I love Romel I find its faded grandeur and architecture both visually stunning and resassuring in equal meaure. And I love reading. Even though he might not be among the literary worthies I also really enjoyed Dan Brown’s two (to date) novels on symbologist Professor Robert Langdon. So, what a treat to go and see the film based in my favourite city.
There’s also a link with my current job – DIUS part funds CERN, and I’ve actually spoken to people who work at the Large Hadron Collider site and they are genuinely passionate about relating the work being done there to “recreate” conditions at the beginning of the universe.
Whatever you think about that research effort, the opening scenes at CERN were magnificently shot – if not for the small problem of having its antimatter stolen, it would have been a great way of explaining science to the man or woman in the street. I found it particuarly confusing that antimatter, explained quite well in the novel, has now been conflated with the Higgs Boson particle, which I thought gave matter mass, the so-called “god” particle which CERN researchers are tyring to createCERN themselves have used the film as an opportunity to explain their work further, and welcomed the film and its stars to their site (http://angelsanddemons.cern.ch/). They do a good job of explaining the various scientific discrepancies and misconceptions within both novel and film, for example explaining that an antimatter bomb is just not feasible, while the use of antimatter as an energy source is distinctly unlikely due to the fact that it would consume more energy in its production than it would ever actually produce. As Tara Sheath, a CERN scientist, explained in an artilce in The Independent (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/angels-amp-demons–separating-science-from-fiction-1684918.html, the novel and film both diverge from the real science that is carried out there. So, the film kicks off in CERN where one of the research scientists is killed, and branded, and antimatter stolen. Following the visit to (a disappointingly CGI-generated due to lack of space) CERN, we are quickly into the film’s main setting, the streets and churches of Rome, where the search for the Prefreriti, four cardinals favourite to become the new Pope, who have been kidnapped by the Hassassin quickly gets underway. Robert Langdon is quickly dispatched to Rome from a seemingly comfortable existence in Harvard, ironic given that he has been trying to access the Vatican archives to research the Illuminati, the very organisation who now seem to have surfaced via the killing at CERN.
The tension is built up well, and the crowded streets there for the old Pope’s funeral and clamouring for the election of their new leader, give a sense of urgency and a sense that time is closing in on Langdon, as he works with CERN scientist Vittoria Vetra to try and find both peferiti and antimatter in the 5 hours before midnight.
I understand that the Vatican refused the filmmakers permission to film in any of Rome’s churches, but the filmmakers have succeeded in bringing the city to life, and in follwoing the search for the four cardinals, we are treated to sumptuous imagery of the Pantheon, Santa Maria del Popolo, St Peter’s, the Sistine Chapel and other locations.
The Castel San Angelo’s brooding magnificence also came through in the filming, although as one commentator has noted, it is unlikely that anyone could be hidden there as it is open to the public everyday. As one who has been there, and felt stifled there, I can appreciate how it is was used within both film and novel.
The film’s main flaws come from its attempts to simplify, and in some cases more explication would have been helpful. We aren’t told what the Hassassin’s grudge is (I don’t even recall him being called the Hassassin). A personal beef is Ewan McGregor’s “Ulster” priest. Why change the perfectly useful device in the novel? And why lose the Janus character, who accurately reflects the very troubled nature of this young priest? His parentage is not explored in the same depth as in the novel, yet a little more complexity would have Ewan’s characterisation more tragic, and would have added to the film’s dramatic impact.
Similarly, Vittoria is reduced to just another practising scientist, with no reference to her personal tragedy and connection to the murdered scientist. While the book uses that particular character to show that the bridge between science and religion can be successfully bridged. Similarly, what happened to the emphasis placed on the fates of Galileo and Bernini.
So, while the film is satisfying in itself, its omissions are significant ones.