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Why do movies so often come out in pairs? A Bug’s Life and Antz. Armageddon and Deep Impact. Dante’s Peak and Volcano. In the last pair, the basic concept is the same in both movies: an erupting volcano threatens a community. But the devil is in the details, and Dante’s Peak gets those details right.

Dante's Peak
Pierce Brosnan plays a volcanologist who is sent to the remote Washington town of Dante’s Peak to investigate the potential awakening of the eponymous volcano that towers over the town. As the movie progresses, we are drawn into the life of the town, including the mayor (Linda Hamilton) and her family... and we become more and more aware of the powerful forces of nature swelling dangerously beneath the picturesque scenery.  

Dante’s Peak is both entertaining and intelligent. Director Roger Donaldson is fascinated by geology and volcanoes, and transmits that fascination to the screen. From the first scenes of the film, it is clear that we are dealing with real volcanoes and real science – not some sort of plastic-coated Hollywood version. The pacing is slower than the typical “disaster movie,” which is in fact a point in the movie’s favor: it avoids cheap, immediate thrills in favor of a more effective, gradually increasing dramatic tension as the volcano gives more and more signs of its activity.

Dante's Peak
Brosnan and Hamilton turn in satisfactory performances; their on-screen chemistry lends believability to the romance that is understated enough to add depth to the film without unbalancing it. With the secondary characters, there is a hint of a potential good guy-bad guy division, but fortunately the screenplay avoids going down this overly simplistic path. The volcano itself is arguably a character, and it is presented with remarkable special effects: simply put, it looks real, and adds immensely to the excitement of the movie. Overall, Dante’s Peak has high repeat viewing value.

The image quality on this anamorphic transfer is excellent, and the 2.35:1 ratio is a good choice for a movie with a lot of visual effects to show off. The image is sharp and clear, with accurate color and black level.

The sound on the Collector’s Edition is Dolby 5.1. While a DTS edition is also available, the 5.1 sound on the Collector’s Edition does a fine job, with good use of surround for the many audio effects from the volcano. The musical score is also excellent, being both memorable and well-suited to the film. Since the 5.1 sound is very good, and since the DTS edition lacks the special features found on the 5.1 edition, there is really very little reason to choose the DTS version instead of this one.

Dante's Peak
The disc has a number of special features: a commentary by director Roger Donaldson and production designer J. Dennis Washington; a documentary; theatrical trailers; storyboards and still photographs; the shooting script; and advertising materials. The best special feature is clearly the documentary, “Getting Close to the Show”: over an hour long, it is a superb look at the making of the film, and features interviews with Brosnan, Hamilton, Donaldson, production and stunt workers, and volcanologists. The documentary completely avoids the usual documentary pitfall of namely reiterating the movie’s plot and overdoing the clips from the movie. We get a detailed, close look at the making of many key special effects, such as a dam bursting, a freeway collapsing, and the exploding volcano itself; Donaldson discusses his vision of the film; production staff explain the logistics of the film, including taking over an entire town and flooding it with “ash” every day; and so on. I only wish more movies had making-of documentaries like this.