Light the torches and sharpen the pitchforks, I dared to enjoy "The Da Vinci Code." While long-winded, Ron Howard's version of the Dan Brown best-seller provided a lovingly smothering mood of daredevil exposition and for-fans-only historical minutiae. Even if I didn't seize the scholarly passion burning behind the dialogue or comprehend the larger portrait of religious misconduct, I enjoyed the cinematic bluster of the work and appreciated how Howard took the time to preserve the experience for the fanatics. Additionally, a heaping dose of star power from the stately Tom Hanks never hurts, unless Nora Ephron is directing. "Angels & Demons" rolls up to bat three years after "Da Vinci" stormed the box office, and while Howard's promise of a snappier pace is kept, it's hard to sense much of a seismic difference between the two films. But that's fine by me.
When the Large Hadron Collider, assisted by the nervous Vittoria Vetra (Aylet Zurer, "Munich"), breaks down a minute amount of antimatter into three canisters for scientific testing, one of the containers is quickly stolen by a rogue group called the Illuminati. A secret society bent on disrupting the Vatican's postmortem search for a new pope, Illuminati agents plant the canister in a hidden passage of Vatican City, kidnapping four cardinals and threatening to destroy those gathered to mourn. To help investigate the crime, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is reluctantly brought in by church officials who hope his decoding skills will lead the proper authorities (including Stellan Skarsgard) to the bomb. Set loose in the labyrinthine city, Robert finds assistance from Camerlengo Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor), a kindly papal assistant eager to stamp out the Illuminati threat. Armed only with his wits, Robert plunges into the hunt for the cardinals and the antimatter, stumbling upon larger revelations that challenge the worlds of religion and science.
A fun fact about "Angels & Demons" is that the material was actually published before "Da Vinci Code," making this Vatican vacation Langdon's debut adventure. Well, leave it to Hollywood to rework the facts, and now "Demons" is a sequel, with Langdon suffering the damning glare of a wounded Catholic Church, forced to engage the professor's abyssal knowledge base to combat long forgotten enemies. It's the first of many changes to Brown's work, with the primary goal of "Demons" to keep matters trucking along at all costs.
Perhaps spooked by the outspoken critics of "Da Vinci Code," Howard has opened up the throttle some with "Demons," questing to balance Brown's dizzying barrage of clues and symbols with a traditional, snappy thriller perspective. Obviously this is a workmanlike effort from Howard, who appears intent on keeping fans satisfied with his pedantic take on Langdon's escapades, dialing down expected hysteria to maintain a sane rhythm, which could read as inertia to the less invested. Howard passes on a hyper approach to imagine "Demons" as durable continuation of "Code," wading further into the warm waters of split-second decoding, random fact spewing, and the occasional burst of violence.
The difference between "Demons" and the big screen version of "Code" is spied early on, and I don't mean the loss of Langdon's ludicrously overanalyzed mullet. Howard engages a suspense mode right off the bat with the film, and the story delivers with kidnappings, sizzling elemental branding irons, poisonings, Illuminati gunplay, and a Billy-style "Family Circus" map run all over Vatican City as Robert and Vittoria sniff out clues amongst the religious and artistic paraphernalia. With the ticking clock being the fading battery on the antimatter bomb (hey, at least there's something to ratchet up the tension), "Demons" is pleasantly spry, even with literal shovelfuls of exposition thrown recklessly into the engine of the feature to power its increasing absurdity. But a sense of reality has never been a concern for Howard. He's making an adult-minded moviegoing event, and a fulfilling one at that.
It's science vs. religion battling it out for control of the universe in "Demons," and Howard handles the war superbly, keeping the hot-potato debate to a dull roar, with considerate pleas for attention emerging from both sides. The commentary is a genuinely compelling component of the narrative, and the screenplay imparts a commendable perspective for both minds, making Langdon a reticent warrior for truth and study, not a colossally educated hitman with his sights trained on the Catholic Church. I wouldn't brand "Demons" an exhaustive mental exercise, but the debate between science and religion urges the material away from slipping into a dull routine of peril and tongue-twisting monologues.
