What The Film?! is a weekly column exclusive to Under The Gun Review that brings to light the plot holes Hollywood hoped you’d never notice. Written by comedy writer Dane Sager, this column shows no mercy to films that try and pull the proverbial wool over our eyes.
If you know a film with major plot holes that you feel needs to be exposed, tell us! Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “What The Film” and we’ll try to get your suggestion featured on the site.
This Week’s Movie: 1997’s Dante’s Peak.
I’ve already covered the other 1997 volcano disaster movie a few weeks ago (the creatively titled “Volcano”), but since Dante’s Peak has been added to Netflix streaming, I have an opportunity to do both! I originally wanted to do them back to back, but there were complications.
The key differences between Volcano and Dante’s Peak are as follows: instead of being in Los Angeles; the assumed hibernating volcano is located in a small mountain town in Washington and instead of having the lead be played by Two Face, the protagonist is played by James Bond. They even named the character Harry Dalton, as an homage to Pierce Brosnan’s precursor in 007, Timothy Dalton.
Harry Dalton is a geologist who is sent to investigate mysterious readings from the dormant volcano. He meets the mayor, a single mom played by Sarah Connor, her two children, as well as her ex-mother in-law, the most likely insane and senile Ruth. The four of them venture into the mountains so Harry can take more personal readings, where they discover that lakes are becoming more acidic, CO2 is coming up from the soil, and that a couple were boiled alive in a hot springs that turned out a bit hotter than anticipated.
Despite the town hiring an expert to make sure the volcano is safe (and it isn’t), the city council decides that an evacuation is a horrible idea, they have big plans in the coming weeks and they can’t be bothered with such a vague threat that they don’t really believe exists, and that that girl was probably just cut up with a boat propeller, not a shark attack. That last one may have been from 1975’s Jaws, but there’s still definite overlap.
Harry’s boss stops into town, tells everyone that putting people on alert could cause people to freak out, tourism to bomb, and that the town would go bankrupt, so hey, lets just ignore the fact that lava was creeping into a hot spring and murdered two people, that probably means nothing. He puts Harry on a mandatory two week vacation, so his scientific fact couldn’t mess things up with the money side of things.
After Harry’s two week suspension, he’s back on the team! The team investigates the volcano by installing sensors, shooting it with lasers to measure movement (and to kill off aliens), and to send a horribly designed robot into the heart of the volcano to measure things. While investigating, there’s a large earthquake, crippling one of the team members. Despite this, they promptly decide that the volcano is safe.
This is where everything goes to hell. Everyone in town freaks out and tries to escape, blocking all roads. The entrance ramp to the expressway collapses and no one thinks to try the exit ramp. No one will be driving towards the volcano, you can still get on the expressway. Also, a bridge that is shown frequently through the movie (and is referenced as the only way out of town) changes from a two lane bridge to a one lane bridge, whenever it’s more dramatic. Volcanic ash is shown to wipe right off windshields without any issued despite volcanic ash being super-fine sand, which would make the windshield look like etched glass. Harry’s boss Paul is killed in one emotional scene where his last words are a Wilhelm scream.
In one scene, the family ventures across a lake that the volcano has turned into acid, killing all fish, reptiles, and del lago in the lake, as well as slowly eating the boat. Grandma Ruth leaps from the boat (that is about ten feet from shore) and tries to pull it to shore, despite it drifting to shore at a non-dangerous rate. She also inexplicably runs straight to shore, ignoring a nearby dock that she even uses as leverage. Harry, the geologist who knows everything about how acidic this lake is, decides to carry her for the rest of the journey, leaving her acid soaked clothing on her because Harry loves to see old women lose limbs to acid.
Similar to how 1997’s Volcano seemed to ignore how hot lava is, being around 1,200 to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. While escaping in a pickup truck, Harry drives directly over the lava, resulting in only popped tires. Shortly after, he escapes the pyroclastic flow in this tireless, 15 year old pickup truck. Pyroclastic clouds are incredibly hot dense gases, that can reach up to 1,900 Fahrenheit and can be as fast as 450 miles per hour.
At the ruins of Pompei, most people were discovered in normal situations, sleeping, eating, reading, working out, just normal day to day things, frozen in place. The reason why this occurred is because the pyroclastic cloud erupted and killed everyone before anyone even knew something was wrong. That’s how incredibly fast and incredibly deadly the pyroclastic cloud is. The family escaped this in a tireless pickup truck.
All in all, Dante’s Peak isn’t a bad movie, it just suffers from some really bad movie science. Like most of the movies I’ve done on here, the special effects are still pretty great and stand up today (unlike Volcano). When I first started a correspondence with Justin and James here at Under The Gun, I initially pitched What The Film?! as a weekly column about bad movie science. This, Volcano, 2012, and Deep Blue Sea are exactly what prompted this. What The Film isn’t difficult from finding movies where something incredibly stupid happens, it’s difficult from deciding what movie where something incredibly stupid to write about. That’s the big issue.