Face Off: Volcano vs. Dante's Peak

In last week's Face-Off column, filmmakers Paul Verhoeven and John McTiernan went up against each other. Considering the fantastic movies that they've both given us, I couldn't decide on a clear winner... and it looks like most of you agreed that it should be a tie!

In honor of director Paul WS Anderson's historical adventure/romance/tragedy POMPEII arriving in theaters this weekend, let's look back at the last time lava poured into theaters -- specifically 1997, when two competing volcano disaster movies were released, DANTE'S PEAK and VOLCANO.
Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche, Don Cheadle, Gaby Hoffman, Keith David, John Corbett
Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton, Elizabeth Hoffman, Tzi Ma, Grant Heslov, Charles Hallahan
After a minor earthquake strikes Los Angeles, a geologist (Heche) tries to convince Emergency Management director Mike Roark (Jones) that a volcano is rapidly forming under the city. When "lava bombs" start launching out of the La Brea Tar pits and magma pours through the streets, Roark must come up with a plan to save the city.
Volcanologist Harry Dalton (Brosnan) believes that the mountain in a small Washington town is actually a volcano getting ready to blow, but he has a difficult time persuading his colleagues and the town's mayor (Hamilton) to evacuate the citizens. Shortly after, panic and chaos ensue as the volcano erupts and demolishes the town.
Create a blockade with concrete barriers and cool the lava with water dumped from helicopters, and then blow up a bunch of public property to make channels and divert the remaining lava into the ocean
Drive a truck into an abandoned mine shaft to escape the exploding volcano's deadly pyroclastic cloud, and then hope someone comes to the rescue
Mick Jackson, who also directed the Steve Martin satire L.A. STORY, the Kevin Costner/Whitney Houston romance thriller THE BODYGUARD, and the Claire Danes HBO movie TEMPLE GRANDIN
Roger Donaldson, who also directed the Mel Gibson/Anthony Hopkins ship mutiny THE BOUNTY, the Kevin Costner thriller NO WAY OUT, the Tom Cruise romance COCKTAIL, the Robin Williams comedy-drama CADILLAC MAN, the sexy killer-alien flick SPECIES, the Cuban Missile Crisis movie THIRTEEN DAYS, and the Jason Statham period heist movie THE BANK JOB
When lava begins flowing into the subway tunnels, the Metro chairman leaps into the magma to save an unconscious train engineer
As their metal boat is being quickly corroded by the acidic waters of a lake, the mayor's ex-husband's mother jumps into the toxic water and pulls the boat to shore
Yes, Roark's teenage daughter is injured and taken to a hospital, which is later directly in the path of the flowing magma
Yes, the mayor's young son and daughter (and their dog!) are constantly in imminent danger
$122 million worldwide
$178.1 million worldwide
-The Coast Is Toast

-It's Hotter Than Hell!
-The Pressure is Building...

-Whatever You Do, Don't Look Back
I can't lie -- I don't think either VOLCANO or DANTE'S PEAK is a particularly good movie. They're both filled with cardboard characters, aggravating skeptics and made-for-TV melodrama, and are both pretty dull up until the destruction begins.

DANTE'S PEAK may have been the bigger success at the box office, but it keeps the devastation limited to a small town and attempts to present believable science, while VOLCANO feels a bit more like the 70s disaster movies that preceded it (EARTHQUAKE, THE TOWERING INFERNO, METEOR) by raising the stakes in a heavily populated city. It amps up the ridiculous factor with "lava bombs" hurtling through the air and devastating recognizable landmarks (which the following year's dueling asteroid disaster movies ARMAGEDDON and DEEP IMPACT would also revel in). And besides the always amusingly cantankerous Tommy Lee Jones, VOLCANO also has Keith David.

Agree? Disagree? Which movie do you prefer?



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