- Released Internationally on 13/05/09
- Released in Malta by KRS on 20/05/09
In a nutshell
Despite all the interest in the wonderful novel The Da Vinci Code back in 2003-2006, many readers, including yours truly, felt that the author’s previous book, Angels and Demons, was more of a satisfying read. The two shared a lot in common besides their main character – they were both heavy on symbolism and both combined the thrill of a chase or mystery with a detailed look into the history and workings of the Catholic Church. But Demons stands out as an impressively exciting story, and is quite ‘unputdownable’ as a book. So it comes as no surprise that after the huge success of the big screen version of Code, we now have its sister story to enjoy.
Cardinals & countdowns
The film opens with the ceremonies surrounding the death of the pope, which are all the more striking since we witnessed similar footage on countless TV channels only a few years ago. His trusted advisor and right-hand man, the Camerlengo, takes temporary charge until the conclave elects a new pope. But an ancient foe of the Catholic Church, the Illuminati society, appears to have resurfaced, kidnapping the four main contenders to the papacy and hiding an explosive device somewhere within the Vatican. Professor Robert Langdon, the symbology expert, is brought in to help find the cardinals and save the Catholic Church from near annihilation in one fell swoop.
Checkpoints & chases
Within a few scenes of starting, it is made clear that unless the kidnappers are foiled, most of the Vatican, including its foremost leaders, will be flattened at the stroke of midnight. As with Da Vinci Code, the events of the film are set within a single day, or in this case mostly within a single evening. This guarantees a breakneck pace for the entire film, and makes it easy for director Ron Howard to deliver a non-stop adrenaline ride. He skilfully managed to make even an interview exciting in last year’s Frost/Nixon, but this time author Dan Brown has done most of the work for him. If anything, some parts may be too rushed, with Langdon conveniently deciphering all the clues within seconds of reaching each step of the puzzle. The ending, which might have been a bit too over-the-top in the novel, actually works better on screen, as do most of the other minor changes made from novel to script.
Violins & vistas
Adding to the urgency of the plot is the wonderful score by A-list composer Hans Zimmer, who further develops the beautiful themes developed in the Da Vinci Code score but also adds frantic action music that is not too distant from his score for last summer’s Dark Knight. The few moments of respite in the film are gorgeously scored with variations of heavenly choir, piano or most notably violin solos by the acclaimed Joshua Bell. They provide perfect accompaniment to the sweeping shots of Rome, the Vatican, and the works of art therein. It’s a huge credit to the digital effects wizards that many scenes of the Vatican are practically indistinguishable from real footage, despite the filmmakers not being allowed to film within the tiny state’s walls.
Atheists & clergy
Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge, Star Wars, Trainspotting) is brilliantly cast as the mourning, devout camerlengo, and Tom Hanks naturally returns as Langdon. Stellan Skarsgård (Mamma Mia, Pirates of the Caribbean) is the sceptical and dubious head of the Swiss Guard, Commander Richter, and Armin Mueller-Stahl is chilling and unmoveable as Cardinal Strauss, the head of the college of cardinals, in a role that is often uncomfortably reminiscent of his recent role in Eastern Promises. Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer (Munich) is Vittoria Vetra, the CERN scientist who partners Langdon on his pursuit and is the expert on the explosive matter threatening the Vatican walls.
Science & religion
As expected, the eternal debate about science and religion features prominently in both the dialogue and the action. The Camerlengo and Langdon represent the two extreme sides of the debate, and their discussion early on is balanced and well-scripted. Despite all the religious sentiment surrounding the release of these two films, this story is ultimately quite balanced, with Cardinal Strauss providing a thoughtful coda to the proceedings. But in the end, it’s primarily a great suspense and mystery story, which is very well-told.
http://www.apple.com/trailers/sony_pictures/angelsdemons/ (High-res QuickTime)
(below – a montage of scenes from the film set to sublime new music by Hans Zimmer)