Saturday, June 20, 2009

Angels And Demons

I watched "Angels and Demons" a few days ago.

My original movie-going plan in this season does not include this movie. Honestly, if not for the two free passes, I would not have ended up watching it. Well, since I have, here's what I think of it.

This movie is an adaptation of Dan Brown's novel by the same name. Three years ago, another of his book "The Da Vinci Code" was also adapted into a movie. "Angels and Demons" is seen as a sequel to the earlier movie. However, the book of "Angels and Demons" (2000) was actually published before "Da Vinci" (2003). Now, it is really confusing as to what makes a sequel and what makes a prequel.

The lead character, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), is the same symbologist in "Da Vinci". Similar to the earlier movie, he is summoned to help crack the mystery behind the murder of a famous physicist.

From the clues left behind at the murder scene, Langdon believes that the crime is related to an ancient secret society known as illuminati, thought to have been long extinct. However, the real scare is the fact that the murderer has taken with him a vial of antimatter which is a newly invented destructive weapon, capable of wiping our the Vatican City and beyond.

From here, Langdon sets out his quest to look for the murderer. He has to get to him before he blasts the Vatican City with the vial of antimatter. The rest of the plots goes on like the movie version of 'Amazing Race' with Langdon racing with the clock moving from clue to clue, place to place.

The movie is fast-paced compared to "Da Vinci". This is where the problem starts. I did not read the novels but as in most print-to-screen adaptation, lots of twists and turns in the book would have been lost in the process of adaptation. This movie tries to cover so much with so little explanation between subplots. The viewers should have been forewarned that they are expected to read the novels beforehand.

In short, I do not think that the novel has been effectively translated to the big screen. (To be fair, I have not read the book and I have no plan to do so).

Tom Hank, a two-time Oscar winner, is an A-list actor and I have always liked his acting. "Splash", "Big" and "Forrest Gump" are just some of my early favorites. In this movie, his continues to charm me, albeit less hair and more mass.

The movie is of an epic scale and I like the scenes even though I know I have not been presented with the authentic ones taken from real sites. This is unlike "Da Vinci", which was partly shot in France having granted permission to film at the Lourve. In "Angels and Demons", the Catholic Church is obviously so upset with Dan Brown's story that Vatican has banned the movie director, Ron Howard, from filming there.

The director had little choice but to 're-enact' the Vatican City in Los Angeles. A scale model was painstakingly built for the movie and I would say that it is hard to tell the real from the fake in the movie.

Other key locations in the story are the churches of Santa Maria del Popolo and Santa Maria della Vittoria. Similarly, the film makers were denied entry to both locations set in Rome. They have to shoot at some other real but alternative sites.

I can tell that Dan Brown has obviously annoyed some people.

When declaring the ban, a Vatican spokesman had said: "Usually we read the script but in this case it wasn't necessary. Just the name Dan Brown was enough. Angels and Demons peddles a type of fantasy that damages our common religious beliefs, just like The Da Vinci Code did."

Previously, the Catholic Church had also described "The Da Vinci Code" as "a pot pourri of nonsense, a phantasmagorical cocktail of inventions".

Yes, non-fiction can hurt the truth too.

I would not comment on the level of truth carried by Dan Brown's "Angels and Demons". I will leave it to you to decide based on your own subscription of faith, culture and values. However, I have taken note that Tom Hanks admitted his doubt over the facts in "Angels and Demons".

In any case, the facts about religion in the movie are delivered to the viewers in a "fast and loose" manner, hardly making much sense. In this aspect it can be undesirable. There is plenty of room for the viewers to fill in the missing pieces and formulating a wide variety of interpretation of religion and history.

In this movie, I like the contrast made between high tech physics and ancient history. Both are equally capable of raising doubts.

The use of a 'Large Hadron Collider' to make a significant amount of antimatter sounds Greek to most of us. Well, so do the ideas of a 400-year old secret society known as the illuminati and the ancient symbology presented in ambigrams.

I am no physicist but "Large Hadron Collider" is real. Simply put, it is a device meant to smash subatomic particles so as to create a huge amount of energy. What I am not sure is whether sciences in our lifetime are ready to use it to solve our energy problems. However, I have no idea what to say about the illuminati, supposedly the ancient enemy of the Catholic Church.

"Da Vinci" grossed more than US$750 million takings worldwide. So far, "Angels and Demons" is still a distance away from US$500 million. It will be too simplistic to gauge theatrical performance merely based on the $ sign but it does say something.

Interestingly, the Singapore censorship authorities have given "Da Vinci" a 'NC-16' rating with the comment "Mature Content". But in this movie, the rating is "PG" with consumer advice: "Violence".

Let me guess, the 'mature content' here refers to the naked man who died in the position of the Vitruvian Man whilst 'violence' refers to .... the brutal murders and the spectacular explosion in the air?? Seriously, I am not sure which is more 'worthy' of censorship.

Verdict: This fast-paced thriller can be entertaining if you do not think too hard on its plausibility.

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1 comment:

David Murdoch said...

There are real scandals and conspiracies in the church that are just as, if not more entertaining than what Mr. Brown writes up... and it's a shame that they don't do films on that. Here's a fictional novel that it's based on real stuff, although it doesn't have anywhere near the same readership as Mr Brown's works:

God Bless,