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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.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: As things are getting hot and heavy between Rachel and Harry, she gets nervous and suggests she make coffee. Harry finally admits to her that he really doesn't like her coffee, getting a laugh out of Rachel, who's been bringing coffee to the USGS crew every morning as an excuse to hang out with Harry.
  • 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.
  • Buried Alive: Harry and the Wandos both end up this way after they hide in the old mine after the pyroclastic cloud levels the town. The Wandos are at least trapped with food and water. Harry gets stuck spending at least a day trapped in the cab of the ranger's truck trying to activate ELF. Thankfully, they get dug out safely.
  • Casting Gag: Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Dalton. As in, the guy who played Bond before him.
  • Chekhov's Gag: The first morning the USGS team is in Dante's Peak, Rachel brings them all the same cups of standard black coffee. A few scenes later when she makes her regular morning coffee delivery, she's got the team members individual orders memorized and specific coffees for each one, much to Greg's delight.
  • 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. Currently provides the page image.
  • Closed Circle:
    • Dante's Peak apparently has two ways out of town. The highway bridge collapses during the initial eruption earthquake, cutting off one exit, and the other exit, the bridge, is washed away with Paul when the dam bursts, forcing Harry to hide in the abandoned mine with the Wandos to escape the pyroclastic cloud, since there's no other way out of town to get to safety.
    • Played with after Harry and Rachel go up the mountain to get Rachel's kids, who went up themselves to rescue Ruth. A rock slide and falling trees blocks the road back down the mountain, however, Harry is able to get them back down using an alternate route.
  • 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. Sadly it gets consumed by a lava flow.
  • 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 chokes 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. They reconcile before Ruth dies from her acid lake injuries
  • 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.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: While Paul Dreyfus is painted in the "villain" category for outright refusing to take Harry's initial assessment of Dante's Peak at face value and put the town on alert, he makes legitimately valid points which makes his actions understandable, and he immediately gets to action once there's indisputable proof the volcano will eventually erupt. Still, he not only ends up killed before he can evacuate safely, and he's the only member of the team that doesn't survive. Because Dreyfus is far from being the film's outright villain, his eventual death comes off as brutally harsh rather than cathartic.
  • 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.
  • The End... Or Is It?: The final shot of the film is of what remains of the volcano, silent and still once again, but with the heavy implication that it will erupt again in the future.
  • 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!
  • Foregone Conclusion:
    • If Harry isn't right about the mountain blowing up, there's no movie.
    • Also, the radio cutting out as Harry tells Paul to evacuate, followed by Paul's immediate decision that he's not going to, all but confirms to the audience that Paul's not going to make it.
  • Hassle-Free Hotwire: Harry can hotwire a pickup in about 10 seconds. In fairness, he was "James Bond" at the time.
  • 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.
    • The comic relief character Greg has one After the water is found full of sulfur and again after the mountain blows it's top. He's also the last one to walk away after Paul is killed when the bridge collapses, and is clearly heavily affected by his death.
  • 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. Sheriff Turner and the National Guard troops are shown wearing masks as a partial attempt of subversion, but Harry, the Wandos, and the USGS team never do.
  • 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 not only gives Harry extra time to prove his theory is correct, He proves that he wasn't simply being a jerkass about it when he finally receives stronger proof and immediately reverses his position (and apologizes to Harry). Paul also ends up justified as millionaire investor Elliott immediately decides to leave during the town's evacuation meeting, showing he'd have done so earlier if Harry had been allowed to proceed.
  • 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. While his call ends up wrong, everything he does is with the town's best interests in mind. He gives Harry ample time to prove himself, and when Harry does finally get the evidence before their departure, he immediately jumps into action, apologizes to Harry for doubting him, and stays behind to help however he can during the town's evacuation. He's the last character to leave Dante's Peak before the mountain blows, and only does so because there's nothing he can do to help Harry at that point.
  • 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. The sequence also has tense music and Harry shouts and quickly grabs Graham before he can make the dive to increase the tension.
  • 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: Greg, full stop. "Coffee! Coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee! Cappu-cci-no!"
  • My Greatest Failure:
    • For Paul, it's his decision to evacuate Mammoth Mountain, as the volcano didn't erupt, but the after effects ruined the town financially. It's the driving force behind why he refuses to put the town on alert early. While his call turns out to be wrong, he's justified in the sense that the town does have a major financial investor looking to make improvements that would immediately move on if he feared the town would be destroyed in an eruption. And while his call was wrong, Elliott, the investor, immediately demonstrates that Paul was right about the evacuation causing investor panic, as Elliott almost immediately decides to get out of Dodge during the town meeting discussion on the town's evacuation. Of course, by that point, people are far more worried about survival than the town's financial properity.]]
    • For Harry, it's Marianne's death. After the time jump in the beginning, we see that Harry still has a picture of her in his apartment, and it's clearly had an effect on his work, to the point that Paul initially holds off on Harry's suggestion to evacuate until he has conclusive proof. Rachel ends up breaking him out of his shell.
  • 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.
  • Oh, Crap!: When the water comes out of the tap brown and smelling of sulfur, Harry and later Paul realize an eruption is now a matter of when, not if.
  • 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.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: While Nancy, Stan and Terry all have their moments, Greg's excited reaction to Rachel's morning coffee delivery definitely makes him the standout. Subverted later on. When the volcano demonstrates it's going to erupt, and subsequently does, he gets ultra serious.
  • 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.
  • Rope Bridge: While it's made of concrete and iron, the bridge to get out of Dante's Peak is overwhelmed by water and debris after the dam bursts and gives out, taking poor Paul with it. We get plenty of shots of it creaking and giving out under the pressure before it finally fails.
  • 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. And some of what they get wrong, like not dying very quickly from breathing volcanic ash, is more of a Necessary Weasel for there to be a movie at all.
  • 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:
    • In the flashback, Harry's wife Marianne wants to stick around in the middle of a volcanic eruption to collect more data, and has to be practically dragged out by Harry. If she had a little more sense, she would have evacuated before the rain of flaming rocks of death. Ironically, she may have survived if they'd taken shelter in that building, though a giant lava rock crashing through the roof made survivable improbable either way.
    • You'd think a trained pilot would know better than to attempt to take-off in the middle of an ash storm, no matter how much he's paid to ignore that bit of safety advice. 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. Fortunately, 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, to the point of actively denying that it's even erupting when it's raining ash all around her home. It's double subverted when Harry and Rachel manage to talk her into running when lava literally melts through the back of her home, only for her to die in a Heroic Sacrifice dragging the boat the last few meters through a boiling, highly-acidic lake. It's even lampshaded by her in her last moments.
  • Tourism-Derailing Event: Played with. Harry has found evidence to suggest that the volcano which borders the titular town is preparing to blow its top, but his fellow volcanologist Paul is hesitant to issue a warning because of a previous false alarm involving a different volcano that resulted in tourism and real estate values of the nearby town plummeting and the town nearly going bankrupt as a result, and he doesn't want the mistake to be repeated here. Paul isn't a local businessman or elected official, but he is concerned about Crying Wolf and negatively impacting the local community. Unfortunately, it's no false alarm this time.
  • 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 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / OutWithABang

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