Sunday, April 8, 2007

DANTE'S PEAK: Blu-ray (Universal 1997) Universal Home Video

In 1997, two rival movies with the central theme of volcanic disaster were released in theaters; Mick Jackson’s implausible and frankly boring, Volcano and Roger Donaldson’s infinitely superior and  more realistic, Dante’s Peak. In this latter film, Pierce Brosnon plays Dr. Harry Dalton, a volcanologist with a haunted past who is convinced that the town of Dante’s Peak is headed for disaster when its nearby dormant volcano begins to rumble with signs of life. Harry's seen it all before. While he hopes against hope that he's mistaken, he has a very bad feeling that it's only a matter of time before the mountain exacts its revenge on the tiny hamlet nestled at its base. 

This idyllic rural enclave is governed by mayor; Rachel Wando (Linda Hamilton), who’s relationship with her late husband’s mother, Ruth (Elizabeth Hoffman) is strained to say the least. But Rachel’s children, Lauren (Jamie Renee Smith) and Graham (Jeremy Foley) take an instant liking to Harry.

So does Rachel – even though she is apprehensive about getting close to anyone. Gradually, Rachel and Harry begin to fall in love – an ill-timed entanglement that is interrupted when Dante’s Peak blows its top. Forced into a race against time before fire, lava and a pyroclastic cloud devour everything in sight, Harry, Rachel, Ruth and the children endure one harrowing natural disaster after the next.

Director, Donaldson is working from a straight forward screenplay by Leslie Bohem. It’s just weighty enough on facts to make it sound intelligent without dragging down the action. The balancing act that Donaldson performs, keeping the threadbare narrative alive when it seems imminently in danger of being swallowed by a barrage of thought-numbing special effects, is commendable. 

Make no mistake – the action is thrilling, but it’s not the whole show. Brosnon and Hamilton have great on screen chemistry. That makes us care about the survival of their characters. Thank Leslie Bohem that she hasn't made the all too often misfire of writing 'cute' parts for the children. True enough, we still get a bit of implausible heroics perpetrated by the family dog, but overall the people that inhabit Dante's Peak are genuine flesh and blood, rather than simpering and scared cardboard cut out cliches. 

But hey, we also have to give credit where credit is due: to Digital Domain and Roy Arbogast for coordinating a believable natural disaster from matte paintings, miniature models and composite digital SFX. In the final analysis, Dante’s Peak succeeds because of these seamless special effects cleverly woven into an intimate character driven story with a thoroughly deadly final act.

Universal Home Video's Blu-ray is fantastic. Everything tightens up in 1080p hi def. Colors pop, fine details abound, all in service to bringing the story elements closer into our living rooms. Colors are rich, bold and vibrant. Contrast levels are ideally realized. Blacks are deep. Whites are clean. DNR has smoothed out the rougher edges that were readily apparent on the DVD and the edge effects that plagued the standard edition have been eradicated on the Blu-ray. Good stuff. Great visual presentation!

The audio is 5.1 DTS, delivering an aggressive sonic spread  – particularly during the eruption sequences. Extras include ‘Getting Close to the Show’ a thorough and engaging documentary on volcanoes and the making of this film – as well as storyboard sequences, and extensive background materials (including poster campaigns and the original shooting script). Recommended.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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