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Typical, entertaining action/thriller music
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Theme composed by
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1997 Universal Pictures; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
The less silly of 1997's two volcano movies, Dante's Peak was still very silly indeed. Pierce Brosnan plays a vulcanologist despatched with great concern by the US Geological Survey to Dante's Peak, a town next to a dormant volcano which suddenly doesn't seem so dormant. However, as soon as he confirms that the volcano's about to blow and everyone is likely to die, his bosses - for absolutely no reason whatsoever - refuse to allow him to tell the townsfolk. So everyone's in grave danger and it's up to 007 to save the day. It's got everything, including rescuing a cute dog just before he gets swept up in the lava, and an ending which makes so little sense it deserves a Pullitzer Prize (apparently the thing to do if being faced by a raging torrent of lava is to dive into a mine whose entrance is protected by a few planks of wood with several holes in them - the lava will never find a way in).
Anyway, director Roger Donaldson enlisted James Newton Howard to provide him with a theme, and then John Frizzell to handle the bulk of the score. While Howard receives a prominent credit in the film and on the album, I don't think it's the actual main theme which he wrote. There's a kind of idea which I guess you might call a "theme" if you applied the letter of the definition rather than its spirit, and that is full of the kind of requisite menace you might expect, and is used well, but hardly worthy of paying someone a fortune to write.
Indeed, in the film the score is very effective at building the tension and warning of the coming danger, with its rumbling, bass-heavy orchestration working a treat. It's probably a little less effective on album, but is no worse than most scores for this type of film. It's similar I guess to Alan Silvestri's Volcano, if not quite as slick (and without that killer theme). What I presume is Howard's theme appears in "On the Porch", a nice little romantic number - but it's so insubstantial, I can't begin to wonder why they didn't just get Frizzell to write it.
The action music is what is most satisfying, and Frizzell handles it well - it's typical stuff, but enjoyable. The album was released at a time when 30-minute releases of film scores were common - and what a delight that is (cue angry e-mails). Music like this seems so much better when presented in this abbreviated form - it never goes on long enough that you begin to just pick faults with it, you get some highlights and there just isn't time for it to run out of steam. Today I daresay the CD would be packed to the limit with music and would drone on endlessly and so nobody would ever listen to it, but at this length it's a perfectly satisfying way of spending half an hour.