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Dante's Inferno (2010)

Anchor Bay Entertainment
DVD Released: 2/9/2010

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/7/2010

With budget cuts and the emphasis placed on end-of-grade testing these days, do our kids have any chance of receiving a classical education? What has happened to discussions of logic, a deeper understanding of science, and the appreciation of classic literature? While some of those things have gone by the wayside, it may still be possible to get kids interested in literature, and sometimes, you have to meet them on their level. Electronic Arts is releasing a video game based on the epic poem Inferno by Dante Alighieri, and as a tie-in, an animated movie based on the game based on the poem has been released. Think what you will, if this movie/game gets a kid to seek out the original poem, it's a moral victory.

Now, I have to come clean here, I've never read Inferno, but I did some basic research, and it appears that this movie is loosely based on the poem. As the story opens, we meet Dante (voiced by Graham McTavish), a knight who has returned from The Crusades. He is traveling through a dark wood, heading for his home. He feels that he's being pursued, but never sees the pursuer. Arriving at his father's house, he finds his father and the servants slain. His beloved, Beatrice (voiced by Vanessa Branch), has been mortally wounded and lays dying. She tells Dante that a foreign man attacked her. As she dies, Dante sees her spirit leave her body. Suddenly, Lucifer (voiced by Steve Blum) appears, grabs Beatrice's essence, and takes her through the gates of hell. Dante attempts to follow, but the gates close. The ghost (?) of the Roman poet Virgil (voiced by Peter Jessop) appears and offers to be Dante's guide. Dante forces the gates open and the two descend into hell. Virgil leads Dante through the nine circles of hell, where Dante witnesses various sins and their punishments. Meanwhile, Lucifer plans to make Beatrice his bride.

Dante's Inferno is an odd project (and not just because it's a video game based on a 700-year old poem). While, as far as I can tell, the story arc is newly created for this movie (again, based on the game), the narrative structure stays very close to Dante's poem. The idea that the mission to save Beatrice propels Dante into hell is not in the original poem. In that poem, a spiritually lost Dante appears to be more of a tourist in hell, with Virgil as his guide. I can see how the makers of Dante's Inferno felt that they needed a better reason for Dante to enter the underworld. So, not unlike Mario, he's there to rescue his girl. But, if you remove the pursuit of Beatrice, Dante's backstory (more on that in a moment) and Lucifer's plan to marry Beatrice, what you've got left plays closely to Inferno. Dante and Virgil traverse the nine circles of hell -- limbo, lust, gluttony, greed, anger, heresy, violence, fraud, and treason -- just as they are laid out in Inferno, and they meet some of the same characters, such as Charon and Minos. While artistic liberties are taken with the punishments involved, the sins and sinners described are the same.

Again, simply making an animated movie of Dante's journey into hell would have been interesting, but today's audience requires more of a "Why?". Hence, we get not only Dante's motivation -- saving Beatrice -- but his life story as well. Dante's journey is not only a spiritual one, but one of self-discovery as well. As Dante travels through hell, we learn of his actions during the crusade, both good and bad, and of his childhood. This fleshes out the character and offers some interesting plot twists as well, even if some of them don't necessarily make any sense. Speaking of spiritual journeys, Dante's Inferno doesn't pull any punches with its Christian symbolism and references. This is the Christian hell and Dante is facing Lucifer as described in the Bible. The movie doesn't necessarily have a Christian message per se, but, again, it follows the religious nature of the poem very closely.

The religious nature of the movie is oddly juxtaposed with the fact that Dante's Inferno is decidedly for mature audiences. I've scanned the DVD box and I don't see a rating on it anywhere, but I would easily give this an R...or stronger. The movie is chock full of nudity and violence. The violence isn't just the usual hack and slash video game variety. As the story is set in hell, there are all sorts of grotesque imageries and some of the things which occur in the lust circle would make Frank Henenlotter blush.

As far as the action is concerned, Dante's Inferno works well as an action film. Having a pre-set narrative structure with which to work, the makers of the movie have peppered the engrossing story with some nice action set-pieces. The movie was directed by six different directors and each have given their part of the movie a unique look. (It's best to know this going in, so that you don't start questioning your own sanity when Dante and Virgil suddenly look like different people.) The color palette leans to reds and browns and the movie never has too much of an anime look.

This is the second movie of this sort from Anchor Bay and Electronic Arts. The first offering, Dead Space: Downfall, had little story and went nowhere. So, I expected the worst from Dante's Inferno. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to find a decidedly serious undertaking which takes an epic poem and shoves video game violence down its throat. It's an odd combination with actually works.

Dante's Inferno has a devil of a time on DVD courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The movie has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no defects from the source material. As noted above, the colors are muted, but they look fine. The image is a bit dark in some places, but the action is typically visible. The picture is soft at times, but this may be a style choice, as this often occurs in anime. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Unlike most movies, Dante's Inferno is basically non-stop action, so the audio effects persist throughout. The stereo effects are nicely done and show good separation. The surround sound effects are very detailed and add a sense of space to the movie's lavish drawings. Subwoofer effects help to drive home the violent action scenes.

The extras are slim pickings on the Dante's Inferno DVD, as all that we get are "Animatics" for five scenes. I thought that "animatic" meant animated (usually computer animated) early versions of scenes. These are merely elaborate storyboards.

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long