I am not a big fan of movie adaptations of novels. Being of an inherently visual nature, movies cannot compete with the freedom that books offer you, in putting a shape to the characters and situations of a story. If you’ve already read a certain book, you probably see in your own way, and it’s tough to reconcile your interpretation with that of the director of the movie. That is precisely why seeing all the Harry Potter movies is such an ordeal for me. However, this wasn’t the case with Angels and Demons (June, 2009). The movie is pretty good and (more importantly) stays completely honest with the contents of the novel.
Dan Brown is not the best author in the world, but his Robert Langdon series is quite gripping (I call it a series because there is a third one in the offing). Angels and Demons, the novel, is a predecessor of The Da Vinci Code. It’s not really a “prequel” as people would have you believe, though. The events in one book don’t lead to the next, except a cursory remark about the first’s heroine in the second. The only thing they have in common is the hero, Harvard symbologist, Robert Langdon. The novel is pretty gripping (in parts), it describes the Vatican in astonishing detail and offers plenty of intrigue about the Catholic Church.
The movie is as good. Tom Hanks reprises his role as Robert Langdon, giving the part just the right amount of chutzpah to turn a tweeds-clad professor into the hero of a multi-million grosser. He actually goes beyond the character in the movie. He gives Robert Langdon a smart mouth and quick wit that the novel hero doesn’t have. Alongside him is Israeli actress, Aylet Zurer in the role of Vittoria Vetra, a CERN researcher who keeps the professor company in his adventures. The story starts with Langdon being tempted to the seat of the Catholic Church. He is asked to help solve a problem, and is offered access to the Vatican documents in return (to help him carry out his research). The Pope has died, and the Papal Conclave (held to find a worthy successor to the Pope) is in progress. The problem is that the four most eligible candidates for the post, called the Preferiti have been abducted by an ancient organization and a sworn enemy of the Church, the Illuminati. To add to this, someone (guess who?) has stolen a vial from the CERN laboratories, containing a highly explosive substance called antimatter, which if not found within 24 hours, will blow up the entire Vatican City. So Langdon (Good Samaritan) and Vittoria (conscience stricken scientist) set out to save the Church. They try to seek help from the (understandably) skeptical Vatican Police, but help is forthcoming only from one quarter. The Carmalengo, a sort of assistant to the Pope, who is in-charge until the next Pope is elected played by Ewan McGregor, is a trusting, noble soul who does everything he can to aid the mission.
Events unfold, leading to one dramatic event after another. There are some truly exciting moments in the movie, like Langdon’s close shave at the Bernini’s Fountain, his getting trapped in the Vatican library and his and Vittoria’s encounter with the abductor. All the actors are convincing and take their respective characters one step ahead of the ones in the book. But the real star of the movie, for me at least, is the location. As the camera swings from one Church to another, you get to see the beauty of the works of greats like Michelangelo and Bernini. And the director (Ron Howard) leaves no stone unturned in trying to convince the viewers of the authenticity of the locales. So when there’s a shot of the Sistine Chapel, you’re shown a glimpse of the “Creation of Adam”. On one hand, he shows you the Ecstasy of Teresa, on the other, the secret passages and trapdoors of the innumerable churches in the city-country.
The only parts that can turn a viewer off this movie are the long, long discourses on religion and science. There are monologues, arguments, counter-arguments about the subject, that serve no purpose, except lengthening (and weakening) the otherwise taut screenplay. The climax of the movie is far superior to the one in the book. Not that they are very different, but what appears as an extremely bizarre and desperate way to save the Vatican in the book, is not quite so stupid in the movie, full marks to the director. The final twist of Angels and Demons, like that of The Da Vinci Code, is stretched for so long that when it finally comes, you’ve already guessed it by following the simple philosophy of suspect-the-least-suspicious-guy. Nevertheless, the movie is good; in fact it’s great if you have a taste for history and love a pseudo-intellectual thriller. I know I do.
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ari/3523214448/]