Archive for the ‘Conspiracy’ Category

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When In Rome…

June 9, 2009

angels_and_demons_eng1Alright, after waiting a couple of weeks on a friend whom I had promised to watch this film with, I finally got a chance to see it.  It still took me another week to finally write this review, so I do apologize for the wait.  But as the saying goes…better late than never.

I want to start this review off by saying that I did heed my friend’s recommendation to read the book before seeing the movie.  I thought the book was absolutely amazing (thanks Meredith for the recommendation) and I couldn’t wait to see how it played out on film.  I honestly didn’t expect much though, seeing as how I’ve seen some lousy book-to-film adaptations in the past.  It was an entertaining film in its own right, but since I read the book, I do have some negative things to say about some of the changes and omissions.  I am going to give details, so if you have a desire to read the book or see the movie, I’d suggest not reading any further until you have done so.

A lot was changed when this story made the transition to film.  And in my humble opinion, a lot of these changes were completely unnecessary.  Let’s start with the beginning of the film, shall we?  The beginning of the film started out showing and explaining the rituals that follow a pope’s death.  I suppose that could be necessary on film for establishing the context of the events and giving a bit of explanation for those who don’t understand what goes on after a pope’s death.  But considering recent history has seen a new pope elected, I’d say most everyone who would be viewing this film is at least nominally aware of what goes on in such a situation.  From the introduction the movie proceeds to the creation of the antimatter at CERN and the murder of Silvano Bentivoglio (Carmen Argenziano), a character who never appeared in the book (in the book, he had a different name and a different relationship to one of our protagonists).  In contrast, the book begins with the death of Leonardo Vetra, Vittoria’s father and partner in the antimatter research.   This was research that only she and her father were involved in due to its secrecy and importance.  In the movie, however, we see that there is an entire team of scientists working on the project.  Unfortunately, this makes it more likely that word would get out regarding the research and that the wrong people would find out about it, completely negating some of the mystery and further diminishing the fact that Silvano had spoken to the Pope and Camerlengo Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor) in the first place.  And while we’re on the subject of CERN, Maximilian Kohler, the director of CERN and an important character in the book, wasn’t even present at any point in the movie.  Instead his role was assimilated into that of Commander Richter’s.

The next significant difference I noticed was the fact that instead of being called in the middle of the night by Kohler, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) was instead approached by a representative from the Vatican in person.  That change doesn’t really matter much, however, I didn’t agree with the fact that the movie takes the approach of having the Vatican contact Langdon rather than CERN.  In the movie, Langdon flies directly to the Vatican, whereas in the book he flies straight to CERN where Kohler explains the situation and then introduces him to Vittoria (Ayelet Zurer) and antimatter is explained.  They then discover that the largest sample of antimatter has been stolen and when it turns up in the Vatican, they proceed there in an attempt to locate it.

There is also some differences in the makeup of the Vatican authorities in the movie.  In the book, Olivetti is the commander of the Swiss Guard; in the movie, he is replaced with a new character named Maximilian Richter (Stellan Skarsgård) who seems to be a combination of Kohler and Rocher (whose character actually seems to have been replaced with Father Simeon).  Olivetti becomes the head of the Vatican police in the film.  Chartrand appears to be portrayed much the same as he was in the book.

There are a few more changes that I found significant.  The Assassin (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) was actually supposed to be Arabic, but in the film his character was changed so that he appeared to be of western origins.  I don’t know if this was some effort to be politically correct, but if that is in fact the case, I think this is one of those cases where being politically correct detracts from the story.  It takes away the entire motivation for the character.  In both the book and the film, the Assassin believes he is truly working for the Illuminati.  The real difference lies in the fact that the book’s Assassin is Arabic and his driving factor is revenge for the deaths of so many Muslims at the behest of the Catholic Church during the Crusades.  Politically correct or not, the Crusades were dark times for Christianity in general and such a motivation would certainly add depth to the character of the Assassin.  Instead, he was portrayed as simply another “gun for hire” as is evidenced when he explains to Langdon that those who hire him always find it important that he knows that his acts are for “Yahweh, Jehovah, or Allah.”  I’m paraphrasing there, since I cannot seem to locate the precise quote and it has been a couple of weeks. Regardless, even if it was a matter of political correctness, if we choose walk on eggshells and ignore the events of our past, then we are ultimately doomed to repeat them.

Yet another difference was the fact that Cardinal Baggia (Marc Fiorini) survived in the film.  Baggia was the fourth and final cardinal, and he was favored to become the next pope.  When Langdon failed to rescue him in the book, the situation felt hopeless.  I felt that was diminished when Langdon saved him in the film.  But don’t get me wrong, I did appreciate how the at first hesitant onlookers joined together to help free him in one of those rare occasions when everyone seems to come together.

The final change that I deemed significant was the fifth Illuminati brand.  In the book, it was the legendary Illuminati Diamond – an elaborate ambigram consisting of a combination of the four ancient scientific elements of earth, air, fire, and water.  In the film, it wasn’t even an ambigram.  It was two crossed keys crossed over one another and turned upside down, an obvious reference to St. Peter’s crucifixion.  The problem I have with this is that it really makes no sense as to why the Illuminati would have used this symbol as their final brand in the first place.  This did however, set the stage for one change I did appreciate.  In both the movie and the book, it was stated that Langdon had petitioned for years to get access to the Vatican Archives so that he could view Galileo’s Diagramma in order to finish a book he had been writing.  In the movie, he was rewarded with the final copy of Diagramma for his assistance; in the book, he was given the final brand (the Illuminati Diamond) on indefinite loan – a mere keepsake that served no real purpose other than being an interesting artifact.

I should also mention one insignificant change: the book was actually a prequel to Da Vinci Code, but the movie was actually a sequel.

I feel that I’ve probably spent a lot of time expressing my negative opinions about most of the changes and omissions (some of which I can agree with).  As a result, this review is probably a bit misleading.  I did enjoy the movie.  It is very entertaining and it is very well put together.  It does an adequate job of creating a sense of urgency and suspense, although I felt the pacing was slightly too fast.  The core of my issue with the movie is simply that I felt the transition from book to film could’ve been handled better.  I’d be interested to find out why some of the indicated changes were made.  If you’ve never read the book, you’ll probably have no problems with the movie.  You’ll be able to watch it and take it for what it is and be entertained and intrigued.  It’s definately worth watching in the theater.

But as I always say, don’t take my word for it, give it a chance and make up your own mind.

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