Friday, June 26, 2009

Angels and Demons (2009)

I struggled how to write this review thinking how I can judge the movie independent of the book. Eventually I accepted the fact that there is no other view that I can offer except that of a reader. As a film Angels and Demons is a failure.

Yes it retained the usual elements; the murders; the stories of persecutions in history including the occasional unsolicited historical trivia coming from Robert Langdon. Of course they also retained secret codes and historically inspired puzzles. Unfortunately, as great as the aforesaid elements may be they are not the heart and soul of the story.

The heart and soul of the story is challenging the status quo and perhaps unbeknownst to filmmakers it lay in two characters, Leonardo Vetra and the Pope. Both are priests and both are also pro-science which in real life is far from the norm.

Leonardo Vetra in the movie is Silvano Bentivoglio, partner to Vittoria Vetra. After the character discovered antimatter he was murdered just 5 minutes into the film. The Pope on the other hand is just dead. Both he and the movie version of Leonardo were mentioned only verbally in the end. Without any physical embodiment who they are and what they stood for was forgettable.

With the story’s theme of science versus religion, these two characters carried the argument at least for the book. They do not strike anyone as the stereotypical priests and neither are they the villain. Their beauty is that the credibility to stand in both sides of the argument with equal force.

But what really highlighted them was that they have families. Vittoria Vetra was an adopted daughter of Leonardo which in the movie was reduced to a research partner in Silvano. The Pope was a deeply pious man who loved a woman and longed for a child. That ambivalence was what drove him to love science especially he availed of in vitro fertilization. To be part a father without violating the law of chastity was for him heaven sent.

Is it possible for science to explain God? Is it right for a Pope to have fathered a child even without the sex? Are they entirely wrong or are they entirely right? Wrong or right, nothing truly makes you think than a controversial idea.

Without them all Angels and Demons the movie had are the extremes: the scientist who bit off more than he could chew or the religious zealot who could not accept the encroachment of modern science into what was during the middle ages their domain. Obviously there is not much of a choice. The attempt to verbally express the good qualities of science and religion which the two characters would have been effective in embodying was drowned in the murders, persecutions, and secret codes.

While those are indeed great elements to have any story can have murder. History books have stories of persecutions and historically they can be more accurate. Puzzles don’t make it special. But how many stories dared challenge the status quo. The true heart and soul of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon is challenging Christianity and it went away along with the disappearance of Vetra and the Pope in the film.

As it is, Angels and Demons is a no brainer because it requires literally no brains. It also answers the question why the church and religious groups did not put up a fight against its release. The film is a tour of Rome and the Vatican City; it is an expensive way to kiss ass, nothing more.

While I agree that in most cases a film should have leeway in deviating from the book, however, that is no excuse from changing the essence of the story all together. That is why Angels and Demons is a failure.

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