Dan Brown’s Books and Ron Howard’s Movies (Inferno Preview)

Movie previews

Hello!

In the middle of October, the latest Ron Howard and Tom Hanks collaboration – Inferno – will hit theaters. So, I decided to educate myself on the source material – the amazing bestsellers by Dan Brown as well as the 2 previous films of the franchise – and want to tell you all about my educational and entertaining journey into the world of Robert Langdon.

Dan Brown’s Books

While all of the books in the Robert Langdon series are stand-alone novels, I decided to read them in the order that they were published. My dad used to a big fan of this author’s work, so I had all the novels in my home library. I truly enjoyed reading this series that blends history and modernity beautifully; unravels the whole narrative in such a limited time frame (the stories span maximum of 2 days) and finds real facts to prove conspiracy theories (sort of). A few ideas about the 4 different accounts of the exciting adventures:

  • Angels & Demons – the first and my favorite book of the series. It was the freshest and the most original (because it came first) and it also had the biggest amount of action, mystery, and suspense. I loved the religion v science debate. I also liked the realism of the novel but had a few problems with the ending – it just seemed a bit over-the-top and unbelievable for such a grounded story.  The setting of Rome and Vatican was brilliant, though.
  • The Da Vinci Code – probably the most famous book of the series that explored the topic of art v religion and had quite an open ending that I still don’t know if I liked it or hated it. Either way, I loved learning about Paris.
  • The Lost Symbol – the most philosophical book of the series that dealt with science and spirituality and even magic. I really liked that Brown moved the action to the new world instead of focusing on Europe once again.
  • Inferno – with this book, the writer moved the plot back to Italy, where everything started (Angels & Demons was also set in Italy). The mixture of themes such as literature, art, medicine, religion, and humanism was really cool. The amnesia aspect was a great story device to kick-start the narrative. The idea of The Consortium as an underground organization with a lot of power was impressive too.

robertlangdon

In general, as I’ve said, I loved all of the works by Dan Brown. This series is like a virtual tour of historical cities that I desire to visit in real life as well. My only gripes with the books were 1. the repetition of story devices and 2. a slight overdramatization. After reading all of the volumes of the series, I started noticing that all of the female characters were kinda similar – they all were either daughters/granddaughters/sisters/lovers of the other important characters of the books. All of the 4 leading ladies were also used as the love interests for the main character but they never resurfaced a second time. Robert Langdon’s position was also always pretty much the same – he would be sucked into the action by accident and would usually become a temporary outlaw. The villains tended to be people from the outskirts of society that don’t fully fit in – they were either the assassins, the crazy monks, the revengeful family members or the misunderstood geniuses. Lastly, the author really seemed to like his ending twists – all novels revealed a lot of stuff during the last 20 pages and these ‘exposures’ totally turned things around and changed the stories almost completely.

The 2nd and 3rd books shared an idea that ‘people are not ready to find out some historical truth’, while the 1st and 4th novels focused on some kind of modern technologies that were used in the attempted destruction of the world for religious reasons. The 1st book was my favorite, while the following 3 all shared the runner’s up position.

Ron Howard’s films

The Da Vinci Code was the first book to be adapted into the film in 2006. 3 years later, the big screen adaptation of Angels & Demons was released. I don’t know why they decided to switch the order of the first two books when adapting them, especially, since I felt that Angels & Demons was the stronger novel and might have been a better starting feature of the franchise. I also have no idea why they skipped the 3rd book and decided to adapt Inferno instead. Also, why wait 7 years to adapt the next movie? I think that the audiences might have already forgotten the character of Robert Langdon, particularly, in the market oversaturated with thrillers, adventure films, crime dramas and superhero movies (Ron Howard’s adaptations have various aspects in common with all of these genres).

I also don’t understand why the two films have been panned by critics this much. The few reasons that I can spot in common between all the reviews is the fact that the movies have a lot of narration and that they critique the church – all the reviewers seem to be personally offended by this commentary. I also can not comprehend how the Catholic Church feels threatened by a piece of fictional entertainment/commercial art. Is the church really this weak to see a slightly diverging idea as a serious menace to its thousand year old history and a thousand year long world domination?

