Dante’s Peak

Dante’s Peak (1997)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton
Extras: Commentary track, Featurette

"Dante’s Peak" is Universal’s first Collector’s Edition DVD, with more of them appearing in the coming months. To be honest, I can’t wait to see them, because what Universal supplies as bonus material on this DVD goes way beyond what other comparable editions offer so far.

Harry Dalton (Pierce Brosnan) is a volcanologist always to be found near a volcano with an attitude — he’s visited a good many of them. One day his institute sends him to the drowsy town of "Dante’s Peak" to examine some seismic activities registered in the area’s volcano. When he gets there, he discovers that the sleeping giant, dormant for so long, is preparing to erupt. In order to avoid looking foolish for issuing a mass alarm, as well as squelching the mass hysteria such an announcement would bring, his superior belittles the situation on the lack of evidence. While Dalton creates a love interest in the town’s attractive mayor (Linda Hamilton), more and more evidence turns up that proves the inevitability of an impending eruption. When, finally, the volcano sends fiery fountains of lava skywards, covering the whole town in thick layers of ashes, all hell breaks lose in a fight only Mother Nature can win.

"Dante’s Peak", you have probably already guessed it, is an effects movie and as such is not really character driven. There is some sort of a documentary feeling to this movie that makes all the effects even bigger, more realistic, and more frightening, however. The story and its likable characters may be less significant than the volcano itself, but they help a lot to make this lesson about volcanoes much more accessible and add a tremendous amount of entertainment value to the overall movie. The good acting also lends substantial credibility to the movie, making it alive and adding the thrills to the dramatic and suspenseful setup for the movie’s big finale.

Every detail of the movie is very carefully researched, resulting in a realistic portrayal of the impressive scope and danger of volcanoes to the extent that you can almost smell the sulfur in the air. Adding to the documentary feeling of "Dante’s Peak" is the movie’s photography, with its heavy use of tilted camera shots, spreading a subliminally agitated atmosphere throughout even the most serene scenery. Many of the movie’s effects were realized in live action photography instead of shooting miniature models, which again lends tremendous realism and visceral impact to the overall experience. It is the stunning computer-generated imagery, however, that blows your mind when "Dante’s Peak" finally erupts and huge clouds of burning ashes race towards the city, while steaming hot rivers of molten lava make an escape seemingly impossible. It perfectly captures the frightening beauty and devastation caused by this kind of natural disaster and teaches you not to be fooled by the serenity of a sunny day – volcanoes are unpredictable.

"Dante’s Peak" comes on a <$RSDL,RSDL> disc that guarantees totally uninterrupted viewing of the movie and all the bonus material that comes with it. The movie is presented in its theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio and is <$16x9,anamorphic>ally enhanced. With this movie, Universal proves that they too are capable of producing absolutely outstanding and flawless DVD quality releases. The images are razor-sharp with lots of details in any environment and absolutely natural colors. There is not the slightest sign of <$pixelation,pixelation> or <$chroma,chroma noise> to be found anywhere on this disc, which easily puts it in the league of other showcase discs like "Dracula", "The Fifth Element" or "Contact".

The high quality standards Universal has set for the movies visual transfer to DVD are also true for its aural presentation. The movie features an impressive musical score by James Newton Howard and mind-boggling sound effects that are sure to tax your surround system quite a bit. The <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 channel> soundtrack is wide, very alive, and dynamic. "Dante’s Peak" is fully dubbed in English, French and Spanish, with additional subtitles in English and French.

Let’s take a look at the additional material that makes this disc a "Collector’s Edition". As soon as you take a look at the disc’s menu, it becomes impressively obvious that there is a plethora of material to explore. The one-hour-long piece "The Making Of Dante’s Peak", being only one part of the extensive materials, features anything regarding the making of this movie from the early start of the project, information on the casting of the movie, location scouting, and interesting anecdotes from the shoot. The disc also contains a huge Poster gallery, showing every poster created for the movie’s theatrical promotion, as well as a multitude of stills taken from the set of the movie. Of course, it also contains lots of information on the effects created for the movie and how they have been implemented in the finished motion picture, including a gallery of background plates used by effects studio Digital Domain to create the breath-taking effects shots and how they have been composited with the film’s real live action.

Universal’s "Collector’s Edition" is immaculate even in this section, as all of the supplemental material comes with English, French, and Spanish subtitles and also allows you to listen to the isolated music score. Apart from those materials, the disc contains lengthy production notes, cast and crew biographies, and a running length <$commentary,commentary track> by director Roger Donaldson and production designer Dennis Washington. All in all, this is a massice load of high-quality background information, making this release a true Collector’s Edition.

"Dante’s Peak" is a great and big movie experience and Universal has tied up an amazing "Collector’s Edition" package for this high quality DVD release with tons of bonus material. The only thing one could possibly find missing in all this supplemental material, is a free ticket for a helicopter ride over Hawaii’s Volcano National Park.