Based on (and intended to tie in to) the upcoming video game of the same name, Dante's Inferno is more or less based on the poem The Divine Comedy as it features the title character hacking and slashing his way through all nine levels of Hell in an effort to save his lost love, Beatrice. The film starts off, as most films do, by introducing us to the central characters. Dante (voiced by Graham McTavish) is a warrior fighting in the Crusades who carries a torch for the lovely Beatrice (Vanessa Branch), a foxy young woman who has sworn to wait for him to return so that they can be together. When he comes back from the front, he finds Beatrice lying amongst the dead bodies of her family members, and soon joins them. As her soul begins its climb to Heaven, she's snatched by a horde of Satan's minions and dragged on down to Hell.
Dante, bound and determined to save the soul of the woman he loves, heads down to Hell himself only to find out that Satan has revealed his infidelity to his beloved. Dante, disappointed but unfazed, teams up with a poet named Virgil and the pair make their way through the nine circles of Hell - Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, Treachery - to save Beatrice but they soon find out that Satan has other plans for all involved. With the fate of Beatrice's soul hinging on the outcome, Dante must not only fight with all he's got, but he must learn about himself in order to figure out how to save her.
Well animated and filled to the brim with carnage, gore, violence and plenty of naked ladies, Dante's Inferno is entertaining enough in its own right even if you can't help but shake the feeling that the whole thing is a commercial for the video game. That said, it's an effective one. Assuming the game mirrors the movie (at the time of this writing it's not out but promotional clips make it look like it does), gamers could be in for a treat. The character design is very interesting and the backgrounds and detail work against which all of this plays in front of are all generally very impressive. The somber tone of the design work does a good job of reflecting the material's own vibe and as Dante journeys through Hell you'll find yourself interested in seeing what comes next not only in terms of the story but in terms of the visuals. In short, you'll want to see the outcome of Dante's story, but you'll also just want to see what each successive level of Hell looks like in this adaptation.
Where the feature falls a bit short, and this is something that will definitely irk those expecting a literal adaptation of Alighieri's work, is in how it treats the source material. While you can't really call it disrespectful, you can see where the producers have gone for a more sensationalist take on things and favored action, sex and violence in favor of story development. This fits in with the video game roots, as obviously action (or, interaction) is a key factor in a game's success but that doesn't always make for the most exciting narrative structure. A bit more background on the characters would have been welcome, but that didn't happen and as such, things get a bit repetitive in the last half of the film. Production company Film Roman, the same company that made the Dead Space: Downfall film, have obviously intended this to be a companion piece to the game and not so much a standalone project.
But what Dante's Inferno does, it does well. The levels of Hell (or the game, depending on your take) are wonderfully designed and full of all manner of bizarre characters. Some of the dialogue is quite well written and the voice actors all do fine work with the material. The movie is always interesting from a visual perspective even when you've seen Dante hack and slash his way through the denizens of Hell a few times prior and if nothing else, as mindless as it is at times, the movie is entertaining. It's not as high brow as it pretends to be or as conceptually epic as it probably could have been, but it's certainly enjoyable enough as an animated action movie.
The AVC encoded 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen 1080p high definition transfer on this disc is pretty impressive as it really does quite often look like a painting come to life. There's a lot of fine detail in the foreground and the background to marvel over and while the color scheme employed in the film leans towards the dark side (understandable given where it's supposed to play out), the tones and hues are rendered very nicely here. There's some great visible texture in the rocks, the faces of the characters, and the backgrounds in general while the stark and bleak looking design work looks quite impressive. Lines are strong, there are no problems with compression artifacts to note nor is there any edge enhancement, which makes it easy to overlook occasional instances of fairly obvious banding that pops up from time to time. Generally speaking, however, despite the grimy looking source material, the image quality on this release is quite strong.
Dante's Inferno hits Blu-ray with a pretty solid Dolby TrueHD 5.1 sound mix with optional subtitles offered up in English and Spanish. Once you get through the opening sequence, which for whatever reason is really heavy in the low end, you wind up with a well balanced track that has plenty of good surround activity and nice, clear, well placed effects work. Dialogue stays crisp and clear for the duration of the film and while there are a few spots where maybe the sound effects are a bit high in the levels department, generally things sound pretty good if maybe just a little bit too amped up from time to time. Bass response is strong, the high end is distinct and never shrill, and there are no problems to report with any hiss or distortion. All in all, a strong mix with a few minor idiosyncrasies.
Here's where the disc comes up short. Aside from some nice looking menus and chapter selection screens, the only added content on this release is a collection of animatics, five in total and each one presented in high definition, and a trailer for the video game that this feature is based on, also in high definition. The animatics and trailer are cool to see but some insight into the background of this project and how it was made would certainly have been quite welcome.
If you think of this as an action oriented video game tie-in and not as a literal animated adaptation of the book from which it takes its title, Dante's Inferno is pretty entertaining. It doesn't move at the fastest pace but it does deliver enough action and carnage to satiate its target audience. Anchor Bay's Blu-ray looks and sounds pretty good and while it never reaches the lofty aspirations that it sets for itself, it's worth a look. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.