Director: Ron Howard | Released: March 2009
Starring: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Skellan Starsgard
Yin and Yang. Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie. Books and movies. Angels and demons. All of these duos are opposing forces, yet they intermingle in an unending cosmic balance of good and evil. Books are often heralded as the better over a screen adaptation in terms of storytelling. But, movies more often rake in the bigger bucks and popularize the title. Dan Brown’s thriller prequel to Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons resurrects the ancient rivalry between science and religion. And since Ron Howard has taken both of Brown’s bestselling novels and turned them into big production movies, perhaps Howard and Brown are now interlocked as opposites thriving for dominion over the same title. Preferably the movie would coincide with the novel in a tidy screen adaptation, but we all know that never happens. So, what demons does Howard have floating about this time?
Don’t Forget To Have Your Characters Neutered Or Spayed
Amongst the several things snipped and yanked from Brown’s original concept of Angels & Demons, is Howard’s apparent lack of sexuality and mojo. In the novel, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is mainly a sexually supressed super-geek that has his nether regions awoken by a stunning Italian scientist named Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer). In the movie, Langdon hardly notices Ms. Vetra, and is instead more of the arrogant geek stereotype than the perv stereotype.
The sexy, impulsive Vetra seemed to have taken a few sedatives while making the journey from the book to the movie. Howard’s version of the character can’t stand in the shadow of Brown’s hot-blooded Italian vixen. In the book she chases her father’s killer with a clear abandonment of fear and disregard to danger. In the movie, though, she hardly ventures past the walls of the Vatican. Also, in the book she puts everyone in the Vatican on edge with her short shorts. The movie was kind enough to give her a plain black skirt…that went down to her knees. It’s okay for a character to dress conservative, but it detracts from Brown’s character who was clearly meant to be a source of sexuality and sexual tension for virtually every male character in the story.
To go one step further, Howard cut out the emotional bond that forms between the lead man and woman over the course of the story. He also removes (SPOILER ALERT) a sexy game of cat and mouse between Langdon and Vetra in a hotel in the book’s closing chapter. Rather, Howard opts for a much more pious ending to the movie. The movie’s ending isn’t bad, but it certainly doesn’t play to Brown’s romantic side of his storytelling.
The assassin also loses much of his virility in the movie. In my opinion this was a missed opportunity, as the hassassin in the book was a much more vicious character and source of chaos that played really well off of Langdon’s mix of genius and blossoming fondness for his female counterpart. Good villains are always a keystone to a great story–and Howard castrated this one.
The novel’s assassin (or hassassin, as Brown refers to him for his Middle Eastern roots) is a sexual predator the likes of which we haven’t seen since American Psycho. He is also a killer without pause or mercy in the novel, but he is the utter opposite in the movie. Sure he kills the cops without blinking an eye, but when it comes to the unarmed Langdon and Vetra he has code. In the book he can’t wait to ravage Vetra as a prize for his terrorism over the Vatican, but he doesn’t even notice her presence in the movie.
Inspector Olivetti (Pierfrancesco Favino) also seemed to lose much of his alpha-male mojo in the movie. In the book he not only holds a higher rank in the Swiss Guard, but he was Langdon’s number one ballbuster. There was not one conclusion Langdon found throughout the story that Olivetti did not contest in the novel, but in the movie he acted more like Langdon’s lackey. This is not a total loss, however, as most of Olivetti’s arguments with Langdon were given to a character created just for the movie.
Easy Come, Easy Go
The movie added a main character while eliminating one of the novel’s main characters. Commandante Richter (Stellan Skarsgard) was a mish-mash of several characters from the novel. One scene in particular that he had in place of Maxmillian Kohler, the head of CERN research facility in the novel, was the scene where Camerlengo McKenna (Ewan McGregor) was branded with an Illuminatti brand. And just as a sidenote, the movie has a different brand for the Camerlengo than what Brown uses in the novel (for inexplicable reasons). Anyway, eliminating Kohler from the story created a deep rift in the storyline. For instance, in the movie Langdon is absconed from his Harvard life by the Vatican, but in the novel, he is rushed to the CERN facility at the behest of Kohler. Obviously, this created a chain-reaction of changes to the story and how characters met, etcetera. Also, as stated before, the Commandante received the majority of Olivetti’s dialogue with Langdon, for whatever reason.
The Right Stuff
One particular part the movie represented well was most of the assassinations. There were four in the book and three in the movie. But I guess three out of four ain’t bad. The ones that Howard did follow-through with were portrayed with startling accuracy. He unabashedly burned, maimed, stabbed and asphyxiated three out of the four kidnapped cardinals. As mentioned above, Howard spares the fourth cardinal from his watery grave. Also, there is something to be said for seeing the Vatican and outlying Rome. If you’ve never visited the area, this movie gives the audience a beautiful glimpse of the superior architecture and artistry amassed in the region.
There are many other discrepancies to be listed, of course. Many of them are minor and did not alter the story. But there were others that shifted the plotline severly. (SPOILER ALERT) For example, one of the cardinals survive the Illuminati assassinations in the movie. This changes the end of the film and how Langdon solvese the puzzle: the Path of Illumination. The assassin’s death is different (but not necessarily worse) in the movie. However, the confrontation between Langdon, Vittoria, and the assassin felt vastly different. There was also a much larger role played by Roman and Vatican police enforcement in the movie. This detracted somewhat from the drama for the main characters, as they had lots of security to back them up as opposed to going up against the Illuminati and its assassin alone.
The Camerlengo’s insanity levels and utter collapse were different as well. In the book he takes Langdon up in the helicopter while saving the city from the antimatter bomb. There is one parachute, and the Camerlengo leaves Langdon to his fate with the bomb miles above the Vatican. In the movie, Langdon never gets on the chopper. Also, the Camerlengo finds out much more about his father and why he shouldn’t have killed him. This is another missed opportunity for a chilling moment for the movie. Lastly, the Camerlengo is also deprived one of his biggest ‘church beats science’ speeches.
The movie also lacks Brown’s use of the media in the novel. There is a character by the name of Glick who is commissioned by the hassassin to cover the murders, and he and his camerawoman become players in the outcome of the story. One last change to mention is that Vittoria finds her dead father in his room. This doesn’t happen in the book and severly alters the sequencing of the story.