This week on the Good-Bad Film Club we watched Dante’s Peak, which – despite me seeing it in the cinema when it came out 23 years ago – I have always believed to be called Volcano.
It turns out there was a Volcano film, which came out shortly after. Similar films often come in pairs: Deep Impact and Armageddon, White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen, Finest Hour and Churchill, anything with Colin Firth in and anything else with Colin Firth in which came out the same year.
The late ’90s were our disaster movie heyday – but paradoxically, they were also happier times. The most reported war was that between Oasis and Blur, while “multilayered” was more likely to refer to someone’s hairstyle rather than a film that’s too difficult to actually explain.
Announcing yourself to be a centrist got you a safe seat and a Christmas card from Tony Blair rather than a monstering on Twitter, and as for progress, that meant buying an electric kettle without having to put on the plug yourself, rather than tech so complicated I have to ask my 11 year old to activate the parental controls for me.
Dante’s Peak is peak ’90s disaster movie. It’s even better than Deep Impact, which spoiled its copybook by having Oscar winner Vanessa Redgrave in it. Dante’s Peak gets nearly everything right, apart from the science bit, which they got partly right and partly wrong, which is the right way to do it:
- Mayor Rachel Waldo and volcano expert Harry Dalton – Linda Hamilton and Remington Steele himself, Pierce Brosnan – are so hot they still look ridiculously sexy today, despite the ’90s hair.
- The people who ignored all the “mate, your volcano is about to erupt” warnings die, even if they’re actually quite nice.
- The dog survives!
- It’s extremely silly… (one of the signs of the locals’ impending fiery doom is SQUIRRELS)
- …yet just sensible enough that we learn something about volcanoes (pyroclastic clouds!*)
- It utilises the Pre-Dead Girlfriend trope to give hot volcano expert Harry Dalton a sad backstory (she’s killed at the very start, in a flashback to a few years earlier during a Colombian eruption).
- Did I tell you the dog survives.
The scene-setting takes a while, though it’s never boring, as ominous signs of impending destruction are ignored or downplayed. Dalton realises something is up when the squirrels start dying, and he really knows something’s up when two boiled-alive bodies (humans, not squirrels) bounce to the surface of a stinky hot spring. (They were skinny-dipping so if you’re a prudish Old Testament type, this is the film for you.)
Harry – being an expert at reading squirrel entrails – is convinced the peak is going to blow.
The town council and Harry’s boss Paul don’t want to evacuate the town because of the financial cost, and Paul maybe if you’d spent less time studying volcanoes and more time watching Jaws you wouldn’t have died.
But blow its top the volcano does, sending a river of molten lava straight through the back wall of Rachel’s be-hyphened ex-mother-in-law’s house – just as Rachel, Harry, and Rachel’s two remarkably un-irritating children are finally persuading her to leave.
Grandma is one of those “I must stay on my mountain!” types and she gets to do just that, as she dies from chemical burns after wading through a sulphurous lake to pull their boat to safety.
Paul is washed away when the bridge collapses, which traumatised my friend Liz who really liked him. (Two days later we went for a walk and she was STILL going on about him. Five miles she kept it up; even my dog was considering throwing itself into a volcano at that point. I actually just googled him and sadly for Liz, actor Charles Hallahan died the year the film was released, news I shall forever keep from her.)
Grandma’s dog Roughy, Harry, Rachel and her kids (whose names completely passed me by, like a cute puppy stuck on a lava flow) survive too, after Harry drives their truck into the local mine until the volcano stops erupting and they can be rescued.
The final shot is of the newly-emptied volcano, the top gone and just the jagged sides left, like when you’ve squeezed a really massive spot and you’re left with a giant crater on your own chin.
The town is destroyed, though presumably they could use it to stage Pompeii re-enactments or start up a business selling foot care pumice stones, perhaps with a pun on the name Roughy.
The Good-Bad Film Club rating
I’m being magma-naminous here, but this is a Bad-Good Film.
Next week in the Good-Bad Film Club we’re back to zombies with Overlord, which reminds me I need to buy some sausages.
*You can find out how to survive a pyroclastic cloud here. I have no idea how accurate their advice is, though I suppose if it doesn’t work you can’t come after me.
`We watched Dante’s Peak on Netflix. It’s also available from: