Angels and Demons gets two thumbs up

Saw the film Angels and Demons this weekend and loved it! Liked it better than the book, in fact. The scope and setting worked so much better (for me, at least) on the big screen than it did in text because the story is much more visual than Dan Brown’s other works. Except for a couple threats and a riddle, the clues in this tale are physical and visual: sculptures, buildings, maps, etc. The story revolves around a literal trail of physical locations and features rather than a metaphorical trail of abstract concepts and shades of meaning, as was the case in The DaVinci Code.

I’m the kind of reader who visualizes individual scenes but not the broader geographical setting of a story. In fact, maps are too abstract for me to use unless I can connect them with the physical reality they represent. This was a real handicap for me when reading the novel, as the plot depends so heavily on the specific geography of Rome. In the film, I could see the city and the physical relationship between the various sites where the plot unfolded. Even though the protagonist, Robert Langdon, consults a map of the city fairly early in the story, the audience doesn’t actually get to see a map until we’ve visited several sites with Langdon. That worked beautifully for me, because by that point I had some physical sense of the place and could translate that to the map.

Another reason this story worked better in film than in text is the rich detail of the setting. Rome in and of itself is a feast for the eyes, and the Vatican is a living allegory: everything that exists or occurs within its walls carries a profound weight of meaning. A single shot could set up a scene in this deeply symbolic location that might take four pages of description in the novel. Indeed, the filmed scene was very likely to include far more detail than the written scene would permit, which I appreciated immensely due to my predilection for the metaphorical and my eclectic education.

Finally, there is the element of time. The action portion of the story takes place within a little more than four hours, and Langdon is in a race against time. Film is a great medium for building and capitalizing on this kind of tension, as it must compress the entire story, regardless of its length, into two hours, give or take a few minutes. A certain amount of detail was stripped from the original story to accomplish this, but much of that detail, such as the sadism of the assassin, was used to generate tension in the medium of the novel. It was not needed for that purpose in the film and would have actually had the opposite effect of bogging down the story.

The film was fast-paced and engaging, well-written and well-acted, and beautifully realized on the screen. In other words, a perfect summer entertainment for adults whose sensibilities are not too delicate — violence is both shown and suggested, and its consequences are shown but not dwelt upon.

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