A few ideas about the two movies purely from the cinematic perspective:

The Da Vinci Code: 

  • The movie had a smaller amount of explanations and less backstory than the book, Langdon seemed to break the codes way more easily and without the key, and the family relations were altered too.
  • Small moments, like difficulties with the code at the bank and the second cryptex, were cut, but, in general, the picture was quite true to the book.
  • The narrative was more straightforward and streamlined for the film, so as to make in easy to follow to viewers not familiar with the book.
  • The filmmakers added more action in the literal sense of the word, although, they kept the quite underwhelming ending – I expected the film to finish with some big original action sequence since it was made in Hollywood.
  • The movie also had a lot of dialogue in French which is quite unusual for a Hollywood picture, which is primarily aimed at the English-speaking audiences.
  • The visuals of the past/explanatory flashbacks were really nice and interesting. They also served as a nice visual explanation to accompany the narration.
  • The supporting cast was full of big name talent. Ian McKellen and Paul Bettany both were really good and the lesser know (at least to me) French actors Audrey Tautou and Jean Reno were great as well.

Da_Vinci_Code_poster.jpg

Angels & Demons:

  • This film was less faithful to the book and it had a variety of changes and things being cut.
  • Changes: Vetra’s father was replaced with a different scientist. Olivetti was not part of the Swiss Guard and the Vatican contacted Langdon, not CERN. The last cardinal was saved in the film, while he died in the book. The assassin was way less sadistic and eccentric and died differently. Lastly, the final suicide was public in the novel, but it happened in private in the picture and Langdon also received a different ‘thank-you’ gift.
  • Cuts: the director of CERN didn’t appear in the film. Vittoria wasn’t kidnapped at all. The biological son plotline was left out and Robert also didn’t go into the helicopter in the film, while he did that in the book.
  • However, the film kept the main thematical idea of the book – the whole tradition vs. modernity discussion. It also retained the little details, like Langdon’s passion for water sports and his Mickey Mouse watch.
  • The feature also had a way faster set-up than the book – it took the novel at least a hundred pages to start on the quest of looking for the Path of Illumination, while the film started to look for it after the first 15-20 minutes.
  • A few cool shots that I particularly enjoyed were: the whole sequence in the particle accelerator and the shot of the cardinals leaving their cell phones behind when entering the conclave.
  • The film had a nice supporting cast, although, the characters could have been fleshed out more. Ewan McGregor’s character seemed shady from the start, while Stellan Skarsgård’s character was unlikeable and hostile without any real explanation. Ayelet Zurer’s character also needed a lot of screen time before she grew on me as a likable protagonist.

angels_and_demons_ver3_xlg.jpg

I hope you enjoyed this review of a franchise that spans a few mediums, both the cinematic and the textual one. I would really like to do more post like these. My Inferno review will come out as soon as I get a chance to see the film!

Have a great day!

Advertisements

Movie review: Ben-Hur

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to one of the last movie reviews of this summer. This time, we are discussing a film that was mostly panned by critics and was almost completely forgotten by the audiences – Ben-Hur.

IMDb summary: Judah Ben-Hur, a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, an officer in the Roman army, returns to his homeland after years at sea to seek revenge but finds redemption.

2016’s Ben-Hur is the 5th Ben-Hur picture in the last 100 years. This story is quite old, both literately and figuratively. Not only is the plot set in the ancient times, but the original source material – a book by Lew Wallace titled Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ – has been published at the end of 19th century. While I usually enjoy epic and historical movies, their religious aspects tend to be a hit and miss for me. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Noah and, while Exodus seemed like a fun action adventure, its casting had a lot of problems. Don’t even get me started on Gods of Egypt. The mosts successful religious movie to date is probably The Passion of The Christ, but other than that, religious action features are a hard sell for Hollywood. I’ve also personally noticed that I more interested in movies about pagans rather than any monotheistic religions.

