|Dante’s Peak is a 1997 disaster film directed by Roger Donaldson, written by Leslie Bohem, and starring Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton and Charles Hallahan. The film portrays the effect of a volcano erupting near a small town in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. The film is loosly based off of the real life volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens back in 1980. It was released a few months before Volcano and eventually received wider success. It has also been recognized for being more scientifically accurate than Volcano, despite gaining lower ratings.|
Set in the fictional town of Dante’s Peak, Washington, located in the northern Cascade Mountains, the film is somewhat based on the real-life eruptions of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, Mount St. Helens in 1980 and Mount Pinatubo in 1991. The film begins with the eruption of an unnamed volcano in Colombia during which volcanologist Dr. Harry Dalton’s (Brosnan) fiancée, Marianne (Walker Brandt), is killed as the couple tries to evacuate.
Four years later, Dalton is tasked with investigating possible volcanic activity in the Northern Cascades mountain near the town of Dante’s Peak, which has not erupted for 7,000 years. Later, two backpackers (David Lipper and Heather Stephens) are skinny dipping in a hot spring when the water begins to boil, killing the couple. In Dante’s Peak, the town is receiving an award for being “The second most desirable place to live in the United States, population under 20,000” and celebrating its annual “Pioneer Days Festival”. Harry meets mayor Rachel Wando (Hamilton) who, along with her children, Graham (Foley) and Lauren (Smith), accompany Harry to the mountain’s “high lake” to check the water’s acidity. After checking the acidity and picking up the mayor’s estranged ex-mother in-law, Ruth (Hoffman), the five of them head to the town’s hot springs. Harry notices the water still bubbling and abruptly grabs Graham before he dives into the boiling water, startling the other four. Rachel’s daughter soon discovers the bodies of the two dead backpackers.
Harry calls a town meeting to discuss putting the town on alert during which his boss, Dr. Paul Dreyfus (Charles Hallahan), arrives and argues against the alert. Harry is upset by this and is told by Paul to take a vacation, but Harry decides to stay at Dante’s Peak. Harry remains in the town to help Paul and the USGS crew, Greg, Terry, Nancy, and Stan (Heslov, Trutner, Field, and Ma) evaluate the mountain. He also forms a bond with Rachel. Two weeks pass before Paul decides to pull the plug on the assignment, there being no signs of the mountain erupting anytime soon. The team decide to head back to their home base. Harry, while out on his last night with the crew spots Rachel. While they’re talking, Paul comes over and tells Rachel that the crew, including Harry, is leaving in the morning. Rachel, obviously shocked by this news, says goodbye to Harry. Harry stops her and walks her home. On the way the two almost share a kiss after Rachel reveals she doesn’t want Harry to leave but are interrupted by a nosy town councilwoman. After returning to Rachel’s home, Harry and Rachel almost kiss once again before they are interrupted by Rachel’s daughter asking for a glass of water. As Rachel fills a glass from the faucet, she sees the water is a burnt orange. Harry smells the water, and realizes something’s wrong. Rachel and Harry both check the town’s water supply plant and discover that sulfur dioxide has seeped into the town’s water supply and conclude that an eruption is imminent. Afterwards, seismic activity and temperatures on and around the mountain begin to increase at an alarming rate, and Paul finally realizes the danger and decides to evacuate the town.
During the town meeting alerting the citizens to evacuate, the eruption begins, causing a stampede. Earthquakes bring down telephone lines and buildings, while simultaneously the massive quakes cause the elevated freeways, the only main routes leading out of town, to collapse, trapping the citizens and causing mass chaos.
