We’re not the type of blog to do film reviews. Sure, David reviews stills from the cinema, but that’s because he sees everything in such detail that a single movie review would take seven volumes in folio. I figure that since Angels & Demons is about cities, religion, and science, I might as well try, though. We did make reference to a Slate column discussing why the Vatican has had trouble ridding itself of the Illuminati conspiracy theory (permanent disclosure: I am an Illuminatus). E.D. Kain has some things to say about the novel, which is better than the Da Vinci Code, the sequel Dan Brown produced in order to recapture some of the heat he lost with the wickedly bad Deception Point.
Since I’m disclosing shocking secrets, here’s another one: I have read all of Dan Brown’s novels. He gave a gripping assembly my freshman year of boarding school, his alma mater, in which he played up the conspiracy and adventure of Angels & Demons but failed to mention that its prose makes R.L. Stine look like Dostoevsky. So you can understand that a lot of us bought the book. He even used to come to the art openings at the gallery where I worked on campus. Then a few months after his last novel, a rip off (in spirit) of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, he became mega-famous and super-rich, moving out of his modest condo to an undisclosed beach house in New Hampshire like he was Salinger. (If anyone’s looking for signed first editions, I’m offering his complete oeuvre for a low price.) Disclosures are boring, and this is supposed to be a movie review, so onward!
Last night I decided that I didn’t need two hours of life, and Russian roulette has all but lost its charm after 9 months here. It was in that spirit I came to watch Angels & Demons. I was immediately pleased to see that Brown had impressed upon Ron Howard, the adaptation’s director, the need to hang “Exeter” over the fireplace in Dr. Robert Langdon’s Harvard office along with all manner of other symbolical trinkets from around the world. This was the last time I was pleased.
You see, Langdon (played by Forrest Gump alumnus Tom Hanks) is whip-smart because he reduces religion to symbols and compares those symbols to paganism and other cultures. And did we mention he’s a Harvard professor who went to Exeter? There’s also a lady scientist with an Italian accent who holds an advanced degree in fancy energy studies. She doesn’t really do much the whole film except mutilate a priceless copy of a Galileo work. Apparently she’s part of this because some anti-matter, like the kind that powers the Enterprise, was stolen from a Swiss lab. The pope is dead, too, and the old cardinals have to elect a new one. And did I mention that the Illuminati are really angry with the Vatican due to the fact it killed a bunch of scientists and oppressed them four hundred years ago? Langdon gets in on the action because he writes books about the Illuminati—a dubious way to get tenure, but you never know these days.
Just as in the Da Vinci Code, Langdon tears around an Old World city with a foreign lady academic in tow while he solves puzzles. Elsewhere, cardinals keep trying to elect a pope without their favorite candidates who have the unfortunate luck of being killed on the hour by a Turk (you have to read the book to figure out what vague accent he has). Langdon gets trapped in archives, people die, and then Obi-Wan Kenobi (a.k.a. Ewan McGregor) saves everyone in a helicopter. Religion lives. Science lives. They should be friends.
As you can tell I thought the film was both utterly trite and boundlessly puerile. Hank’s character goes off at the mouth about Catholicism every five minutes and the Catholics make themselves look like fools in every scene. Formless as the novel, the whole point of the movie is to move you forward until the film ends in a lame dénouement leaving you confused as to why exactly you didn’t play Russian roulette. The film doesn’t even work as mindless entertainment for me. I have this problem with how in every “academically-minded” action film at least 30 priceless objects and wonders are destroyed and lost forever thanks to the characters’ idiocy. I’d avoid paying for this turnip.
-Michael E. van Landingham