Linda Hamilton and Pierce Brosnan helplessly witness the eruption of a volcano that has been extinct for centuries in “Le Pic de Dante”. A feature film that connects spectacular sequences but was sold as realistic when it was released. During the promotion of the film, experts have also given their opinion on the matter.
Dante’s Peak : Linda Hamilton and Pierce Brosnan against a volcano
In 1997, two disaster films with similar synopses clash in dark rooms. While volcano puts on a spectacle of destruction in the city of Los Angeles, Dante’s Peak opt for a more natural setting, partly inspired by the eruption of Mount Saint Helens in 1980. The feature film takes place in the Cascade Range, in Washington State, where the famous volcano is located.
After losing his partner, volcanologist Harry Dalton (Pierce Brosnan) gave up his research in Colombia and now works for the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver. While signs of seismological activity are recorded on the peak of Dante, the scientist is sent on site to monitor the volcano, which has been extinct for centuries. Arriving in the town at the foot of the site, Dalton meets Mayor Rachel Wando (Linda Hamilton), afraid that her presence could damage the reputation of her quiet little town.
But faced with increasingly worrying phenomena, she has no choice but to face the facts: it is necessary to evacuate the premises. Logically, the panic quickly wins the inhabitants… Charles Hallahan, Elizabeth Hoffman and Grant Heslov complete the distribution of the feature film by Roger Donaldson, director of The Mutant, thirteen days and English robbery.
When the film is released, Universal Pictures invites hundreds of volcanologists and scientists at screenings in Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Honolulu. The promotion emphasizes the realism of the Dante’s Peak. Quoted by Los Angeles Timesexecutive producer Ilona Herzberg says:
We wanted to create an unforgettable experience, but also stay close to scientific facts.
The studio therefore hopes to be able to obtain the favorable opinions of these experts. The latter praise certain qualities of the feature film, starting with the credible presentation of the members of the United States Geological Survey, which includes the hero played by Pierce Brosnan. Geologist specializing in volcanic hazards, Bob Tilling explains:
The surveillance team sent to Dante’s peak resembles people I’ve worked with. The techniques they use, the jokes over coffee, those are fair things.
… for events that are much less so?
On the other hand, for Bob Tilling, the adventures of the film are not realistic:
Huge earthquakes are somewhat implausible. We do not observe such pre-eruption seismic signals.
For the scientist, the scene where a boat is melting does not work, in particular because the lakes cannot have such a level of acidity in such a short time. He specifies :
It takes time for the acid gases to penetrate the water. It is completely implausible.
A point of view shared at the time by geologist David Hill, who believed that the volcano wakes up “very quickly”. On the other hand, for Dan Dzurisin, then scientist in charge of the observatory of the volcanic arc of the Cascades in Vancouver, “the film is a hit in many respects”. Quoted by SFGATEthe expert Robert Christiansen who was present during the eruption of Mount Saint Helens in 1980, nuances as for him:
The film’s eruption shows the kinds of things volcanoes do: mudslides, earthquakes, rivers of lava, acid lakes, and explosive eruptions. All of these things could happen, but not all at the same time.
Other scientists consider that the feature film can act aswarning about the dangers of volcanoes, even if they have been dormant for millennia. They also think that the confrontation between the volcanologists and the political authorities is perfectly described, especially when they discuss the need to launch the alert as soon as possible.