Meanwhile, the mayor’s children take her car and drive it up the mountain to Ruth’s cabin in hopes of evacuating her. As the eruption continues, the USGS crew prepares to leave. Seismic readings indicate that minor eruptions are taking place all over the mountain, and that they are running out of time. Harry races Rachel to get her children but the (only) bridge being packed with people and cars leaves Harry and Rachel trapped, preventing them from returning to town to get her children. Harry drives down into the river hoping to cross. Half way across the two get stuck and another car t-bones the USGS vehicle, breaking the window and almost flooding the car but the impact frees the truck’s stuck tires, letting Harry and Rachel escape the water. Harry and Rachel head up the mountain after the children. While en route, a greedy helicopter pilot, whom the team had hired, attempts to fly people out for money and takes a town investor and councilman with him. The ash proves too thick and they crash, narrowly missing Harry and Rachel. The accident startles Rachel, who begins to cry. Harry comforts her. Debris and rubble wipe out the road behind them on the way up, blocking any means of going back. They find Ruth refusing to leave. Via radio, Harry tells Paul to pack up the team and evacuate before the mountain blows, but his radio dies. Down in the town, the mountain has expelled large amounts of ash and most residents have evacuated.
As Harry and Rachel argue with Ruth for her to come with them, a lava flow engulfs all three cars and parts of the house. The five of them flee to the nearby lake and take a metal boat across the lake. It quickly becomes apparent that the acidic content of the mountain has turned the lake to sulphuric acid and is corroding through the metal boat. As they near the shore the boat’s motor fails. Ruth, realizing that the boat will not make it to the dock, jumps out to pull it along to the pier before it sinks. She wades through the acidic water screaming in pain, but dragging the boat along to try to save the rest of them and succeeds. After they reach the shore the five of them head down the mountain towards the town.
The USGS crew, meanwhile, is evacuated by the National Guard along with the remaining citizens. Paul gets on the two-way to warn Harry that the rising temperatures of the mountain have caused the ice and snow to melt, and that the resulting mud flow is preparing to take out the river bridge which is now the only way out of town. Paul drives the USGS van, while the other four ride in Humvees. The Humvees make it across the failing bridge, but Paul cannot and is washed away in a lahar. Further up the mountain, Ruth and Rachel reconcile before Ruth dies from her injuries. At a ranger station, Harry hot-wires a truck and drives the family down the mountain. When they arrive at the USGS operations center in the town, Harry realizes that the mountain is about to experience a catastrophic eruption. As he leaves, he picks up E.L.F. (Extreme Low Frequency), a tracking device designed by NASA.
Back in the truck, he and the family seek safe haven in the town’s abandoned mines (ironically, Rachel was angry with Graham near the beginning of the movie for being in the mines, saying that they were “too dangerous”) as Dante’s Peak finally explodes and a giant pyroclastic cloud engulfs the town. The truck makes it safely into the mine but the town is destroyed, leading the USGS crew to believe Harry has been killed. (One piece of film footage from this sequence is apparently so realistic that it has made its way into more than one documentary about actual volcanic eruptions.) Inside the mine, Graham leads the way, as most of the abandoned mines served as a hideout for him and his friends, and shows the survivors all of his supplies. Remembering that he left E.L.F. in the truck, Harry leaves to activate it. But before he leaves he sets the kids down and promises the children and Rachel that once they are rescued he would take them to Florida to go deep sea fishing. Harry leaves to activate E.L.F, which causes the mine to collapse a little bit, making Rachel and her kids think he has died. Harry makes it to his truck but not before breaking his arm. While in the truck, Harry is injured by falling rocks and has to reach the tracking device without causing a fatal cave-in. Eventually he reaches the truck but is trapped and nearly crushed inside the truck by falling rocks as he activates E.L.F. The device flashes for “one or two days” before the four are rescued from the mine.
After being rescued from the mine, Harry is met by the rest of his crew, who tell him that Paul didn’t make it. Harry realizes he might have collapsed the whole mine, killing Rachel and her kids. But he is soon relieved to hear the announcement that there are survivors. The kids and Rachel are rushed out of the mine. Harry reunites with Rachel’s kids before catching eyes with a teary-eyed Rachel. The two burst into laughter and Harry pulls Rachel into a passionate first kiss. On board a helicopter, Graham asks Harry if he really meant what he said in the mine about taking the family fishing and Harry says, “Sure did”. Rachel looks at Harry with a proud look and grasps his hand as they smile at each other.
Meanwhile, as the credits begin rolling, the camera pans across the ruins of the town before finally resting on the Dante’s Peak volcano, now reduced to a menacing Mount St. Helens-like horseshoe-shaped caldera, as the sun rises beside it.