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  Publicity Stills of
"Angels & Demons"
(Courtesy of Columbia TriStar)

Genre: Thriller
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgard, Pierfrancesco Favino, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Armin Mueller-Stahl
RunTime: 2 hrs 20 mins
Released By: Columbia TriStar
Rating: PG (Violence)
Official Website: http://www.angelsanddemons.com/

Opening Day: 14 May 2009


Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is shocked to find proof that the legendary secret society, the Illuminati—dedicated, at the time of Galileo, to promoting the interests of science and condemning the blind faith of Catholicism--is alive, well, and murderously active. Based on the bestseller by Dan Brown (Da Vinci Code).

Movie Review:

Director Ron Howard and leading man Tom Hanks return to bring us the next adventure of Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, sans ridiculous hairdo. Chronologically, author Dan Brown had the events of Angels & Demons happen first before The Da Vinci Code, but since the latter happened to be the more controversial of the two, and brought prominence to the Langdon series, as such Hollywood just couldn't resist not translating Da Vinci first, followed by slight tweaks through indirect conversation that the Vatican, while frowning on Langdon's discovery, has to seek his help to battle their old foe The Illuminati.

Yes, if you can get past the reasoning that a symbologist's involvement rather than a super-cop is of use here, because of the diabolical use of ambigrams and the deciphering of hidden historical clues that men of the present age have no knowledge of. And the challenge made more acute given the recent passing of the Pope, a record crowd gathering in St Peter's Square, the selection of the next leader of the Catholic Church happening at the Sistine Chapel, and the race against time to prevent the murder of four cardinals by a mysterious assassin.

Sounds like our hero has his hands full, except that Ron Howard, and scribes David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman, decided to junk plenty of content and material that Dan Brown had wonderfully culled from in crafting this tale. You cannot argue that it's an entertaining piece of fiction, given its drawing and assembling from material that would irk the powers that be, but in translating this piece for the big screen, plenty of controversy and "discussion-mode" scenarios get thrown out the window. Thought points like science versus religion, of the means that justify the end, only get cursory mention, as the filmmakers opted to take the set action sequences, and turn it into one huge cat-and-mouse chase in around Vatican City and Rome, with treatment like just another National Treasure series.

Which means that if you've not read the book, you'll be left in bewilderment with the links to CERN, the Illuminati, Galileo, and the significance of many art pieces and statues by Michelangelo and Bernini, and the prominence of certain churches scattered throughout the Italian capital city. Without some background knowledge, the richness of history had to make way for pace. Just as how the book itself was a page turner, the pace in this film is relentless, never letting up from the get go. Clearly the novel had devoted plenty of time to CERN and their particle accelerator to produce controlled anti-matter, which in today's context, that device is already in motion, but what got retained on-screen, was thankfully one of the few set-backs of the film (who's interested in looking at never-ending, winding pipes?)

The ensemble cast here got pared down, given the first film had Hank, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Paul Bettany and Alfred Molina. Here we got to settle for Hanks and Ewan McGregor, with Ayelet Zurer stepping into Tautou's shoes as the token female character who had very much little value here except waiting to change batteries. Those in the know will notice little nuances in McGregor's performance as Camerlengo Patrick McKenna, while Tom Hanks is well, simply Tom Hanks. I guess the budget didn't allow for more stars to form the ensemble, because of the need to recreate faithful portions of St. Peter's Square and Basilica given the Vatican's disapproval for the film to shoot on location.

Ron Howard delivers Angels and Demons like a flat-out action film, and I guess readers of the Dan Brown's book (which is like, half the world?) may feel this was like a bit of a short-change. But for newcomers to the Langdon character, you'd just might feel compelled to pick up the novel and plough through the many conspiracy theories and details (accuracy arguable of course) that the film failed to translate for the screen, and for those who have money in the pocket, may want to make that trip to the Vatican City and Rome and walk the path of illumination yourself, since the film undeniably became a great tourist promotional video.

P.S. Langdon fans will be glad to know Dan Brown's new book will be out soon, and Hollywood is already knocking on its doors.

Movie Rating:

(A National Treasure action film set in Rome and Vatican City)

Review by Stefan Shih


. Quantum of Solace (2008)

. Vantage Point (2008)

. National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007)

. Charlie's Wilson War (2007)

. Eastern Promises (2007)

. The Da Vinci Code (2006)

. Children of Men DVD (2006)


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