Speaking about Ben-Hur – it is not as bad as everyone is telling you. It has problems, like any other film, but it also a fun adventure with some religious ideas that sometimes stick and sometimes don’t. I wish that the audiences wouldn’t have given up on it without even giving it a chance. At this point, I should also probably note that I haven’t seen any other Ben-Hur pictures because I wanted to allow this movie to stand on its own. I haven’t read the book either, but I’m strongly considering doing that, as I did enjoy the film overall.

Writing

Ben-Hur’s screenplay was penned by Keith Clarke and John Ridley. Ridley has an Academy Award for writing 12 Years a Slave, while Clarke is not that accomplished – he has mostly worked on documentaries until now. For the most part, I really liked the writing for this film. I thought they did a good job with the development and likeability of the two leads – you could actually understand both of their arguments. The supporting characters could have received a few more scenes, but the lack of development for them didn’t bother me much. The dialogue, the catchphrases as well as the repeatable lines that the characters would spit out to each other were all cool and worked well in the picture.

My biggest problems with the story were all related to the set- up also known as the first act. Messala’s decision to leave seemed a bit rushed – I would have like to see more of him and Judah as kids or teenagers. The parts of the story leading up to the big betrayal/accusation were also wonky – the film was going all over the place and seemed to be both rushing and dragging at the same time. However, with the beginning of the second act, which I thought was that sequence with Judah on the ship, the movie really found its footing. It had a clear direction and a cohesive, simple but interesting main storyline.

Ben-Hur also had nice topical ideas. It cleverly contrasted the ideology of Rome ‘let’s spread civilization through violence’ with the teachings of Jesus, which were all about the compassion, peace, and solidarity. The whole biblical ending seemed a bit weird and out of place, especially after that big action sequence, however, I do understand why it had to be there – they wanted to end the film with a positive message of forgiveness instead of the celebration of revenge. It was a truly happy ending in a classical Hollywood fashion.

Directing

Timur Bekmambetov, the director of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and the producer of Hardcore Henry, directed Ben-Hur and did quite a nice job. Yes, some scenes were a bit overdramatized, but the ship sequence, as well as the final race, were both awesome. The whole setting and vibe of the film reminded me of HBO’s Rome, while the chariot race gave me flashbacks to a similar sequence in a French family film – Asterix at the Olympic Games. Ben-Hur’s CGI was also quite good – I have seen worse effects in the movie that cost even more to make. The credits of the film were also quite cool – those graphics were interesting and fit the movie perfectly.

Acting

The film didn’t have any really big name talent involved, so maybe that’s why the audiences passed it by. The most prominent name actor of the cast was probably Morgan Freeman (Now You See Me)  – he looked ridiculous with those dreads but worked well in the role of the mentor.

The two leads were played by Jack Huston as Judah Ben-Hur and Toby Kebbell as Messala. The two of them were great in the roles, both in the dramatic and action sequences. Their chemistry was also believable. Huston is mostly known for starring in Boardwalk Empire, but he also had roles in American Hustle and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Kebbell has started in a few big films but without showing his face – he played Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, starred as Doctor Doom or at least Fox’s version of that character in Fantastic Four and was the actor behind the main Orc character in the Warcraft movie. Coming up, he has Kong: Skull Island.

The supporting cast consisted of Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi as Esther, Ben-Hur’s love interest; Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus; and Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer as Naomi, Ben-Hur’s mother. I love the fact that the casting director at least tried to make the movie more international and introduced me and other Western viewers to some new talent, although, Zurer should be quite familiar to us all – she plays Kingpin’s love interest on Daredevil. Two Americans – Sofia Black D’Elia as Tirzah and Moisés Arias (who is still stuck in the Hannah Montana times in my mind) as Gestas – rounded up the cast and also did a good job.

In short, Ben-Hur was a solid picture that exceeded my expectations. It needed some time to get into the right path but when it did – it was great! The story was interesting, the two leads were complex characters, brought to life by two amazing actors and the action didn’t suck either.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Ben-Hur trailer

BEN HUR POSTER.jpg