Sunday, May 17, 2009

Oh Those Pesky 'Angels and Demons'

At this point it is hard to believe all the ruckus that was caused by Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, which, when people calmed down, they realized it was closer to hysterical than historical fiction. The novel was a pot stirrer, but the movie fell to the ground like a led balloon, and the Chinese government, showing their commitment to good taste, banned that movie after only a very brief run because it was upsetting their Catholic citizens (weird, since it is a Communist government). Well Angels and Demons is in fact the pre-quel to The Da Vinci Code, the first real Robert Langdon adventure, and frankly it is a much better novel (still nothing great, but better). One only has to suspend one's disbelief in the helicopter scene in that one.

Ron Howard (aka Opie) undaunted by the failure of his first Robert Langdon flick, decided to boldly go where few have gone before, and turn a prequel into a sequel--- which is easier said than done. Yes, Tom Hanks is back, and yes the plot is still filled with historical hooey (to use Tom hanks' words), but this movie is not as deadly dull as its predecessor, in fact it has some interesting moments in it. This one is bound to offend less because :1 ) it doesn't suggest there was a Mrs. Mary; 2) it involves a guild of mad scientists called Illuminati who must have been cowboys as well as they kept carrying around branding irons, an interesting juxtaposition; and 3) it gives one an inside glimpse at the Vatican, even though the Vatican in actuality would not allow Opie to film there. Still Rome and its churches come alive in this film, and that's worth seeing.

This film is briskly paced and whilst it appears to set up a science and religion clash, actually the message of the film seems to be that the two can make nice, even if they aren't yet kissing cousins. The ratings on this film are only at 37% so it appears the critics are in a 'once bitten twice shy' mode after the Da Vinci Code bomb. The difference is that this movie quite literally bombs at the end, but lest I spoil the plot I will simply say this film is better than the usual summer drivel, but don't expect any Oscars coming the way of this two hour thrill ride. It even has a nice twist in the tale at the end, and Howard has been smart enough to eliminate some of the most implausible elements from the Brown novel and streamline things. Yet there remain some imponderables, not the least of which why there is even a Bond girl in this film since clearly Langdon isn't interested and doesn't need her. Oh well, romance in the Vatican would have been a bit of a hard sell anyhow.

If you want to go see an excellent film about now, go to Star Trek. If you are looking for historical or religious Illumination, this film about the Illuminati can in no way provide it. It just shows once more that: 1) Dan Brown is out of his depth; and 2) Ron Howard doesn't understand the history of the Catholic Church either


TonyTheProf said...

I assume a film which treats an antimatter device capable of destroying the planet as real cannot this time be based "on real facts"!

I can't wait to see the 12 ton - that's right 12 ton (according to Dan Brown) - Enigma machine when they make Digital Fortress. As one mathematician commented - must have been made of Dark Matter!

James Garth said...

Here's a review of 'Angels and Demons' from the Center for Public Christianity which makes some interesting comments regarding the film's depiction of the science/religion clash and its treatment of the 'authentic' message of Christianity:

And I wholeheartedly second your recommendation of Star Trek!


Daniel said...

I agree: Star Trek was awesome. But for die-hard trekkies, we had to leave our knowledge at the door also. But I really enjoyed it.

Unknown said...

Ben, did you ever review "Valkyrie"? Just releasing on DVD. I haven't seen it yet, but thought you would have been interested based on the connection to Bonhoeffer. I have been interested in whether Bonhoeffer, a pacifist, concluded that it would be a pretty good idea to blast Hitler to smithereens or not. (Not sure anybody knows whether he supported this course of action or not).

Ben Witherington said...

Hı Brother Miller

Bonhoeffer, when the plot failed concluded he should have stuck with his pacifistic principles instead of allowing an exception.


Corpus Christi Outreach Ministries said...

Ben sorry for the off topic post. Just saw you are moving to belief net. Read all 'the warnings' I too found problems when Mcnight switched over, I will of course visit you there, but hope you dont lose too many followers! P.s. How's Turkey?

Karcy R. said...

Just as a note, I feel that it is important to make a distinction between Catholics in China who are Roman Catholics and observe the Pope as their supreme head of church, and the Patriotic Catholic Church of China which has been ex-communicated. The Roman Catholic Church is the most persecuted group of Christians in China for refusing to placate the Communist government on this one issue, and the distinction has to be made because the treatment between the two groups is so radically different.

John Meunier said...

Ummm ... The Da Vinci Code grossed something like $750 million worldwide. May not have been a great movie, but it was not a failure from the studio's point of view.