"Dante's Peak" was one of the two volcano movies that came out during 1997, starting off the "Everything In Twos" syndrome of last year(asteroids, bugs, etc). Compared to it's "cousin", "Volcano", "Dante's Peak" feels far more realistic, and yet it manages to be less entertaining. Although it does fall back into comfortable action/disaster film formula, at least it's well done technically.
Pierce Brosnan stars as Harry Dalton, a volcanologist who's getting over the loss of his wife in a tragic volcano-related accident a few years before. He's called back to action to investigate "Dante's Peak", the volcano that lies above the town of the title. He's joined by a rag-tag team that, honestly, feels like a real volcanology team. Brosnan, although he doesn't seem realistic, has the role down pat. He walks the walk, he talks the talk in a good performance.
As I said, the film is technically well done. Roger Donaldson is a director that can work with somewhat subpar material and at least make it entertaining("Species"). Here, he has the added feature of formerly being an aspiring volcanologist himself. Although everything tries to be accurate, nevertheless there are quite a few scenes(one involving a dog jumping into a car) that are pure Hollywood and actually take the audience out of the movie.
The film also takes quite a long time to get going, going through seemingly every little character in the town, trying to give the audience some characters to sympathize with or care about. That's really the problem with the film - it tries to focus on thinly written characters rather than action. It's similar to the "Deep Impact" vs. "Armageddon" match - "Dante's Peak" is the "Deep Impact", a character drama where the action is handed out thinly.
Overall, "Dante's Peak", like the rest of the disaster films that have been coming out lately, satisfies as basic entertainment. As it falls, "Dante's" is a little bit better than average, although I doubt that I'll be watching this film repeatedly.
VIDEO: A superior quality image that looks phenomenal at times, with impressive sharpness and detail. The bright orange/reds of the lava look striking and vibrant, and colors in general look smooth and natural throughout the rest of the picture. The scenery (especially early on before Dante's Peak does its thing), is breathtaking, with the deep greens and blues of the forest and skys looking fantastic. The depth of the image also was impressive, and flesh tones are consistently accurate.
The picture doesn't suffer from pixelation or shimmer at all, and the print used is in crystal clear condition, with not a scratch on it. This is a great effort and a gorgeous looking image. One of the earlier efforts from Universal, and also one of their best - image quality that's very close to flawless. Cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak also just made his directorial debut with "Romeo Must Die".
SOUND: The DTS version is incredibly impressive, although the thing about the movie itself is that there's a bit too much time getting to the action, but that's a fault of the movie itself. There's certainly a lot to like though, especially with the deep, solid bass offered by all of the rumbling and the occasional explosion once the movie gets going and Dante's Peak begins to get down to business. Even during the dialogue-driven scenes, there's a nice amount of little details to the environment that add to the enjoyment. James Newton Howard's score is effectively ominous and moody, and it sounds dynamic and wonderfully clean on this release, filling the room with absolute crystal clarity. Surrounds are used well, although more intensely and agressively once the action really begins. Dialogue is natural and extremely clear in what is overall a very strong and entertaining presentation by the DTS version.
MENUS:: Basic, non-animated main menus that are film-themed.
EXTRAS: In an odd turn of events, when I first opened the DVD, the disc stated that it was the "Collector's Edition", even though it was in the DTS box. Thankfully, it was the DTS version DVD. Unfortunately, the DTS version includes none of the extras that were included with the Dolby Digital Collector's Edition release.
The Collector's Edition release includes:
-Commentary by director Donaldson and the producer. It's a relaxed, informative commentary that I include as one of the better commentaries out there.
-The 60 minute documentary, "Getting Close To The Show". This is an outstanding documentary that takes you through every step of the process with great footage and interviews with the cast/crew.
-FX Reel. The disc shows how the FX plates were put together to make the final shot. Then the final shot is shown.
-Storyboards for a few scenes. The disc takes you through board by board, then the actual scene is played.
-Production design sketches.
-Every last poster design that was used or even considered. Super cool stuff.
-Giant picture gallery.
-Frame by frame of photos taken of the church tower falling.
-The Entire Screenplay
It would have been nice if the DTS version had at least included the trailer - there are no extras on this edition.
Final Thoughts: As for the movie itself, "Dante's Peak" is a little more serious, and likely more accurate than "Volcano", although it doesn't manage to be quite as entertaining as that film. The choice between the two is tougher. The DTS version offers a very high quality sound experience, but the Collector's Edition offers a major package of very cool extras that the DTS version lacks. Again, it's a choice of presentation over extras, and the final decision is up to the viewer on how they feel about the film.