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Roger Donaldson
Pierce Brosnan, Jamie Renee Smith, Jeremy Foley
Writing Credits:
Leslie Bohem

Whatever You Do, Don't Look Back!

A vulcanologist arrives at a countryside town named Dante's Peak after a long dormant volcano, which has recently been named the second most desirable place to live in America, and discovers that Dante's Peak, may wake up at any moment.

Box Office:
$116 Million.
Domestic Gross

Rated PG-13

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 109 min.
Price: $9.99
Release Date: 2/10/1998

• Audio Commentary with Director Roger Donaldson and Production Designer Dennis Washington
• “Getting Close to the Show” Documentary
• Production Notes
• Cast and Filmmakers
• Trailer


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Dante's Peak (1997)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 5, 2015)

If you've read my review of The English Patient, you may recall that the only reason I saw the film during its theatrical run was because I owed my then-girlfriend a favor. Why? A few weeks earlier, we had vaguely discussed going to see Dante's Peak during its opening weekend but we ended up doing something else instead. Since she didn't seem all that eager to check out the flick, I decided to take in a matinee during the following week.

This decision did not sit well with the girlfriend - not well at all. She was quite displeased with my choice, an anger that was inflamed by the fact a friend who had recently committed to see The English Patient with her instead went with someone else. Thus, I saved my sorry butt by taking in that Oscar-winning, Benes-hated snoozefest.

The worst part of this equation revolves around the fact that I suffered all this stress over Dante's Peak. If it had been something great – or even good - that'd be one thing, but Dante's Peak was a stinker. If anything, the then-girlfriend owed me for sparing her the agony of witnessing that mess.

So why watch it again? Perverse curiosity, I guess. I liked it so little the first time that I was interested to see if it’d look better on second viewing.

Now that I've seen the film one more time, I must alter my opinion of Dante's Peak. It's not nearly as bad as I originally believed. 18 years down the road, I'm not even really sure why I hated it so much the first time. I think it was that old demon "expectations": the film looked really cool and exciting, but it turned out to be fairly dull and it lacked many of the pyrotechnics I thought I'd see in a volcano movie.

The lifeless characters didn't help either. While I like Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton, neither made a positive impression here. I think Brosnan did well as Bond because he can play characters who are cocky and suave.

In Dante's Peak, however, his role requires him to be warm, heartfelt and all touchy-feely and the guy just can't pull off those emotions. Hamilton's perfectly okay in her part as the mayor, but unfortunately she has little to do other than hand out coffee - literally. Her character's a nonentity, and even more accomplished actors would have a hard time putting any really life into the role.

While I'm on the subject of the characters, my second viewing definitely made me remember one reason I so disliked this movie: the character of Hamilton's ex-mother in law. For one, this role existed simply to create a reason for the leads to stay within harm's way of the volcano. She's nothing more than a plot device; if she didn't refuse to leave the mountain, everyone would simply abandon town and the movie'd be over. This was a pretty pathetic way to manipulate some excitement, and it showed.

Mostly I hated that woman because the character was one of the least likable people I've ever seen. I spent much of the film rooting for her to die, but when it finally happened, even that disappointed me: she and Hamilton got all mushy and the old lady apologized for her nastiness. Man, couldn't they have just let her die without dignity? It would have been much more entertaining.

The best character in the film is the one who reveals how artificial our group's attempts to leave the mountain really are. That would be Roughy the dog. We last see Roughy as our group starts to flee the old lady's burning shack; Roughy just takes off on her own.

Good for her, because she’s apparently much smarter than the humans. We follow them as the go through hell and acidic water to make it down the mountain, and they lose the old lady along the way. Finally, they make it to the bottom and are about to drive off when who do they see by the side of the road? Roughy, no worse for wear than a little burnt fur! Why didn't those losers stick with her? That dog clearly rules!

Despite these complaints, my reassessment of Dante's Peak now lets me see it as a passably entertaining film. It lacks the rock-em-sock-em excitement I'd expected, but it does okay for itself.

Really, the model for it seems to have been Jaws, as it follows a similar structure. The first half of the film hints at The Problem and allows the audience sporadic glimpses of it, all while a Lone Crusader attempts to warn the citizenry of the doom to come.

Blinded by potential economic loss, the citizenry ignores The Problem and denies its existence. By the mid-point, the severity of The Problem has become evident to even the most stubborn and it's up to the Lone Crusader to then take action.

However, what happens during that second half of the film when we see action taken differs greatly between Jaws and Dante's Peak. Mainly this is because while both Lone Crusader - now abetted by others - and The Problem spend fairly equal amounts of time acting aggressively in Jaws, during Dante's Peak, only The Problem gets to have any fun. The Lone Crusader and his cohorts just run away from The Problem. Yes, this is realistic – much more so than the absurd but fun measures taken in Volcano, another 1997 film on the subject - but it just ain't that interesting. Our heroes simply rarely seem to be in all that much danger.

And that means a film that never delivers all that much entertainment. Dante’s Peak doesn’t turn into a total dud, but it’s awfully lackluster.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B+/ Bonus B-

Dante’s Peak appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Released less than a year into DVD’s existence, the picture could look worse, but it could also look much better.

Sharpness seemed decent in close-ups and the occasional wider shot, but a lot of the flick tended to be somewhat soft and blocky. Edge haloes added a tentative sense to the image and made it mushier than desired, though again, it wasn’t ever poor. Mild instances of jaggies and shimmering appeared, and digital artifacts could make the picture a bit gritty. As for source flaws, I noticed a handful of specks but no substantial defects.

Colors were decent. The film used a natural palette that could seem a bit heavy much of the time. Nonetheless, the hues were usually fine. Blacks seemed dark and deep, but shadows could be thick. I suspect this connected to the desire to obscure the movie’s dodgy visual effects, as those were the sequences that appeared the most impenetrable. Whatever the case, low-light shots were generally less visible than I’d like. Given its age, this wasn’t a bad transfer, but it definitely had problems.

At least the movie’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack seemed more satisfying, though it wasn’t as impressive as one might expect for a flick about a volcano. At its best, the mix opened up the room well, with flying projectiles and other objects all about the spectrum.

However, those sequences occurred less frequently than expected and weren’t particularly intense or immersive. The occasional action bit provided decent punch but the movie never turned into the five-channel butt-kicked I anticipated; the soundfield often remained oddly restrained and didn’t deliver great pizzazz a lot of the time.

Still, the action scenes brought a reasonable amount to the table, and they showed pretty good localization. Movement was less strong, as the elements didn’t pan or integrate with great smoothness. Nonetheless, they created a fairly positive setting.

Audio quality was always solid. Speech seemed natural and concise, without edginess or other issues. Music appeared lively and dynamic, and effects presented great depth and power. The less than dazzling soundfield made this a minor disappointment, but it was still good enough for a “B+”.

A few extras fill out the set. First comes an audio commentary from director Roger Donaldson and production designer Dennis Washington. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific look at sets, locations and visual elements, cast and performances, various effects, stunts, action and a few other areas.

While I won’t call this the driest commentary ever, it must be in contention for that title. Donaldson and Washington manage to cover the length of the movie and they deliver a reasonable amount of information about the flick. However, it’s a slow track and not one that ever really draws in the listener. Expect it to be tolerable but pretty dull.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we find a documentary called Getting Close to the Show. It runs one hour, two minutes, 15 seconds as it provides notes from Donaldson, Washington, producers Gale Anne Hurd and Joseph M. Singer, executive producer Ilona Herzberg, volcanologists Norman MacLeod and David Harlow, stunt coordinator RA Rondell, 2nd 2nd AD Christina Stauffer, special effects coordinator Roy Arbogast, visual effects supervisor Patrick McClung, special effects artist Jor Van Cline, special effects engineer Dean Miller, and actors Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton, Jamie Renee Smith, Jeremy Foley, Elizabeth Hoffman, and Charles Hallahan. “Closer” looks at the project’s origins and development, Donaldson’s work on the shoot, cast and performances, research, volcanology and realism, sets and locations, stunts and effects.

With “Closer”, we get a serious “meat and potatoes” documentary. While it hits on the appropriate topics, it does so without much flair. This means we find the necessary basics but don’t feel especially entertained along the way. It becomes a competent piece but not one that seems particularly involving.

Some text elements finish the disc. We get Production Notes that offer a good snapshot of the film’s development and shooting as well as Cast and Filmmakers. This area includes bios of Brosnan, Hamilton, Hallahan and Donaldson. They’re decent, but the absence of a listing for Roughy the dog disappoints. She’s the best thing about the flick!

(My obsession with Roughy actually compelled me to watch the entire credit sequence for further mention of her. Unfortunately, Roughy receives no billing. However, I did notice that at one point Pierce's last name is misspelled "Bronson." Also, the crew of Dante's Peak had some really cool names. Here are some actual names of actual crew members who actually worked on this actual movie: Jeff Frink; H. Durk Tyndall; Gee Dhiensuwana; Syndi Tracton; Gintar Repecka; and my favorite, Bambi Sickafoose.)

When I first saw it in 1997, I thought Dante’s Peak was a mildly entertaining disappointment, and that attitude hasn’t changed since then. It’s just exciting enough to keep me awake but it doesn’t do much more than that. The DVD provides drab picture along with pretty good audio and a few decent supplements. We find an acceptable presentation for a mediocre flick.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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