On DVD: Angels & Demons

Here’s a link to my Funny People review, another DVD released today

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If we learned anything from the film adaptation of “The Da Vinci Code,” it’s that Dan Brown’s best-selling religion-centered mystery novels don’t translate into great films. Entertaining, sure, but great, no. The dialogue gets bogged down with historical explanation and the characters get little attention because there’s simply no time with all the symbol decoding. But box office receipts are another story: “Da Vinci” fell just sort of earning twice its budget, so great film or not, there would be “Angels & Demons.” Not surprisingly, this film suffers from the same deficiencies despite being a bit better.

I have read both books and seen both movies and “Angels & Demons” the film is easily a notch better than its film predecessor. Unlike “Da Vinci,” focused on the mostly little known ideas of the sacred feminine, “Angels” is about the inner-workings of the Catholic Church, which requires considerably less audience educating than the sacred feminine. Writer Akiva Goldsman, who penned both Brown adaptations, doesn’t have to waste all his time explaining the history/mythology as he did in “Da Vinci” … only most of it.

“Angels” is more of a thriller and a tad better suited for film than “Da Vinci.” This film is a sprint from start to finish, taking place in under 24 hours and its premise is very simple: 15 minutes in you learn that a legendary group of scientists from the 17th century who were persecuted by the church have risen again and threatened to kill four cardinals every hour starting at 7 p.m. and follow that up at midnight by exploding the Vatican with anti-matter – – unless Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Hanks) and an Italian anti-matter scientist (Ayelet Zurer) can stop them by decoding a set of ancient clues planted throughout Rome. The suspense comes much easier because they have to solve the clues on time or people die. “Da Vinci” was much less straightforward. This moves quick and is consequently more entertaining. It also doesn’t hurt that the backdrop for the story is the stunningly beautiful Rome: it’s more dazzling to watch.

As for the problems being the same, Tom Hanks is yet again wasted talent. He has the Robert Langdon look and the reputation to bring in profits, but his character just has to sound like he knows what he’s talking about and spit out mythology and history quick enough so that we can get on to the next scene. Of course Hanks does this well, but anyone could. These films just have no room to develop character or elicit any emotion from the audience. At least this time, Goldsman and acclaimed director Ron Howard don’t even pretend like they can create catharsis and focus on making this film as fast-paced and thrilling as possible. They succeed here better than in “Da Vinci” and smart artists don’t make the same mistakes twice.

Viewers that read the books, saw “Da Vinci” and still didn’t like “Angels & Demons” have no one to blame but themselves for giving in and buying tickets to see something proved not to translate well into film despite being in the hands of a master like Howard. Anyone who walks in and expects to at least be entertained by a mystery for 2 hours with no expectation of being as good of the book will find they get exactly what they paid for and maybe even find it was better than “Da Vinci.”

3/5 Stars

Angels & Demons” (2009)
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: David Koepp, Akiva Goldsman, Dan Brown (novel)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Ayelet Zurer, Ewan McGregor

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