Tuesday, January 19, 2010

“Angels and Demons” – It’s not a sequel.

I can’t tell you how relieved I am that they didn’t screw up this movie. Considering Hollywood’s track record on books, you can see why I was nervous. Since “The Da Vinci Code” was so popular, it was only a matter of time before they made “Angels and Demons” into a film (too much time if you ask me). I also thought that “Angels and Demons” was a much better book, so I was doubly concerned. Luckily, Ron Howard was in charge.

I’ll take this opportunity to sigh in relief again. Howard did a great job of sticking to the book and cutting out unimportant stuff without taking away from the film. There were two things in particular from the book that a friend and I wondered how they would handle on the big screen. The first was a hypersonic jet, which they just deleted from the story altogether (good move). The second – and more important – was the Camerlengo parachuting from a helicopter using only a large cloth. Since this was the climactic scene of the story, they didn’t have the option of deleting it. I told my friend that the easy thing to do would just be to give him a parachute, which is exactly what they did. Howard could have gone with the cloth or some other unbelievable solution, but did the smart thing by using the parachute.

The real proof that the movie was well done is that it ran for two hours and eighteen minutes and the audience didn’t even notice. The film grips you from the beginning and doesn’t let go until the end credits. Unlike “The Da Vinci Code,” “Angels and Demons” is moved along by action instead of dialogue. Don’t get me wrong, the story is filled with Robert Langdon using his wits to follow a series of clues, but there is a drastic urgency for him to solve the clues. Cardinals are going to be killed and a bomb is going to explode in a space of five hours if he doesn’t. A cattle prod wouldn’t make him move faster.

One aspect of the book I wished they had featured a little more prominently were the ambigrams, words written in such way that they read the same after rotating them 180 degrees. The author, Dan Brown, employed an expert in ambigram creation to design his Illimunati ambigrams and it’s a shame they didn’t get more screen time. It wouldn’t have made the film any better; I just felt like whining a little bit.

What did make the film better was the casting. Obviously, Tom Hanks was at his usual great self as Robert Langdon, but that’s not who I’m talking about. The rest of the cast couldn’t have been better. Between Ewan McGregor (Camerlengo), Ayelet Zurer (Vittoria), Stellan Skarsgard (Richter), Armin Mueller-Stahl (Cardinal Strauss), and the rest of the cast, I couldn’t decide who was best. Each of them was flawless in their roles and made a rich film that much better.

A really funny side note is the number of people who think this is a sequel to “The Da Vinci Code.” Not only are the two stories completely unrelated (with the exception of sharing the main character), it was written BEFORE “The Da Vinci Code.” It’s called a library you morons. You can get books for free there.

Actually, they do have another thing in common: controversy. Like “The Da Vinci Code,” this film was protested by the religious kooks who can’t separate their fiction from reality. Unfortunately, even the Vatican inserted itself by not allowing Howard to shoot any of the film in church locations. Much of the film had to be shot on sets recreating the various sites in Rome and Vatican City. The real shame is that the point of the book is that science and religion can coexist, even better one another, but I guess some people just can’t activate the reasoning parts of their brains. So when they tell you not to see “The Da Vinci Code” sequel, tell them you won’t, but you will see “Angels and Demons.” Then, point them towards the library.

Rating: No need to bother the theater’s customer service this time, as it is worth every penny.

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