In 10 Words or Less
Game tie-in brings too much talking, not enough story
Likes: Video games, Dante's Inferno (the game), Anime
Dislikes: Ponderous dialogue
From the moment art from EA's video-game "adaptation" of Dante Alighieri's epic poem was released, interest (and controversy) has been growing in the title, which marries religion, mythology and a classic tale of lost love and redemption with the high-octane action of a God of War-style brawler. And as with another popular EA game (Dead Space) there's an animated companion film to check out. Though the game has yet to be released, it's clear that this not the exact same story, as the demo of the game starts differently from the movie. Whether that's a good thing or not, is unknown, but if the game is more talkative, or less engaging, that certainly can't be a positive.
Anyone with a thorough knowledge of Alighieri's poem can check that burden at the door, as this film (and likely the game as well) considers the original work to be inspiration more than anything else, turning Beatrice (who appears in the later segment of the poem as Dante's guide in Paradise) into Dante's girlfriend, who gets killed while Dante is off fighting in the Crusades. As a result of a vaguely referred-to betrayal on his part, Beatrice's soul has been claimed by Lucifer, and in order to save her, Dante must follow her into the nine circles of Hell, guided by the spirit of the poet Virgil. Along the way, he takes on the demons in each circle, who help reveal some of Dante's backstory, the reason he's in the predicament he's in. It's actually a pretty nifty way to add extra depth to the character, while keeping it tied to the story.
Though he faces off against some rather powerful, and creatively designed creatures, including the massive three-headed Cerberus in the third circle of Gluttony, and the disturbing vagina monsters in the Lust circle, those battles feel half-hearted in comparison to the game, buried beneath mounds of dialogue that could be considered either Shakespearean or Asgardian, they are so over the top. There were several points when I thought, "Just shut up and fight!" It's unfortunate that it feels this way, because there are plenty of impressive voice talents involved, including Mark Hamill, Kevin Michael Richardson and Grey DeLisle. Just because it's set in the middle ages, doesn't mean the characters need to talk in a way that will likely bore audiences.
Aside from the dialogue, the thing that will quickly strike anyone who has played the demo is the quality of animation, which is provided by several different anime studios, following the trend set by The Animatrix and Batman: Gotham Knight. This animation falls far short of what is seen in the cut-scenes of the game, which is absolutely gorgeous, to the point where it looks as impressive as a Pixar or Dreamworks effort. The movie animation is a touch more in line with the Mike Mignola-style in-game animation, which works well in attempting to display an animated version of old illustrations, but feel far lower-budget. As a result, some of the styles are less detailed than the others, but on the whole they are interesting to look at, especially the segment directed by Jong-Sik Nam, who actually worked on Gotham Knight as well.
The ending is incredibly anti-climactic after building energy through Dante's journey through the levels of hell, to the point where it seems to have been the result of the creative team simply running out of time. When you see it, and the epilogue that follows, there's a chance you'll feel like you ran into a wall. If perhaps the rest of the film was a bit more cohesive, that would be a real problem, but here, it's just one more thing that makes this a disappointing take on what looks like an entertaining game.
A one-disc release, packed in a standard keepcase (that's wrapped in a nicely embossed, spot-UV coated slipcover that doesn't repeat the cover art), this DVD features an animated anamorphic-widescreen menu offering options to play the film, select chapters, check out extras and adjust languages. There are no audio options, but subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish. There's no closed captioning on the DVD.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer looks very nice overall, though the animation leans toward a softer look in many places, and the colors aren't all that vivid, as if often the case in moody anime. As the film is the work of six separate animation studios, it makes sense that the look changes throughout, with touches of CGI in spots, and a mix of painting and cel animation in others. There are no issues with compression artifacts, nor is dirt or damage a problem.
The audio is delivered in a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that doesn't skimp on the aural power, making every battle scene sizzle with slices and smashes. There's not a lot of directionality at play, but the separation between the channels is clean, resulting in some nice side speaker effects and strong music when the score kicks up. There's a ton of dialogue to listen to, and it all comes across nice and clean, whether you want to listen to it or not.
Aside from an impressive trailer for the game, the only extra is a set of five animatics, which are lightly-animated pencil sketches, with audio played over them, in order to show camera angles and movement. These run between one and three minutes each, and will be of interest mainly to animation buffs, especially since there are several animation houses represented.
The Bottom Line
Though there's some impressively stylish animation on display here, it never seems like the story gets to a place that lives up to the art. Then again, everything about this movie looks better in the game it's based on, leaving anyone who knows anything about the game likely disappointed, as it's lighter on both action and imagination. The DVD itself looks and sounds fine, but is light on extras, so you'll want to give it a rental before diving in.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.