Formulaic disaster movies have endured as a genre because every so often, one of them perfectly captures the sense of normal life supplanted by utter chaos. Dante's Peak is a textbook case of this -- formulaic to a fault, yet exceptionally thrilling. Its de rigueur opening vignette establishes the gravity of a volcanic eruption quite nicely, as Pierce Brosnan's daring seismologist escapes from a native village at ground zero just a tad too late. If the fist-sized chunk of smoldering rock that punches through the roof of his pickup is enough to bring convulsive death to his girlfriend, just imagine the capabilities of the torrent of smoke and magma behind it. The tense opening lurks in the viewer's consciousness as Brosnan shows up in the Pacific Northwest and starts looking around ominously. Director Roger Donaldson has stacked the deck smartly, so when local government starts weighing Brosnan's calculations against lost tourist revenue, it's believably nerve-wracking and frustrating. Once the lava starts flowing, the film gives up some of its authenticity in favor of thrilling escapes and implausible science. But like the opening, and the best parts of every good disaster movie, it's the failed escapes that make for gripping theater. Dante's Peak is far superior to its unexciting rival from the same summer, Volcano, which forgoes the explosive pyrotechnics captured here in favor of (yawn) the effort to barricade a pesky lava flow slowly advancing on Los Angeles.