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Film / Dante's Peak

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Rising from the ashes...

Dante's Peak is a 1997 Disaster Movie directed by Roger Donaldson, 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 Dr. Paul Dreyfus (Charles Hallahan). The town happens to be second place on 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.

Dante's Peak provides examples of:

  • 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.
  • Advancing Wall of Doom: The climactic eruption of Dante’s Peak sends a massive wave of pyroclastic flows into the town below. These avalanches are so powerful that the nearby forests are flattened, any buildings hit by it are demolished and vehicles are torn to pieces. By the end of the film, when the ash and smoke finally clear and we finally get a proper look at the devastation, the entire town and surrounding area has been razed to the ground.
  • Almost Kiss: Harry and Rachel were close to locking lips when her daughter wakes up to request a glass of water. The water ends up contaminated and things move so fast after that, they don't get another opportunity until the Big Damn Kiss at the end.
  • Artistic License – Geology:
    • Despite the town being bombarded with so much ash it's literally piled up into faux-snowdrifts by the next morning after the eruption begins, it doesn't get to the point where a roof collapses despite volcanic ash only taking at least a few inches to collapse a roof.
    • While the lake being turned acidic by the volcano is possible, it would be closer to lemon juice in terms of acidity at most, and wouldn't get strong enough to be dangerous Hollywood Acid.
  • 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: On the bitter side, 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 uninhabitable hellscape by the eruption. The panover of the mountain at the end shows it completely blew out in a manner eerily similar to Mt. Saint Helens. On the sweet side, Harry and the Wando family survive the eruption, Harry and Rachel have a romance going, and the 7,400 people that live at Dante’s Peak are for the most part successfully evacuated save for a few unfortunate fatalities, which is a pretty damn good ending all things considered.
  • Blatant Lies: What you tell children, all facts to the contrary, during a volcanic crisis to keep them from freaking out and making an already bad situation that much worse.
    Graham and Lauren: Is the boat sinking? Is the boat gonna sink?
    Harry, Ruth and Rachel: No, sweetie. The boat's not gonna sink.
  • Casting Gag: Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Dalton. As in, the guy who played Bond before him.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The E.L.F. global tracking device, the mineshaft. Both prove instrumental in the climax to survive the volcano's pyroclastic flow that wipes out whatever else remained of the town.
  • Chekhov's Volcano: The town is at the foot of a dormant volcano, so course it's going to erupt.
  • Closer than They Appear: Harry 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. Justified in that that particular year of Chevrolet truck didn't come with convex mirrors.
  • Convection, Schmonvection: Harry 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?
  • Cool Car: Harry's 1987 Chevy Suburban. That beast waded through a frickin river.
  • Death by Materialism: When the volcano is erupting, a helicopter pilot is bribed by Elliot, 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.
  • Disaster-Dodging Dog: For some reason, the main characters' dog, Roughy, ends up trapped between two lava rivers (one which already developed a colder crust and another flowing across the only untouched strip of gravel). Unlike most examples of this trope (where the dog finds shelter on its own), this dog needs a fire-proof car driven by Harry Dalton and a good timing to save its skin.
  • Disaster Porn: The final eruption of the volcano, which sends a massive eruption column into the sky, and then sends a pyroclastic flow that levels the town like a giant volcanic bulldozer.
  • Disposable Woman: Harry's fiancée, Marianne, a really gung-ho geologist, refuses to leave until dragged bodily by Harry. She suffers death by volcanic projectile only moments into the film.
  • Doomed Contrarian: To be fair, Paul was only trying to prevent Harry from repeating his mistake with Mammoth Mountain and had some good points. Also Ruth, who was just an irresponsible, cantankerous pain in the ass.
  • Doomed Hometown: That town had "doomed" written all over it.
  • Dramatic Irony: Knowing what happened to the two skinny dippers not long before builds up the tension well as the kids think about jumping in themselves.
  • Expy: Ruth is undoubtedly one for Harry R. Truman, the legendary mountain man of Mount St. Helens; both live in cabins by a lake which they refuse to leave no matter how clear it becomes the mountain is going to blow and both are killed during the inevitable eruption.
  • Fight to Survive: It's a volcano! Run away!
  • Hassle-Free Hotwire: Harry can hotwire a pickup in about two seconds.
  • Hellish Copter: The helicopter pilot attempts to take off in the middle of the ash storm. The ash is ingested into the turbines, the engines seize, and the chopper crashes to the ground, killing everyone onboard.
  • Heroic BSoD: Harry has a brief one when Marianne is killed.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Ruth. Cracked points out some major flaws in the logic of this.
  • Hollywood Science: Although the film is known for being relatively scientifically sound, there is a major inaccuracy. 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.
  • I Choose to Stay: Paul volunteers to remain behind to monitor the eruption, ordering the other scientists to leave. They all elect to stay as well.
  • Ignored Expert: Harry, although the movie does subvert how the trope is usually played — Harry doesn't have enough conclusive evidence, and the economy of the town could be ruined if he was wrong. The second Harry finds proof that is more concrete (the town's water supply being contaminated with sulfur), 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 escape the eruption of the titular volcano by hiding in a mine.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Oh, like you really believed the kids or the dog would die... even though Harry's team advised him against going after them.
  • It's Personal: Harry'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: The helicopter pilot. He complains about working over lunch, refuses to embark on a search-and-rescue mission without hiking his rates, and extorts desperate townspeople trying to evacuate on his helicopter for all their money. In the end all he gets is himself and his passengers killed.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Paul reprimands Harry and overrules his warnings about Dante's Peak erupting. But the evidence at that point was inconclusive and he knows from past experience that the consequences of a false alarm can be disastrous for a small town. He proves that he wasn't simply being a jerkass about it when he receives stronger proof and immediately reverses his position (and apologizes to Harry).
