Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
May 2009

Drag me to hell

The scavenger hunt is on in 'Angels & Demons,' in all its monotonous tedium

Angels & Demons
Sony Pictures
Director: Ron Howard
Screenplay: Akiva Goldsman and David Koepp, based on the novel by Dan Brown
Starring: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgard, Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Armin Mueller-Stahl
Rated PG-13 / 2 hours, 18 minutes
Opened May 15, 2009
(out of four)

Do you ever get the feeling that villains in movies don't actually have any desire to succeed? Certainly they could avoid having their plans foiled if they'd stop giving themselves away.

The baddies in Angels & Demons - or the demons, if you will - would have had everything just right. Diabolical scheme all wrapped up. Except for how they made sure they would get caught with those carefully chosen and transparent clues, followed effortlessly by Professor Robert Langdon and his cohorts step by mindless step.

This is the type of villain I don't understand. I mean, serial killers are one thing - wanting to get caught is part of the pathology. But those masterminding the Illuminati threat in this movie? They don't want to get caught - they want to change the world. They want to make a statement. They may want people (i.e. the police, the Swiss Guard, Professor Langdon) to take notice beforehand, but surely not to the extent that they leave open any chance of failure.

Yes, yes, I know - then we wouldn't have a movie, right? Well, exactly.

But we're stuck with it, aren't we? And in the movie we're stuck with, the forces at work threatening the very foundation of the Catholic Church seem to have taken all their cues from The Riddler. Drop tantalizing poems and symbols and puzzles for Langdon (Tom Hanks) and watch as he wiggles his way through every gimmick. I half-expected Frank Gorshin to show up at the end.

Punch in this code in 30 seconds or we're all going to die. Go six blocks across town in the next four minutes or we're all going to die. Find the hidden clue in the next five minutes or we're all going to die. And yes, even the old "when the clock strikes midnight" ultimatum. All this, over and over again.

At the risk of sounding elementary, this movie is stupid. Sometimes, there's just not a more fitting word. This is not even movie logic; it's video-game logic. Angels & Demons is a video game. With this and the equally tedious The Da Vinci Code, has cinema ever seen so many cheap set-ups with predetermined resolutions?

For instance, about an hour into the movie, Langdon and a Vatican official get trapped in an enclosed chamber that is being sucked of all its oxygen. You know the drill - they have to break the glass or they're going to die.

Now, why does this scene take place? Is there any real threat of Langdon dying less than halfway through the movie? No. Does the near-death experience signal any immediate danger for Langdon? No. Does the scene somehow interact with or contextualize the rest of the story? No. It's just an idiotically gratuitous sequence that exists for its own sake - and it's dull, at that. So why is it in there? Well, because they had to think of something to break up all the exposition.

But don't worry, there's still more than enough of that, too. Langdon gets summoned by the Vatican because of a new threat by the Illuminati - once a group of scientists and thinkers silenced and killed by the Catholic Church and now an insidious operation with designs on exacting revenge.

The Church is in the midst of trying to elect a new Pope, but the Illuminati have captured four Preferiti - the cardinals considered most likely to get elected.

They have also stolen a canister containing antimatter, which - in this movie, at least - will explode and destroy Vatican City if Langdon and Friends don't find it in 24 hours. To this end, the Illuminati have craftily left clues that only serve to ensure their schemes will fail.

Langdon is still not a compelling character, but Hanks seems more comfortable in the role than he did the first time around. Unfortunately for him, he has to recite so much expository dialogue that at times he literally has to stop and catch his breath.

But that's not even the half of it. As I grew increasingly agitated by the film, I got to thinking, how is this so different from the Indiana Jones series? Same basic idea, right? I mean, sure, the Indy films are breathlessly paced and have more interesting characters, but I was put off by the very approach of Angels & Demons. Why?

What I realized was that Spielberg's Indiana Jones movies - at their best, at least - are about someone in search of something, not merely chasing it. And to get there, the characters use reason, improvisation, wit. Panache, even.

The clues Indy follows are organic to the world in which he exists, rather than - in the case of Langdon - gimmicky challenges that would seem more at home on a TV game show than anywhere else. That, or on page two of the paper, nestled right between our trusty Sudoku and the daily word jumble.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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