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Set in the Pacific Northwest, Dante's Peak is a movie about a volcano named, obviously, Dante's Peak. At its foot is a town, also named Dante's Peak.
Vulcanologist Dr. Harry Dalton (Pierce Brosnan) is sent to the area to check out the volcano; after a few incidents involving char-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?
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 vulcanologists in the field and some factual science along with their explosions.
This film contains the following tropes:
- Abandoned Mine: Wando's son uses it as a hideout/clubhouse, and when the volcano erupts, it's where Harry and the Wando family hole up until help arrives.
- Actor Allusion / Meaningful Name: Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Dalton. As in, the guy who played Bond before him.
- Artistic License -- especially near the end of the film
- Asshole Victim: The helicopter pilot.
- 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.
- Chekhov's Volcano
- Chekhov's Gun: The E.L.F. global tracking device, the mineshaft.
- 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 mosty done for real. WHAT?
- 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 Movie
- Disposable Woman: Harry's fiancee, Marianne, dies barely five minutes into the movie.
- Doomed Contrarian: To be fair, Dr. Dreyfus was only trying to prevent Dr. Dalton from repeating his mistake with Mammoth Mountain and had some good points. Also Ruth, who was just an irresponsible pain in the ass.
- Doomed Hometown: That town had "doomed" written all over it.
- Dueling Movies: With Volcano.
- Hellish Copter: The helicopter pilot attempts to take off in the middle of the ash storm, despite being warned about what a bad idea this was. The ash is ingested into the turbines, the engines seize, and the chopper crashes to the ground.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Ruth. Cracked points out some major flaws in the logic of this.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Now we know what Remington Steele and Sarah Connor like to do in their spare time...
- 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 concrete proof, it's immediately taken seriously; the town was in the middle of a town meeting discussing the evacuation plan when the volcano started erupting.
- Infant Immortality: Oh like you really believed the kids or the dog would die. 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: The helicopter pilot.
- The Lab Rat: The USGS guys.
- Laser-Guided Karma: The helicopter pilot tries to "negotiate" his contract when one of the USGS crew needs an emergency airlift. Later, the helicopter pilot tries to fly off to save his own skin but crashes when the ash clogs his engines.
- Not just trying to save his own skin, he was taking a large payoff from some corporate big-shot to fly him out of there.
- Must Have Caffeine: "Coffee! Coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee! Cappu-cci-no!"
- 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.
- Outrun the Fireball: More like outrunning the pyroclastic flow. The movie practically Lampshades this by having Dr. Dalton glance in the side-mirror with the "objects may be closer than they appear" label.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Dr. Paul Dreyfus, despite being a bit of a Commander Contrarian, is a reasonable boss who respects Dr. Dalton.
- 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.
- Romance Ensues: Between Dr. Dalton and Rachel.
- Percussive Maintenance: How the USGS team "fixes" the survey robot.
- Rule of Cool: See Hollywood Science.
- 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: Invoked -- see Doomed Contrarian.
- Tempting Fate: Dante's Peak receiving their award for being such a great town to live in.
- Too Dumb to Live: Rachel's two kids stealing her truck so they can drive up the mountain to rescue grandma. Even they realize it's a dumb idea.
- You'd think a trained pilot would know better than to attempt to take off in the middle of an ash storm. Especially since he was specifically warned that the ashes would seize up his engines. There's a good reason civil aviation grinds to a halt when there's a major volcanic eruption.
- Grandmother Ruth refusing to listen to the warnings of a member of the USGS and staying on her mountainside home.
- Hey - sometimes art imitates life
- You Fail Geology Forever: 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; 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.
- And it's also possible to outrun pyroclastic flows. They only travel about 100 km/h or so. A decent car or motorbike could easily outrun them.