Let's start with the end. The way you feel when you walk out of a movie says a lot about the movie. Screenwriting coach Robert McKee, author of Story Structure, says that there's not much to say if you watch a great movie that leaves you satisfied. That's how I felt when I exited the theater at the end of Angels and Demons, the prequel to The DaVinci Code. The movie delivered and satisfied on so many levels.
The juxtaposition of ancient church rites and 21st century science is evident in the first few minutes of the movie Angels and Demons. The death of the pope puts in motion the conclave of cardinals. The activation of the hadron accelerator at Cern produces the most significant amount of accumulated anti-matter ever, in one place.
But the juxtaposition of science and church is nothing new. Dan Brown's book, Angels and Demons creates a scenario which is an echo of the conflict Galileo experienced hundreds of years ago. The story explores the speculation that Galileo was a member of the Illuminati-- a group that wanted to bridge science and faith. But Tom Hanks, who starred in the first Dan Brown movie novelization-- DaVinci Code-- explains, the Catholic church attacked the Illuminati, purging and killing some its most respected leaders in what was called "the purga." The script characterizes the "purga" as a "dark stain," a "ghost that has come back to haunt us." Is the movie also evoking the idea that 911 was an event where our own actions brought a response that came back to haunt us? It does feel a bit that way and later in the movie there are even elements in the story that will make 911 truther conspiracy theorists happy, suggesting the malevolent participation of people at the highest levels of power. There's also a montage showing how the Vatican leadership, like any effective state, effectively dupes the willing and cooperating media, which happily promotes the message the movie viewer knows is false.
The thing about a novelized movie is you compare the movie to the book. I read the book before DaVinci code came out, at least several years ago, so I was blessed with a fuzzy memory when it came to the details. That worked out great. I had some general ideas about what was going to happen, but it was fuzzy enough so I could fully enjoy without doing scene by scene comparisons. The book went into great detail including erudite descriptions of the history and symbolic ties of the different elements and scenes. The movie primarily uses the voice of Tom Hanks (who looks great!) character, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon to narrate the details Dan Brown wove so well into the novel. But I may be scaring you about all the symbology. Not to fear. It's all seamlessly woven in to the story, which at the bottom, is a mystery story. Think of it as a a story that is in many ways like the Nicholas Cage movie, National Treasure, except it takes place in the Vatican City and Rome.
Then there's the science aspect of the story-- the use of the idea of anti-matter, produced at the world's most powerful nuclear physics lab-- CERN-- in Switzerland. I liked the portrayal of an event that will probably occur one day-- the acquiring of anti-matter. And the movie engages numerous times in exploring just what it means to tear apart the structure of the universe to acquire primordial elements-- ones which were probably present at the beginning of time. We need to have these conversations-- pro-science and the religious perspectives and it is highly laudable when they are woven into a gripping movie in a way that painlessly embeds the ideas in the script. More novelists, screenwriters and directors should do it. ROn Howard and his writing team, David Koepp (screenplay) and Akiva Goldsma have shown that it can be done without detracting from, even enhancing the story. YOu just have to be smart enough to write so the movie-goer doesn't have to be so smart.
A good movie gets you involved, feeling like you are inside the main character's head. It takes you on an emotional ride, sometimes taking you to the edge of your seat, sometimes lifting you, sometimes touching your heart. Ron Howard does this with exquisite directing.
For a thriller, Angels and Demons takes you on a more diverse emotional journey than most. The twists and turns Tom Hanks and co-star Ewan McGregor, who plays the Pope's aide, the Camerlengo, take us on are key to making the story a sure winner.
There's no doubt in my mind that Angels and Demons will win the box office this weekend and it could very well out-sell DaVinci Code. The church isn't coming out as hard against this movie and in many ways, this is a better, more satisfying novelization. Some critics challenge some inaccurate history portrayals. I say it's a movie, not a documentary, and recommend it wholeheartedly as a great piece of entertainment that even sends a message about science.
I have to add, that when I exited the theater, in center city Philly, I looked up to see a scene that could be the closest architecturally, to the scenes of the Pantheon, the Sistine Chapel and all the other ancient churches and edifices portrayed in the movie.