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Angels & Demons

(2009) ** Pg-13
140 min. Columbia Pictures. Director: Ron Howard. Cast: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgard.

/content/films/3402/1.jpgSo here's the lead: Angels & Demons is less boring than The Da Vinci Code. And though that may make Angels & Demons a marginally better movie—and the classy-trashy movie equivalent of an airplane or beach read—you're likely to feel embarrassed walking out of the theater. Remember folks, when it comes to the movies, you vote with your dollars. Do you really want four more years (or even four more movies) like this one?

Angels & Demons is based the 2000 Dan Brown novel that launched a franchise of Robert Langdon adventures. Repositioned as the movie sequel to The Da Vinci Code (Brown's second novel), director Ron Howard's version of Angels & Demons finds the Vatican—burned by Langdon's last screen adventure—distastefully throwing in with the Harvard symbologist (Tom Hanks) because they need his expertise (oh, sure, no symbologists working in the Vatican, right?). It seems the scientific secret society known as the Illuminati has resurfaced to take revenge for Catholic-sponsored murders of its heretical membership. In the wake of the Pope's death, the four Preferiti topping the list of papal replacements are kidnapped by supposedly science-minded terrorists who have also seized "the God particle" for good measure. The Illuminati's plan: kill a Cardinal every hour on the hour and then destroy the Vatican City at midnight by detonating the canister of anti-matter stolen from a Geneva collider (where the scientists say things like "We have events!" and "It's on a scale we've never seen before"). Y'know, just another day at the races.

It's difficult to convey in print just how ludicrous and inane Angels & Demons manages to be, but if Brown and screenwriters David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman could do it, well, I'll certainly give it a shot. Along with the magisteria of science and religion (flogged with a few surgical comments like "Faith is a gift I have yet to receive" and "Religion is flawed. But only because man is flawed"), we get Hanks/body double in a Speedo and, later, priest's garb (minus the collar); Langdon's version of a Bond girl: irreverent and sexy Italian scientist/plot device Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer); an oddly chivalrous assassin (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) who single-handly orchestrates the ornate killings of the Preferiti in ancient chuch sites all over Rome; and Ewan McGregor as the Camerlengo, a temp Pope making the most of his power during the papal election process. Because the film is set in a "country for old men," we also get an obligatory supporting turn by Armin Mueller-Stahl, once more asked to look and sound as velvety-sinister as possible.

Since the film's imperative is evidently commercial and not artistic, its tonal inconsistency should not be surprising. And yet it's off-putting to watch Howard toggle between heavy-handedness and flippancy in his use of Catholicism as vehicle for, respectively, a grade-school-level God vs. Science debate and indulgent violence. Though the nonsense is sort of invigorating during the first half—mostly taken up with Langdon cracking codes in...what's the opposite of the nick of time?—the hocus pocus begins to look pretty familiar, like National Treasure with prettier backdrops (the locations are, indeed, breathtaking). Try not to giggle when the screenwriters drop in that the Illuminati are skilled infiltrators, or that Langdon is being called in for "[his] expertise, [his] erudition." The guy from Bachelor Party? Just kidding, Tom, we love you—just not in this kind of pricy but conspicuously soulless crap.

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Bluray

Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 3

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 11/24/2009

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Angels & Demons gets the deluxe treatment in a three-disc Blu-ray set containing the Theatrical Version (138m) & Extended Version (146m). Because this is a new film on Blu-ray from Sony,the hi-def results are amazing, with textured detail, brilliant color, and spot-on black level and contrast; the illusion of depth is excellent here. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is likewise state-of-the-art in its ability to make your jaw drop: surround effects are outstanding, creating an admirable immersion in the world of the film, and the music is presented with an unbeatable fullness and richness.

The extensive bonus features kick off with some Blu-ray exclusives, like The Path of Illumination (HD), an interactive experience allowing the user to "Follow Robert Langdon's journey through Rome and unlock the hidden secrets of the Illuminati" by unearthing "in-depth historical facts, film clips and behind-the-scenes footage." The disc's BD-Live capability also enables cinechat instant messaging and movieIQ (for production stats). Lastly, the DVD in the set includes a Digital Copy and a trial version of Hans Zimmer Music Studio.

"Rome Was Not Built in a Day" (17:30, HD) is a production overview featuring fascinating behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with director Ron Howard, Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, executive producer/2nd unit director Todd Hallowell, costume designer Daniel Orlandi, production designer Allan Cameron, visual effects supervisor Angus Bickerton, editor Dan Hanley, editor Mike Hill, composer Hans Zimmer, and 3D supervisor for Double Negative Graham Jack.

"Writing Angels & Demons" (10:09, HD) gathers Howard, producer Brian Grazer, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, David Koepp, and author Dan Brown.

"Characters in Search of the True Story" (17:10, HD) profiles the story's heroes and villains, and includes comments from Howard, Hanks, Brown, Grazer, Ayelet Zurer, Pierfrancesco Favino, Stellan Skarsgård, Armin Mueller-Stahl, and McGregor.

"CERN: Pushing the Frontiers of Knowledge" (14:52, HD) looks at one of the story's factual inspirations, with Howard, Director of Research Dr. Sergio Bertolucci, CERN Head of Communications Dr. James Gillies, Hanks, Operations Group Leader Dr. Mike Lamont, and research physicist Dr. Rolf Landua.

"Handling Props" (11:35, HD) puts property master Trish Gallaher Glenn front and center, along with Howard and candid set footage

"Angels & Demons: The Full Story" (9:46, HD) is oddly titled, as it's more concise than the previous making-of doc. At any rate, the featurette includes more set footage and interview clips of Hanks, Howard, Brown, Orlandi, McGregor, and stunt coordinator Brad Martin.

"This Is An Ambigram" (4:46, HD) introduces us to ambigram artist John Langdon, inspiration for the Hanks character. Howard, Brown, and Langdon participate.

Angels & Demons fans will not be disappointed in this three-disc presentation of the film.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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