In 1997, two volcano-themed movies were released in theaters: Volcano, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche, and Dante’s Peak, starring Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton. I enjoyed both movies; each one had its own unique take on the subject matter, and the effects in both were well done.
Years ago, I purchased the screenplay for Dante’s Peak since I wanted to see how a disaster movie like this is scripted. This version is an early draft but already had the director, Roger Donaldson, Producers, and Universal Pictures attached.
Throughout this draft, numerous handwritten notes indicate location suggestions (on-location vs. shot in-studio in L.A.) and potential ways to film the disaster elements (VFX or miniatures).
What is most evident in this draft of the screenplay is what’s missing: the relationship between Dr. Harry Dalton (Brosnan) and Mayor Wando (Hamilton). Their characters seem detached and uninterested in each other from their first meeting, and the moments that are supposed to be the two connecting don’t work in this version of the script. We are experiencing the disaster through the eyes of these two people, so for them not to connect makes it harder for the viewer to connect to what’s happening.
I’m glad that was fixed for the final version that made it onscreen.
In this draft, Harry (Charlie in this version) is retired and working as a teacher in Hawaii. His former boss, Paul Dreyfus, recruits him to check out Dante’s Peak. The conflict between Dreyfus and Dalton is muted in the script, while in the film, it is a major cause of tension in the story since Harry relies on instincts and Paul relies on science. Notably, Paul survives the eruption events in this draft, while meeting a tragic fate in the final film (listen for the Wilhelm Scream in the movie!).
In this version, Ruth’s character is Rachel Wando’s mother, not her mother-in-law, and she’s a hippie who runs a bed-and-breakfast near the lake. This eliminates much of the conflict between the two characters in the film, so I’m glad they made her the mother-in-law in a later draft.
It’s also worth noting that Ruth’s dog, Roughy, who survives the movie’s events, dies in this script draft (which would have been a huge turn-off to moviegoers).
Once Dante’s Peak erupts, the bulk of the action set pieces are similar to the final film (the dam being destroyed is absent in this draft).
Rachel’s kids, Lauren and Graham, read as older than they were cast in the film, and their relationship on the page is more antagonistic than in the film.
A lot of familiar lines exist in this draft. However, many are said by different characters in the final film. There’s also plenty of f-bombs in this script, which never made it to the PG-13 film, which was released on February 7, 1997.
In reading this screenplay draft, you can see the concept for the story is in focus, but the characters and their relationships are still in the rough draft/first draft territory. While I’m sure the actors and director helped bring more dimension and life to these words on the page, it’s clear that further rewrites were done either before or during production.
I enjoyed reading this early version of Dante’s Peak. I encourage all screenwriters to seek out early drafts of films they enjoy to see how the screenplay evolves over subsequent drafts. It’s important to know that what you see as the final product often takes many versions to get to the final product.