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HD DVD Review: Dante’s Peak

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Slowly building towards the inevitable doom, 1997’s Dante’s Peak is the slightly better half of that years volcano movie double dip (the other being the appropriately titled Volcano with Tommy Lee Jones). When things take a turn for the worse, Dante’s Peak is a superb blending of special effect techniques. Prior to that, it’s a formulaic mess.

Linda Hamilton and Pierce Brosnan co-star in this one, both delivering so-so performances, though most of it has to do with the grating dialogue. Brosnan is the volcanologist, warning everyone in the stereotypical small town of Dante’s Peak that the giant rock behind them is about to go boom. In standard disaster movie style though, no one believes him and the politicians are more concerned with the financial side of warning everybody.

The romance, debates, science, and standard array of supporting characters are all predictable. Jamie Renee Smith plays Hamilton’s daughter, and does a fine job for a child actress. A few moments of false alarm play out nicely, and build suspense along with the impending sense of doom behind the clichéd mess of a story.

When things finally drop and the rock blows its lid, this becomes a wild spectacle. An audio and visual tour de force, Dante’s Peak uses CG, miniature, and full size props for its incredible showcase of destruction. The combination is effective and engrossing, making this one of the more memorable nature rampages you’ll see in a film. Some of the escape sequences are a bit much to tolerate, though it is all still exciting.

For the second half mayhem, this is a near masterpiece. Fast forwarding through the first part won’t cause you to miss much, and you can get to what you want to see more quickly. For sheer destruction, they rarely come better than this. It’s a shame we’ve seen everything else before.

As with most Universal catalog releases, Dante’s Peak suffers from extensive edge enhancement throughout. While not as bad as Tremors, it’s irritating. The transfer is sharp and detailed, yet has a fuzzy, over-processed look to it. There is definitely some type of grain filter used here, and it makes the video look unnatural. The bright, bold color doesn’t make up for the easily remedied flaws.

Unsurprisingly, this is a powerful Dolby Digital Plus mix. The ambient surround work prior to the explosion is nicely handled. When the volcano begins to go, the room shaking bass is spectacular. Crumbling debris surrounds the viewer flawlessly. It’s an audio feast, and perfect demo material.

Director Roger Donaldson and production designer Dennis Washington begin the extras with a solid, technical commentary. Some of it will be redundant if you watch the one hour documentary Getting Close to the Show, a fantastic look behind the scenes of this film. Aside from the trailer, these are the only special features, but they more than cover everything they need to.

By the time the ash settled, Dante’s Peak would take the volcano battle of 1997 at the box office. It likely benefited from being released first in February, as opposed to the late April release of Volcano. Neither are great films, but Dante’s offers far better destruction and is far more plausible.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.