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Ruth blames Rachel for Rachel's husband (Ruth's son) leaving her, stubbornly refuses to leave the mountain despite pleas for her to go, and is just a belligerent ass in general. But she treats the kids kindly, pulls off a Heroic Sacrifice to save Rachel, Harry and the kids, and one of the things she says to them before she dies from her injuries is an apology to Rachel for how she acted to her.
    • Paul as well.
  • 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.
  • Kids Driving Cars: When the volcano erupts, Rachel's two kids steal her truck so they can drive up the mountain to rescue grandma.
  • The Lab Rat: The USGS guys.
  • 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. His victims even include a town council member who was more concerned about the town's financial future than alerting them to the danger.
  • Love Triangle: Elliot–Rachel–Harry. Elliot loses, and is a poor sport about it.
  • Must Have Caffeine: "Coffee! Coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee! Cappu-cci-no!"
  • Mythology Gag: True to her being an Expy for Harry R. Truman, when she comes outside when Graham and Lauren arrive at her cabin after the eruption has started and for the rest of her time on-screen, Ruth is dressed in a red and black flannel jacket just like the one worn by Art Carney's portrayal of Harry in the 1981 Made-for-TV movie St. Helens.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Ruth saves everyone by jumping into a lake of sulphuric 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.
  • Outrun the Fireball: More like outrunning the pyroclastic flow.
  • Percussive Maintenance: How Harry "fixes" the survey robot. Although his colleague Terry repeatedly kicking it doesn't seem to help much.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: Harry's fiancée Marianne gets hit in the head by a Lava Bomb early in the film that was able to punch through the roof of the truck she was in like it was nothing, and yet only has a little blood on her head to show for it. In reality, such an impact would've turned her head inside out, with the rock coming to a stop somewhere in her stomach if it didn't go all the way through her and continued through the rest of the truck.
  • Prophetic Name: Dante's Peak. As in, the author of the Inferno. Doubles as I Don't Like the Sound of That Place and overlaps with Tempting Fate.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Dr. Paul Dreyfus, despite being a bit of a Commander Contrarian, is a reasonable boss who respects Harry. While he is the most vocal in shutting Harry's initial calls to evacuate Dante's Peak, he continues to monitor the mountain for a week after initially promising Harry two days, and the moment he sees irrefutable proof of an impending eruption, he immediately give the go-ahead for an evacuation and apologizes to Harry for doubting him. When the volcano does erupt, he runs out to try and stop the helicopter from taking off, and volunteers to stay while ordering the other scientists to leave.
    • Sheriff Turner. While he initially scoffs at the idea of the volcano erupting, once it becomes clear that it will, he jumps into action to help save lives. He alerts the town to attend an emergency meeting. After the eruption, he stays to help the National Guard locate survivors.
  • Redemption Equals Death:
    • 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.
    • Paul. 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.
  • Romance Ensues: Between Harry and Rachel.
  • Rule of Cool: See Hollywood Science.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Ruth.
  • Second Place Is for Losers: Dante's Peak was recently named the second most desirable place to live in America. When Harry inquires which town came first, he gets an irate response from a local resident.
  • Sex Signals Death: The couple that goes Skinny Dipping in the worst possible lake. Their deaths actually sets up the plot.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: The main characters go up the mountain in order to rescue Ruth, but she ends up dying anyways.
  • 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.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: While rowing their boat across an acidic lake, they sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" in an attempt to keep themselves calm despite the horrific situation.
  • Stock Scream: Paul lets out a Wilhelm Scream as he falls off the collapsing bridge and into a volcanic mudflow.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Not just the volcano, but also a helicopter and a gas station.
  • 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.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • 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. Now he's the richest man in the cemetery.
    • 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. Harry 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 Harry and Rachel then come to save Rachel's kids who came to convince stubborn Ruth to leave. Then double subverted when Ruth sacrifices her life to save Harry, Rachel, and the kids, which wouldn't have been necessary if she had left in the first place. It's even lampshaded by her in her last moments.
    • Harry's co-worker at the beginning of the film. Seriously, if she'd just left earlier, they'd have missed being in the path of the rock that killed her. Although, considering that lava bombs were unpredictable and falling everywhere, it may have been more shit luck than anything. But it still counts because she wanted to stay behind and record results while everything was going to hell. Not wise. She'd also have survived if they'd stayed awhile. Leaving a sturdy structure in the middle of a natural disaster is almost certainly a recipe for death.
  • Truth in Television: Ruth's refusal to leave her home on an active volcano mirrors real-life people who refused to evacuate from the area around Mount Saint Helens before it erupted.
  • 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. And just to hammer it in even further, the volcano's post-eruption state looks exactly like that of Mount St. Helens post-eruption, too, all they need to do to make it identical to the real thing nowadays is add a smoking lava dome. Nevertheless, the movie mentions the 1980 eruption, indicating that Mount St. Helens exists as itself in the movie's universe.


Video Example(s):


Dante's Peak

A couple of amorous hikers decide to take a dip in a hot spring. Unfortunately, the sulfuric acid of a nearby awakening volcano filled the springs and fried the pair to a crisp.

How well does it match the trope?

4.67 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / OutWithABang

Media sources: