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Dare devil vulcanologist Dr Harry Dalton (Pierce Brosnan) visits Dante's Peak - recently named the "second-best town in America to live" - to investigate some unusual seismic activity. His preliminary tests uncover the warning signs and he recommends immediate evacuation, but is thwarted by his cautious boss (Charles Hallahan). With the help of the town's sexy single mum mayor Rachel (Linda Hamilton), the locals are summoned to a town meeting. That's when Dante's Peak blows it top, and chaos reigns as the unprepared locals panic. Harry and Rachel can only get out of town, fast, but first they must go up the mountain to rescue her kids (James Renee Smith, Jeremy Foley), who have taken the 4WD to save their stubborn old granny (Elizabeth Hoffman).

Review by Shannon J. Harvey:
That plot sounds absolutely tragic, right? It is, and it's straight out of a B-grade scriptwriter's handbook. Where is Charlie Kaufman when you need him? Come on folks, vulcanologists don't drive up exploding mountains! Especially ones who insist on evacuating everyone immediately. They don't drive 4WDs over lava beds - which would melt tires immediately - or put a family in a metal dingy aboard an acidic lake. But while ludicrously unbelievable, Dante's Peak is pretty entertaining. It moves along at the pace of fast-flowing lava, with a motley crew of geeky scientists and suave old Pierce Brosnan acting cockier than ever.

The 1998 cinematic release of this mountainous disaster movie incidentally coincided with the release of the creatively titled Volcano, which had exactly the same lame-brain plot but put underground lava in downtown LA. Dante's Peak - while the better of those two - is still pretty silly. It comes with its fair share of disaster movie cliches; big explosions, good looking stars, ill-timed romances, annoying kids in danger, scientists who should know better and mayors that get in the way. It's pure popcorn
entertainment. But what was it about the late 1990s that saw a flurry of like-minded (and equally uninspired) disaster movies hit the multiplexes?

Like Twister, where Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt found love within the eye if giant willy-willies. Or Armageddon, where Bruce Willis and B-Lo found love when one gave their life to blow up a meteor. Or Deep Impact, Godzilla, and The Perfect Storm. Big budgets, bad acting, and unbelieveable plots. But we ate them up in all that pre-millennium paranioa. Well folks, the party is over, and Dante's Peak on DVD looks positively old despite its youthful five years. The minature and model work is dead-easy to spot, especially that dam-busting flash flood. It must be one of the last big-budget movies to use scale models before Lucas and Co moved in with fully digital movies.

However, as DVDs go, Dante's Peak (special edition) is pretty good. The picture is clear and crisp, with the red and orange lava sharply contrasted against the deep greys of the pyroclastic clouds. The picture quality is matched only by the sound - both Dolby Digital and DTS. The extras - on the other hand - are light on. There's an hour-long making-of feature called Getting Close to the Show, which investigates the geology, geography and vulcanology of Dante's Peak, mostly by Bill Clinton look-a-like Kiwi director, Roger Donaldson. Cast and crew interviews are likewise featured, and the chemistry between single parents Brosnan and Hamilton is nothing short of seismic. The relaxed full-length commentary is equally informative, but perhaps a bit scientifically heavy-handed for the average blockbuster film buff. The rest of the extras, however, are disappointing.

There are five storyboard features that simply show doodlings of certain scenes. Perhaps commentary by real-life geology student Donaldson may have been welcome here. The Theatrical Trailer - "day turns into night, air turns into fire" - is adrenalin filled, but you can't help thinking it may have been better if the camera lens copped some of the debris fall-out. Lastly, the Poster Campaign. How many posters does the average movie have? Two or three? Dante's Peak has 44, many of which never made it to release. Overall, this is a typical big-budget Hollywood blockbuster, complete with a big-budget DVD package to match.

Published March 27, 2003

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CAST: Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton, Elizabeth Hoffman, Jamie Renée Smith, Jeremy Foley, Charles Hallahan, Grant Heslov, Kirk Trutner, Arabella Field, Tzi Ma.

DIRECTOR: Roger Donaldson

RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes

PRESENTATION: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen; Dolby Digital 5.1 & DTS

SPECIAL FEATURES: Getting Close to the Show: The Making of Dante's Peak; Feature Commentary with Director Roger Donaldson and Production Designer Dennis Washington; Production Storyboards; Production Design Sketches; Theatrical Trailer; Storyboards/Scenes: Digital Domain Still Plates; Pyroclastic Flow Sequence; Steeple Collapse Sequence; Poster Campaign


DVD RELEASE: March 12, 2003 (retail)

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