Friday, January 1, 2010

ANGELS & DEMONS Blu-Ray (Columbia/Imagine 2009) Sony Home Entertainment

A follow up - cinematically at least - to The Da Vinci Code, Ron Howard's Angels & Demons (2009) fares slightly better than its predecessor - the former debuting as something of a convoluted mess that arguably remained faithful to Dan Brown's novel from which it derived, yet problematically and seemingly randomly omitted vast portions of vital information necessary to transform the story into a coherent cinematic experience for anyone who never read the books. On this outing, the script by David Koepps and Akiva Goldman sticks rigidly close to Brown's book - a plus in many ways that nevertheless somewhat slows down the development of the story midway through the film.

Before continuing with this review it should be pointed out that chronologically, Angels & Demons - the novel - precedes The Da Vinci Code while, as a film series, the screenplay by Koepps and Goldman treats its subject matter in chronological reverse. Tom Hanks reprises his role as symbologist, Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor summoned to Rome by Dr. Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) after someone has stolen dangerous antimatter from the European Organization's nuclear research laboratories and killed Vetra's coworker, Father Silvano Bentrivoglio.

In Rome, the Vatican mourns the death of Pope Pius XVI. However, while preparing the papal conclave to elect the next Pope, four of its leading incumbents are kidnapped and held hostage by the Illuminati - a resurrected secret society who threaten to kill not only the papal incumbents one by one, but also millions attending Vatican City by detonating the antimatter in the public square.

Camerlengo Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor) assumes temporary control of the Vatican's precious treasures, allowing Robert and Vittoria unprecedented access to the hidden archives in the hopes of discovering the whereabouts of the kidnapped papal incumbents. Meanwhile, Robert and Vittoria are challenged to uncover the mystery behind the four altars of the Paths of Illumination before it's too late.

Help arrives from Inspector General Ernesto Olivetti (Pierfrancesco Favino) and Lieutenant Valenti (Victor Alfieri), but the true path to understanding seems barred by some unforeseen force working counterproductive and very close to the heart of the Vatican.

Essentially, the rest of the film digresses in true Hollywood style to a race/chase with Robert and Vittoria working together to solve the crime, rescue the priests, diffuse the antimatter and learn the true identity of the leader of the Illuminati.

What is particularly disheartening about the film is its heavy handed use of the hand held camera that ineffectively reduces virtually all of the chase sequences to frenetic and highly unstable shots in which it becomes increasingly difficult for the viewer to focus on anything but the constant motion of the camera. This can easily lead some to become physically sick to their stomachs. This reviewer is of that latter ilk. I found myself pausing the film randomly to regain my equilibrium before proceeding onward.

I will digress a moment within this review to make a public inquiry to Hollywood in general when I ask quite simply -
"What has happened to the concept of setting up a shot and creating tension through skillful editing of stabilized master shots, instead of a perpetually mobile trucking of action that creates no set value on the visual content, but rather thrusts a multitude of images together in the hopes that the viewer will be able to decipher what they are seeing?"

This is not how films should be and this is certainly not how this reviewer chooses to indulge his free time at the movies - getting sick from the experience!

When the camera pauses just long enough for the audience to catch its collective breath we can see that Tom Hanks acting skills have considerably progressed. He is capable of sustaining our interest in the subject matter without the trickery of Ginsu-ing his performance through rapid pans, zooms, dollies and choppy editing. Alas, the camera doesn't rest on Hank's skills too often. Nor does it allow the viewer to absorb some of the truly astounding location work done in Rome. In the final analysis, Angels & Demons is probably compelling suspense - but far too often and before I could make that assessment I had to look away from the screen to regain my senses in a darkened room.

Sony Home Entertainment's Blu-Ray disc exhibits a very dark, razor sharp image. Pausing the disc affords the opportunity to see just how much fine detail is evident in the filmic image, though again, viewing the footage at the regular speed generally tends to blur the experience into one nightmarish roller coaster ride through a seemingly dim funhouse of murky darkness.

Again, this reviewer's eyes never truly became used to the swirling camera movements. Moving along, the audio is boldly represented in True HD with considerable strength in its bass delivery.

Extras include no less than seven comprehensive, if somewhat brief featurettes covering the film's production from virtually all aspects. The Blu-Ray contains both the theatrical and extended cut of the film. I confess, I only watched the extended cut on Blu-Ray - having already sat through the theatrical cut in a theater. The differences between the two versions, as far as I can gather are minor at best. We don't get more revelation from the extended cut - just more scenes that carry over from where the theatrical cut left off. There's also a rather neat 'follow Langdon's journey' interactive feature to delve into.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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