Disaster films are nothing new in Hollywood. While most disaster films tend to focus too much on destroying random objects, there’re are a film good disaster films that come around every so often that actual try to explain the film instead of giving us two hours of random explosions. One such film is 1997’s Dante’s Peak.
Harry Dalton (Pierce Brosnan) works for the US Geology Survey Team. Four years after experiencing a volcano eruption, Harry and a few other scientists are called to a town named Da…te’s Peak to research into the town’s dormant volcano. Harry immediately piques the interest of Mayor Wando (Linda Hamilton), quite possible for his looks not for his scientific merit. Most of the town and its members aren’t concerned about the volcano, simply because nothing has occurred for many years now. Obviously this doesn’t sit well with Harry. When two dead teenagers are discovered near the top of the mountain in a hot spring, Harry begins to think that this mountain is ready to explode. However, as per the typical natural disaster film, no one believes Harry (including his boss), despite numerous instances of proof (acidity levels increasing, dying animals, etc). Now Harry must race against time to prove this volcano is a ticking time bomb.
A quick glance at director Roger Donaldson’s resume, one can easily see the varying quality of films the man has directed. From the bad (Species), (to the good (Dante’s Peak), to the excellent (Thirteen Days and his recent affair The World’s Fastest Indian), the man certainly has a directorial career similar to that of a volcano. He can certainly create quite the storm of quality, but when he wants to create a big mess, he certainly can. I’d rank this film on the level of entertaining.
I’ve always enjoyed Dante’s Peak for what it is, and that is a somewhat entertaining film. When you compare it to other disaster films that were released around its time like Volcano, Dante’s Peak actually succeeds because it tries to actually explain the science behind the film and just doesn’t blow up a random mountain for some reason. Sure Dante’s Peak is the most intelligent film, but if one looks at the film on a purely entertainment scale, the film is entertaining enough for a majority of its run time. Yes the film does weaken a bit toward the end (like my brother the lake part with the acid and the boat results in myself usually cracking a laugh or two at the sheer insanity of the situation), but the first hour of the film is interesting enough to hold even the casual viewer’s interest. If you haven’t yet glanced at this one and you enjoy disaster films, give this one a spin. You’ll probably come out pleasantly surprised.
Presented in a 1080p, VC-1 Encoded, 2:35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, Dante’s Peak packs a video transfer that has more overall positives than negatives.
Color usage went from crystal clear (I found one of the more impressive shots was the shot where the camera climbed from the lake up to the peak of the volcano around 15 minutes in), to somewhat questionable (the latter sequences where black and gray dominates the screen tended to look a bit flat and washed out. Detail was certainly there for most of the film as the beautiful mountain scenery was reproduced in a fine manner. Grain was present during the darker sequences, but it felt more film grain than actual age, print grain. EE wasn’t overly noticeable. All in all, this is a fine catalogue effort from Universal.
Arriving with the standard Dolby Digital Plus 5.1, Dante’s Peak boasts a fantastic aural experience that audiophiles will definitely enjoy.
Dialogue was simple throughout the course of the film, never becoming overly muddled or difficult to hear. Surround usage was absolutely dynamite here with active rears and incredible discrete aural effects. Take a look at any real instance where the volcano explodes (my favorite is the ending explosion around 1:35 in). The sub rumbles and packs a punch while the ashes and rock whooshes around creating a nice whirlwind soundstage inside your living room. I particularly enjoyed how well the sound field dealt with everything. When needed, the film was quite and very atmospheric, but was ready for round two when needed packing a serious right hook.
I was perfectly ready and content to give this one a perfect 5.0, but I must take the time to issue this complaint. Universal… why does this week’s The War receive a TrueHD audio track, when a film like Dante’s Peak doesn’t? I understand you’re working out the lossless audio, but delay releases if necessary. This will end my rant though. All in all, this is a fantastic audio experience that fans will enjoy to the fullest.
- Audio Commentary with director Roger Donaldson and Production Designer Dennis Washington: Now this is what commentaries are all about. I simply enjoy when directors are themselves and never become overly cocky about their films.
- Getting Close to the Show: The Making of Dante’s Peak: Running 60 minutes in length, this is one of the best making of features I’ve ever seen. This making of covers pretty much every aspect of the film, from production, casting, models, music to set design. Everything and more is covered here.
- Trailer: Here the film’s theatrical trailer is shown.
As a HD DVD release, Dante’s Peak scores on all fronts. The film is entertaining for the most part, the supplements are informative, and the video and audio (particularly the audio) is great. If you’re a fan of this one, you won’t be disappointed by this release. Recommended.
Special Features List
- Commentary with director Roger Donaldson and Production Designer Dennis Washington
- Getting Close to the Show: The Making of Dante’s Peak