Thursday, May 28, 2009

Angels and Demons

It is a nasty double-edged sword that is walked when converting a story from novel to film. On one side, you have the daunting task of fitting an enormous amount of material in a small window of time; on the other side, you have an audience full of people who have enjoyed the original novel and expect the same story in theatrical form. This can prove to be a perilous task, and director Ron Howard dropped the ball with Angels and Demons, just as he did with his earlier rendition of The Da Vinci Code. Characters were omitted, roles were swapped and stacked on top of one another, and certain parts of the storyline seemed to be simply forgotten.

Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is back at it, trying to foil a secret, anti-Christian organization trying to force the heart of Christianity to its knees. As it turns out, the current pope has just died suddenly, four members of the college of cardinals, who so happen to be the favorites to take over, have been kidnapped, and a vile of highly unstable anti-matter has been stolen from CERN laboratories in Geneva and has been hidden somewhere inside the Vatican. All of these actions have been claimed by a group calling themselves The Illuminati; a secret society that has long hated the Catholic Church because of it's past persecutions of Galileo and other scientists of his time. Langdon, along with Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) who was deeply involved in the anti-matter research at CERN, has roughly five hours to not only find the explosive, but also to try and figure out an Illuminati scavenger hunt so that he can prevent the murder of the kidnapped cardinals.

Seems like a lot? Throw in the fact that although a cardinal is supposed to be murdered every hour on the hour starting at 8 pm, Langdon spends 5 minutes solving the clue leading to the next location and then the next 45-50 minutes struggling with a highly uncooperative commander of the Swiss Guard, the guardians of Vatican city, and then has to race across Rome in ten minutes. Everything happens so fast that the audience has a hard enough time trying to keep up, let alone wonder how Robert Langdon is able to figure everything out so quickly.

And yet, even though things are happening at breakneck speeds, the young Camerlengo (Ewan McGregor) who is serving as pope in his wake has time to give a long-winded speech on the history of the Catholic Church and also to exhume the departed pontiff to discover evidence of poisoning. The time line just doesn't seem to mesh at a consistent rate, which is just another factor that leads to a distracting movie experience. Add on top of this a rapid explanation of not only advanced physics and chemical engineering, but also the complicated political rituals of the Catholic Church, and what you have is one shell-shocked audience, one that gives up on trying to keep up with the storyline and allows themselves to simply let the movie drag them along to the end.

One plus of the movie is that unlike its predecessor,
Angels and Demon did not provoke the ire of the Catholic Church. In fact, the official Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, said it is a "harmless entertainment which hardly affects the genius and mystery of Christianity." And it not only portrays the current Catholic Church in a positive light, but it also provokes an interesting contrast between faith and agnosticism. Robert Langdon has a fascinating conversation in which the Camerlengo asks him if he believes in God to which Langdon replies that the existence of God is beyond his mind to determine. When asked about his heart, the professor replies that his heart is not worthy. Agnostics and believers alike can find truth in that statement.

Followers of the book will be able to enjoy the film, mainly because the novel is able to take the time and use the detail needed with the complex aspects of the story, not to mention keep the time line more consistent. And the movie is phenomenal when concerning theatrical elements. The production value is superb and Tom Hanks is an actor that really can do no wrong at this point. Overall, it is an entertaining film. But just like with
The Da Vinci Code, the storyline of Angels and Demons seemed to be nothing more than an afterthought, sloppily thrown together at the last second.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Star Trek

I seemed to have somehow bypassed the whole Star Trek phase. I have missed the original series with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy (due to the fact that I wasn't born) and was too involved with cartoons and Nickelodeon to be concerned with The Next Generation. However, I have always yearned to experience Captain James T. Kirk yell, "Beam me up, Scotty!" and see Spock be the unemotional voice of reason in times of peril. Director J.J. Abrams must have read my mind, along with the minds of other wanna-be and current trekkies alike and came up with a brand new rendition of the U.S.S. Enterprise and its crew.

It doesn't take a die-hard fan to know that the
Star Trek franchise is one that has been recycled over and over, which is something that concerned me with the new remake. Would this movie be able to break new ground with these familiar characters, or would it be nothing more than a nostalgic flashback that simply regurgitated old material? The surprising result was a combination of the two. Familiar elements were used, but this was done so in a way that seemed new and invigorating.

The film takes its audience back to before James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) even set foot on the U.S.S. Enterprise, utilizing all of the same characters from the original series, only at a much earlier time in their lives. The crew responds to a distress call and finds themselves up against time-traveling Romulans, led by their captain Nero (Eric Bana). The inclusion of the time travel element in film always raises a red flag because so much can go wrong and make everything a chaotic mess. However, the concept works perfectly and helps to create fun aspects of the movie, such as the young Spock (Zachary Quinto) meeting his future self, played by none other than Leonard Nimoy himself.

The production value was absolutely amazing and was able to make the audience forget that this movie is based on defying reality. Black holes are not gateways to other dimensions and times. The accuracy of warp speed is obviously debatable. How is it possible that Scotty (Simon Pegg) can transport three different people from two separate places to one location and yet Kirk and Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) are forced to parachute onto the Romulan drill in order to destroy it? But the fun and excitement comes from suspending that disbelief and embracing the fiction of the sci-fi genre. And of course, having Dr. Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban) shouting, "Dammit man, I'm a doctor, not a physicist!" makes things enjoyable as well. The rest of the crew was filled out perfectly, with Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana) as the communications expert and Spock's secret love, and Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin) ironically heading up the communications of the ship with his extremely thick Russian accent.

The thing that I was excited for the most was the doors that were opened for the franchise. This movie was a simple re-energized version of the original series, full of catch phrases and familiarities. But now that the new, younger characters have been established, perhaps the next movie will test the personalities of the crew instead of simply re-establishing them. Regardless, the
Star Trek remake was a fun and exciting experience with an excellent cast that would entertain the entire spectrum of Star Trek fans.