by Charles Marowitz
(Swans - June 1, 2009) Midway into Ron Howard's film Angels & Demons, one begins to suspect that the "angels" must refer to the band of backward investors who sank several millions of dollars into the film adaptation of Dan Brown's novel, and the "demons" to the moviemakers who still seem to believe that a formulaic action film that led an audience by the nose down a slippery slope can still pass for stimulating entertainment.
At the beginning, there is a faint wisp of a possibility that the tension between religion and science is in some way going to save this film from becoming a typical "shoot-em-up" with maximum violence and minimum intellect. That hope fades rapidly as symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks, frighteningly recovered from the Attention Deficit Disorder that beset Forrest Gump) sports his learned one-dimensionality while errant cardinals -- all candidates for the papacy -- are methodically murdered by a sinister secret sect called the illuminati; an unfortunate nomenclature as it is at the service of a script which like the illuminati itself, requires some hefty illumination.
The routine tactics of these "action films" have now taken on the redundancy of a phonograph record stuck in an inescapable groove. We know there will be an intensive chase to try to find the murderous culprit before he offs the next victimized papal candidate and a lot of screeching of brakes and last minute rescues, which in most cases will be futile. Through it all, Hanks analyses the piazzas and squares of Rome in a useless attempt to dope out where, and under what circumstances, the next selected cardinal is to be murdered. This involves analysis of maps and clues -- both in Latin and English -- and produces the inescapable impression that we, the audience, are all being taken for a ride -- and not always to a church or a tomb where it is too late to save the lives of churchmen imprisoned by a maniacal zealot of the faith who, out of a warped sense of Christianity, believes he is cleansing a church infested with heretics.
In the course of this transparent fabrication, we are obliged to buy blatant implausibilities, like a youngish acolyte (Ewan McGregor) eluding the Sherlockian powers of the symbologist (Hanks) and avoiding the imminent destruction of the Vatican by zipping into an airplane, safely detonating the devastating bomb that threatens to destroy Vatican City and then parachuting back into Vatican Square -- just in time to be unmasked by his fellow clerics and immediately immolating himself. These are feats that bring to mind the superheroes of old -- like Superman, Flash Gordon, the Perils of Pauline, and all those Saturday movie serials that so enchanted us as adolescents and are still beloved by contemporary movie-makers who somehow believe the development of elaborate technology justifies the banality of the stories they tell and the special effects they ignite along the way.
Let us pray that Dan Brown has no more novels up his sleeve that can be metamorphosed into action flicks. He should turn to books for children where his adolescent imagination will better serve him and his public.
Shortly after it opened, the official Vatican Paper, eschewing the anger that was unleashed on The Da Vinci Code, confided to its readers that Angels & Demons was "harmless entertainment and not a danger to the church." Surely some secular periodical should have warned us against the dangers that threaten our sensibility when clichés copulate with banalities. Surely dangers to the intellect are just as threatening as those to organized religion.
If you appreciate the quality of Charles Marowitz's work, please consider making a donation. Money is spent to pay for Internet costs, maintenance and upgrade of our computer network, and development of the site.