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Angels & Demons (2009)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 11/24/2009

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/25/2009

If you've seen the previous film in a series, watching a sequel should be pretty easy. You're already familiar with the characters and the situations, so "bam!" start the movie and off you go. (Not that watching a movie is particularly tough to begin with...unless that movie is Stan Helsing.) But, Angels & Demons was a different story. This sequel to the box-office smash The Da Vinci Code offered some unique challenges, none of which were related to the story or content.

As Angels & Demons opens, the Pope has just died. As thousands of faithful Catholics mourn outside of The Vatican, the College of Cardinals convenes to select a new Pope. But, just as the meeting is about to begin, four Cardinals are kidnapped, and The Vatican authorities received word that an anti-matter bomb is somewhere in the vicinity. A representative is dispatched to retrieve symbologist Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) to assist in the case. Those responsible for the kidnapping and bomb-threat claim to be The Illuminati, an ancient sect who promoted science within the church. As Langdon has written a book on the group, and he's familiar with the Catholic Church, he is seen as the perfect expert for the situation. Langdon meets Commander Richter (Stellan Skarsgard) of The Swiss Guard (Vatican security), Camerlengo Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor), the former Pope's most trusted advisor, and Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), a physicist who helped to create the stolen anti-matter used as the bomb. At first, Langdon is clearly out of his element, but he soon realizes that The Illuminati have laid out a series of clues based on the primary elements (earth, air, fire, water) and some famous churches in Rome. If Langdon can decipher these clues in time, the authorities may be able to rescue the Cardinals and stop the bomb.

So, you may be wondering, why was Angels & Demons a challenge for me? The answer to that is simple: I saw The Da Vinci Code, but I don't remember a thing about it. Well, I remember that basic premise...sort of...and I remember that Tom Hanks had bad hair, but that is about it. I must not have liked it very much, as it left no impression on me. To make things even more confusing, the book Angels & Demons was published before The Da Vinci Code, so technically, this is a prequel. However, the movie plays as a sequel, as there are several vague (very vague) references to Langdon's previous encounters with The Vatican. We have to assume that they are referring to The Da Vinci Code.

Maybe I'm the only one who had these issues, so let's move on to the discussion of Angels & Demons. Again, I don't remember much about The Da Vinci Code, but I recall that it was an "on the lam" movie. Angels & Demons plays more as a straight-ahead thriller and is somewhat similar to Die Hard with a Vengeance in that the story plays out as "here's a clue, let's drive across the city...here's another clue..." Ron Howard keeps things moving at a nice clip and the film is rarely dull in the sense that nothing is happening.

Having said that, the tone of the film is off. What we have is two different movies happening at once, and at times, they don't gel. On the one hand, we have an action-thriller. The movie features shoot-outs, cars racing across Rome, foot chases, and intense arguments about what to do next. Again, this leans towards Die Hard with a Vengeance and it certainly wants to be exciting. However, the other part of the film plays out on a far more intellectual level which I'm sure worked much better in the book. Langdon will mutter about clues and Catholic history and then suddenly say, "We must go to (fill-in-the-blank church)!" While we want to be excited about this, some guy spouting the names of historical locales just doesn't get my heart racing.

And then we have the Langdon character. I haven't read the books, so I have no idea what he's like there, but in Angels & Demons, he's somewhat bland. Yes, he's clearly very intelligent and he's done his homework on the Catholic Church, but other than that, what words would you use to describe him? Funny? Quirky? Mean? No adjectives really stick to this one-note character. Obviously, Hanks is a great actor and I'll watch him in just about anything, but in this movie, I was simply seeing Tom Hanks, as Robert Langdon never materialized. The easiest comparison to make is between Hanks as Langdon and Nicolas Cage as Benjamin Gates in National Treasure. Both characters are very similar, but Cage brings a goofiness to Gates which at least makes him memorable.

So, for all of its hype, Angels & Demons is simply a competent thriller. Again, Ron Howard brings some excitement to the film, but it's never really suspenseful, and if you've seen Apollo 13, then you know that Howard can do suspense. For those into Catholicism, religious conspiracies, or Rome, you may get something more out of Angels & Demons, but for everyone, simply prepare to be entertained, but little else.

Angels & Demons never seems to arrive on-time on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. Two things which immediately stand out about his transfer are the depth and detail. The cityscapes of Rome look fantastic and the clarity of the image gives some shots a faux-3-D look. The level of detail is excellent and we can see the textures on items. The colors look very good, most notably the reds of the Cardinals and the image is never overly dark or bright. The Disc has a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are quite good and nicely detailed. The crowd scenes show off these effects, most notably when sounds move from side-to-side. The surround sound effects are great as well, and nearly constant in the film. The subwoofer action really kicks in during the chase scenes, and several moments are wall-shaking. Overall, this is near demo disc quality.

The extras in the Angels & Demons Blu-ray set are confined to their own disc. "Rome Was Not Built in a Day" (18 minutes) is a detailed look at the film's production, examining the challenges of shooting in or recreating famous locales. Along with the look of the movie, the piece also looks at costumes and music. We get a ton of on-set footage showing the production team working in Rome. "Writing Angels & Demons" (10 minutes) compares this movie to The DaVinci Code and the differences in stories. Director Ron Howard and writers Akiva Goldsman and David Koepp discuss taking the story from the novel to the screen. "Characters in Search of the True Story" (17 minutes) is an examination of the characters. The cast comment on their characters and talk about they approached the movie. "Cern: Pushing the Frontiers of Knowledge" (15 minutes) examines the real-life paricle physics lab which is featured in the film's opening. "Handling Props" (12 minutes) has Property Master Trish Gallagher Glenn describing how everything from fake historical documents to fake guns were created by her department. "Angels & Demons: The Full Story" (10 minutes) is a brief featurette which gives an overview of the film's production. This is like a smaller version of the first feturette on the Disc. "This is an Ambigram" (5 minutes) explains what an ambigram is. The final extra is a Blu-ray Disc exclusive entitled "Path of Illumination". This interactive featurette doubles as an educational piece and a making-of entry. We learn more about the actual locations in the film and can read a goodly amount of historical data. We can also choose to see on-set footage, some of which is repeated from earlier featurettes. The educational pieces play best here, especially for those (like me) who watched the film and thought, "Is that real?"

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long