the USGS and stays on her mountainside home, and is still there long after it's started to erupt, to the point of actively denying that it's even erupting when it's raining ash all around her home. Subverted because Dr. Dalton and Rachel then come to save her. Then double subverted when Ruth sacrifices her life to save Dalton, Rachel, and the kids, which wouldn't have been necessary if she had left in the first place.
Two-Person Pool Party: A pair of skinny dippers who decide to wash up in a hot spring, and are boiled when the volcano starts venting.
Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Kind of. While the movie is obviously fictional and doesn't make any claims otherwise, several plot elements are clearly inspired by the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. In particular, Ruth is a female version of Harry Randall Truman (not to be confused with the president). Also, the scene in the crater was actually filmed on Mount St. Helens. Nevertheless, the movie mentions the 1980 eruption, indicating that Mount St. Helens exists as itself in the movie's universe.