Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
We all remember The Da Vinci Code, right? The book where author Dan Brown played fast and loose with history to set up his controversial plot development that Jesus Christ was more devoted husband, father, and feminist than Messiah. The movie that featured Tom Hanks with a terrible hair cut as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, some random, attractive European actress as his sidekick, and the aforementioned controversy and more than a little bashing of the Catholic Church. Cut to the weekend of May 15th, 2009 and we have the release of the film adaptation of Brown's previous Robert Langdon novel Angels & Demons. Why do I call it The Da Vinci Code Lite? Because it's pretty much a repeat of what we got before, just less so. Tom Hanks returns with a slightly less terrible hair cut, by his side throughout much of the movie is a slightly less attractive, equally random European actress, and the Church-centric plot is still Church-centric, just not nearly as controversial.
That last point makes me think that while A&D is a better film than TDVC, it won't do nearly the same amount of business (TDVC made over $750 million worldwide). While A&D makes something of a sluggish start with a VERY exposition heavy first 20-30 minutes, once the action gets going it doesn't really let up until the film's end. Contrast this with the lengthy and, let's admit it, boring middle act of TDVC that was mostly Hanks and Ian McKellan sitting around talking Christian faux-history, and I think A&D will do more to keep viewers interested and entertained. But that doesn't mean it's going to fill theaters.
It also certainly doesn't hurt that the story of A&D takes place in Vatican City and surrounding Rome. If I remember correctly the Vatican did not grant the filmmakers permission to shoot in some of the more famous churches and locales, but there's still a lot of Rome on display throughout the movie, and where Ron Howard wasn't allowed to shoot he employed a bit of movie magic and faked it with special effects effectively enough that it's hard to tell which scenes were shot on location and which were "enhanced." Rome is truly one of the most unique and beautiful cities in the world (no offense to Paris), and it's nice that Howard showcased it as much as he did. For moviegoers like myself who've never been there in person, it's something of a treat.
One oddity I'd like to point out that I don't think is much of a spoiler is how A&D relates to TDVC. Those who have read the novels know that A&D was the first Langdon novel written by Brown, and TDVC followed. However, it is revealed very early on that A&D the film is set after the events of TDVC the film. Yet as quickly as this is established it is forgotten, and that's sort of puzzling. The big revelation near the end of TDVC is as I said controversial and rather earth-shaking. It leaves you with the feeling that a kind of Pandora's Box has been opened, and you wonder how the fictional world of the novels will been changed by what happened. Of course, it's all conjecture because Brown never wrote another novel that addressed any of this. It's somewhat disappointing that A&D the film basically pretends the events of TDVC never happened. Or at least the events of TDVC have had no apparent ramifications in the world of A&D. I understand why the decision was made to have A&D be a sequel rather than prequel. For one thing Tom Hanks is a few years older than when the first film was made, and for that and other reasons it probably would have been confusing to audiences who hadn't read the novels how the timeline of these events are related. Though this is something of a significant change I don't really see it as a major flaw. Regardless of just how these films are related you don't even really need to have seen TDVC to enjoy A&D, nor do you need to have read either of the novels. To those who have read the novels, you will notice this and other changes with the plot. I won't get into them, but I will say that I don't think any of them are particularly negative. That said, if you're hoping for a slavish adaptation of the book you may find these departures disappointing.
On a final note let me talk a bit more about why I call this film The Da Vinci Code Lite. If you're hoping for more puzzle boxes, code breaking, and the like you're sure to feel disappointed. The mysteries here seem more easily deduced and the puzzles less challenging. And where TDVC created controversy and elicited heated protests from the Vatican and Catholics by and large, there just isn't all that much to get worked up over in A&D. Furthermore, I personally feel that with this film Ron Howard is almost offering up a "mea culpa" and extending an olive branch to Christians. I don't want to get into specifics, and it may just be the point of view of this former altar boy, but some of the creative control I imagine was exerted by Howard was done to pull a punch so to speak. As if Howard is acknowledging that some of the outrage many Christians felt over TDVC was in some respect warranted, and he wanted to treat the Church more "gently" this time around. Again, this could all be something of a unique reaction because of my particular upbringing, but I would be very curious to hear what others thought of this. Please sound off in our forums!
Angels & Demons sits squarely in the middle of the spectrum of movie quality. It is neither great nor terrible. It's decent. It mostly entertains. And while that may be enough for many movie-goers, this movie also sits squarely between the releases of Star Trek and Terminator: Salvation. That may not bode well for its earnings, but if sci-fi isn't your cup of tea and you don't mind a Catholic-centric story I'd recommend Angels & Demons.