Tommy Lee Jones Yells at Lava > Pierce Brosnan Runs Away from Lava

Dante’s Peak

1997 gave us the twin volcano movies as 1998 gave us the twin comet/asteroid impact movies. In both cases, I greatly preferred one of the two to the point of eventually owning it on VHS. (Yes, I owned Volcano and Deep Impact on VHS. Yes, really.) We’ll see if my preference for Volcano holds up when I rewatch it (it’s been years), but after rewatching Dante’s Peak it’s not difficult for me to understand why I preferred its rival twin at the time.

Dante’s Peak is a pretty gloomy movie, and just doesn’t bring the kind of fun that I was probably looking for in a disaster movie at the time. What still makes this not quite fit, in my opinion, is that when you’re making a movie that asks me to buy Pierce Brosnan as a volcanologist who starts his morning with angry pushups and has a dark past involving volcanoes, there might be a ceiling on how seriously you should be taking yourself.

I also just can’t stand how entirely pointless the kids’ trip to save their grandma ended up being, given how much of the plot it ended up driving. I hope this doesn’t still count as a spoiler over 20 years later, since it’s basically the one famous thing about this movie. But it’s like the entire plot was just engineered just to get you to this incredibly cruel, uncomfortable death.

The volcano bullshit is pretty good when we finally get to it. And honestly, I really kind of enjoy scientists in disaster movies arguing loudly about science in extremely broad terms. And the science in this isn’t actually terrible compared to a lot of disaster movies. I’m sure an actual geologist could point to any number of things this movie does wrong, but most disaster movies can’t even pass my “okay, I know one or two things about the actual science of this because of my general, untrained interest in the subject and that is bullshit” test.

A quick sidebar here. I don’t actually think scientific or historic or whatever else accuracy should be a big measure of whether or not a movie is good, and I honestly find people’s borderline obsession with it at times pretty profoundly weird. The truth is that a movie that was 100% historically/scientifically/whatever else accurate would probably be boring as fuck. Just saying.

Anyway, this isn’t quite the thrill ride “James Bond and Sarah Connor fight volcanoes” seems like it should have the potential to be, but I don’t hate it. I’m really interested to see if I still prefer “Tommy Lee Jones yells at lava.”



Yep, I’m still a fan of Tommy Lee Jones Yells at Lava.

As I remembered, the reason I preferred Volcano to Dante’s Peak is that Volcano was a much less gloomy movie. Yeah, it’s pretty easy to see now that there was a lot of hamfisted stuff in here like the little kid noticing “they all look the same” when people were covered in ash at the end of the movie. And the entire subplot where that cop arrested that black guy who was just trying to get help for his neighborhood and they made up at the end was total “both sides” bullshit and any reasonable person can see that only the cop was in the wrong. But other than that, this is just a fun disaster movie that includes a lot of different kind of workers coming together to deal with a truly ridiculous emergency situation.

I can joke about Tommy Lee Jones Yells at Lava all I want, but a big part of what makes this movie so much fun is definitely his characteristic disarming gruffness. Though, it is pretty hilarious that both of these volcano movies feature workaholic lead characters. You just can’t have a 90s movie without someone being a workaholic I guess. They’re also always supposed to be on vacation, though? I don’t know. It’s a whole thing.

Volcano is silly and dumb, but aside from the obvious copaganda it’s exactly my kind of silly and dumb. If I could bring back one thing about the mid-to-late-90s it would definitely be the watchable, low-stakes actionish (but not really action) movies that you couldn’t seem to walk into a movie theater without tripping over. It’s a sweet spot no one really seems to be aiming for anymore, and that’s just too bad.



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