The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Angels and Demons

As good as Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons were, what happened to them when turned into a movie? The books aren't great literature, but they're damn entertaining so a team of director Ron Howard and star Tom Hanks should be a sure thing in helping the transition from bestselling book to blockbuster movie. But for whatever reason, something has not clicked with either movie. 'Da Vinci' in movie form was downright boring at times, and sadly, so is the sequel, 2009's Angels and Demons.

Like many fans of Brown's novels, I was caught up in the Da Vinci craze upon its release and after loving that one sought out Angels and Demons which actually is a prequel in the storyline. I raced through both books in a day or so each unable to put it down. Brown's style lends itself to cranking through chapters at a time with cliffhangers seemingly every few pages. So I somewhat naturally figured a movie would be easy to do off this subject material. Who knows, maybe I didn't think it through, but I was wrong in a big way.

After the pope dies, cardinals from around the world descend on Vatican City to choose a successor from their ranks. One night, four of the cardinals are kidnapped with a foreboding note, they will be killed an hour apart somewhere in Rome, all of this leading up to the complete destruction of the Vatican by a powerful, deadly substance known as antimatter. Worse than that, the act has been done by the Illuminati, a long-time enemy of the Catholic church only know exacting their revenge. The deceased pope's camerlengo, Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor) calls in Professor Thomas Langdon (Hanks) to help solve the mystery.

Upon arriving in Rome just hours before the murders are set to begin, Langdon discovers a way to save the kidnapped cardinals. Centuries before, Galileo created a path for people to join the Illuminati if they could follow four clues leading to four different locations. These places are all over Rome and Vatican City so with help from a beautiful Italian physicist (Ayelet Zurer, because every movie needs a beautiful Italian physicist) Langdon starts a race against time to save the cardinals that will take him all across the city.

If this makes sense at all, Howard's 138-minute version of Brown's book feels rushed for the first 90 minutes or so. Howard does not have the advantage of having hundreds of pages of background to set the stage for what's about to happen. Too bad because in place of that all-important background we get lots of scenes of Langdon explaining the historical importance and symbolism of what we're hearing. The book allows this to happen as an aside that doesn't take away from the pacing of the story. In movie form, it brings the high tension to a screeching halt while Langdon pieces together historical mysteries that have stumped brilliant minds for hundreds of years. Langdon on the other hand can figure them out in mere minutes.

Some of this has to be attributed to the sometimes mind-bogglingly bad screenplay which bounces around so much and so quickly it can hard to keep up. Granted, the book is basically one long, extended chase sequence, but there's time here and there for a breather. Not so here as the last half hour to 45 minutes goes from bad to worse and keeps on climbing on the ridiculous meter. I loved Brown's novel even more than 'Da Vinci' but can admit I thought parts of the ending were horribly out of place. The movie takes that one step further on a badness scale, but I won't ruin that here for you. I'll let it be spoiled elsewhere.

While I don't think Tom Hanks is the right choice to play Langdon, the movie's faults are not his own. The dialogue is stilted beyond belief and rarely comes across as believable. Hanks tries to make the most of it, but almost every line of dialogue he has is either a history lesson or a smart-ass comment. Zurer's Vittoria Vetra character has been relegated to background duty here, going from a great character in the book to a sounding board here for some of Langdon's mystery-solving. McGregor is a bright spot -- although the character loses a lot of necessary background from the novel -- with Stellan Skarsgard and Pierfrancesco Favino making the most out of their parts as Vatican security supervisors.

I hate putting this because I realize I sound like a pompous ass, but the book is miles ahead of the film version. Transitioning a beloved book to the big screen is a daunting process, no doubt about that, but it just hasn't worked here with either of Brown's source novels. As for Howard, he makes a beautiful movie -- it'd be hard to make Rome/Vatican City not look good -- but too many changes are made that were made for no obvious reason. Stick with Angels and Demons the novel and avoid this stinker. God help us when The Lost Symbol hits big screens.

Angels and Demons <----trailer (2009): * 1/2 /****

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