"Angels & Demons" is offered on this BD in two versions: the Theatrical Cut (138:37) and the Extended Cut (146:15). The elongated version of the movie doesn't include any dramatic turns of plot, only restoring fragments of characterization and reinstating the gore back to the murder sequences, pushing the film to an R-rated experience. The extremity livens up the picture some and feels more in tune with Ron Howard's initial vision for the material. However, keep in mind that the new bits of violence are perhaps too strong for younger viewers.
Boasting an AVC encoded image (2.40:1 aspect ratio), the "Demons" BD proffers a deep, saturated image, with an inviting film-like quality that welcomes lush images and exceptional detail. Interiors inhibit shadow detail from finding the finer nuances of the costuming or the set design, but these are only minor occurrences. The rest of the presentation reveals outstanding texture to faces and places, presenting this synthetic Rome with striking clarity at times, encouraging the mysterious puzzling mood. Exterior episodes look immaculate, especially during religious gatherings (reds are insane here), where a rainbow of costumes and stern faces compete for screentime, lighting up the image with ideal complexity.
The DTS-HD 5.1 track is perhaps most demonstrative with claustrophobic interiors (water submersions are superb) and echoy spaces, bouncing back and forth between snug audio environments and epic rooms of history. Surrounds are active, but not always pronounced, while dialogue exchanges are crisp and pleasingly frontal, juggling several accents without any point of confusion. Suspense is held together by the score, which is piped in with the careful authority, balanced comfortably with the rest of the mix. The last act of the film allows for the requisite punches of explosive bass, filling out the sound experience, though the majority of the mix is reserved for breathless exposition. A French 5.1 track is also available.
English, English SDH, and French subtitles are offered.
"Demons" can be viewed with the "Movie IQ" function, which presents the viewer with an IMDB.com-like experience while watching the feature film. It's a perfect addition for people who can't wait for the feature to end before they leave to research their questions.
"Rome Was Not Built in a Day" (17:30) establishes the production routine on "Demons," introducing the viewer to the major cast and crew figures of the film. The featurette also showcases the recreation of forbidden locations and the overall manipulation required to sell the film's Rome as the real one.
"Writing 'Angels & Demons'" (10:09) talks to screenwriters Akiva Goldsman and David Koepp, encouraging the two men to convey the challenges of adapting Dan Brown's book to the screen -- to make it "filmic," as they say on several occasions. The man with the plan, Dan Brown, is also interviewed, happily discussing his original inspirations.
"Characters In Search of the True Story" (17:10) looks to understand the soul of the personalities caught up in this nasty Italian business. Burning through actor interviews, the featurette allows these gifted thespians an opportunity to explain their motivations and share their reaction to the material.
"Cern: Pushing the Frontiers of Knowledge" (14:52) takes the viewer into the world's largest particle physics factory, home of the Large Hadron Collider. Permitting Howard and small crew access to shoot a few key sequences in the establishment, the featurette soon tears off into a scientific discussion and overall appraisal of Cern's achievements.
"Handling Props" (11:35) greets propmaster Trish Gallaher Glenn, who offers a tour of all the faux maps, invented text, and general meticulous detail of the "Demons" set.
"Angels & Demons: The Full Story" (9:46) is a repetitive featurette, returning to the same discussion of set construction and creative inspiration already established earlier on the BD. However, once attention turns to stunts and costumes, new information is revealed, offering a fresh glimpse of production challenges.
"This is an Ambigram" (4:46) talks to design wizard John Langdon (er, no relation), who shares his experience in the set of "Demons," making Ambigrams for the film's vivid branding sequences.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included.
Again, "Demons" is not far in tone from "Da Vinci Code," and visually the two pictures are siblings, both backed triumphantly by composer Hans Zimmer, who recycles his transcendent, what-moviegoing-is-all-about "Chevaliers De Sangreal" closing track from "Code" cleverly throughout the new film. "Demons" also offers a heightened sense of danger, full Vatican immersion, and another confident Tom Hanks performance for returning guests. A lengthy running time of 138 minutes is a bit of a hurdle, especially in the anything goes final reel that lurches too hungrily for awkward coincidences to sort itself out, but "Angels & Demons" satisfies with familiar dance steps, enhanced by a needed shot of sequelized hindsight.