The follow-up to the remarkably successful "Da Vinci Code" is "Angels and Demons", another effort directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks (and maybe it's just me, but Hanks has a few moments here where he looks a little Al Gore-ish) as professor Robert Langdon. Despite coming after "Code", the film is - oddly enough - a prequel. The picture starts off with Langdon being interrupted by an emissary from the Vatican while taking a swim.
It seems that the Illuminati have stolen a batch of antimatter from the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Geneva in order to disrupt the choosing of a new Pope after the current one passed away. Not only have the potential candidates (known as the "preferiti") been kidnapped and threatened, but the group has stashed the antimatter somewhere within the city and threatens to use it to wipe Vatican City off the map.
Desperate to crack the case before those kidnapped are hurt or the city is turned to rubble, Langdon is called in and paired with scientist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), as well as cop Inspector Olivetti (Pierfrancesoco Favino). The three - along with help from Commander Richter (Stellan Skarsgård), and the "acting" pontiff, Camerlengo Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor) - set out to find clues in the archives, then start to pick up the trail of those responsible, clue-by-clue, down the "Illuminated Path".
The picture is a race against the clock, although it takes the picture a while to truly get going, as a good deal of the initial hour or so is made up of clues and discussions between the characters. The movie could have benefited from a few less chats - there's a bit too much time spent with the characters explaining everything to one another. The theatrical cut - which runs nearly 10 minutes less than the extended cut - is preferable in terms of pacing.
The movie is also guilty of a few moments of hint, hint, nudge, nudge as it suggests on a few occasions as to who could possibly be behind the scheme (and yes, there's a big "twist" ending.) The movie starts to provide some discussion of religion and science, but this is primarily a popcorn movie beyond all else and discussions on larger topics tends to get a bit lost in-between chases from church-to-church.
Technically, the film looks superb, with gorgeous location after gorgeous historic location, captured well by the handsome cinematography of Salvatore Totino ("Changing Lanes"). Production design, art direction, costume design are all also first-rate. I'd be interested what a different director would have done with this more action-oriented effort, but Howard does a mostly fine job. As for performances, Hanks turns in a satisfactory effort, with a bit less energy and intensity than the actor has shown in the past. Zurer, McGregor and Skarsgaard offer enjoyable supporting efforts.
"Angels and Demons" would have been helped mildly by trimming the story down more to the essentials, but as is, the movie offers up a fine popcorn thriller.
The set includes both the 138-minute theatrical cut and the 146-minute extended cut.
VIDEO: "Angels and Demons" is presented by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC) and the results are mostly first-rate. Sharpness and detail are the one element that is a little inconsistent, as while the majority of the film looked tight, well-defined and clear, some shots (especially some of the dimly-lit interiors) could look a tad soft and fuzzy.
No edge enhancement was noticed, nor were any instances of pixelation. The print used also remained in top-notch shape throughout the show, as should be expected from a recent theatrical release. Colors looked dark and rich, appearing well-saturated and pure throughout the show. Black level remained strong, while flesh tones appeared spot-on.
SOUND: The film is presented in DTS-HD 5.1. The film's sound design may not be an all-out assault, but surrounds were employed during many scenes (especially the film's handful of action moments) to deliver dynamic sound effects and enjoyable ambience. The film's audio did a very nice job delivering a sense of space and putting viewers into the scene. Audio quality was excellent, with crisp, well-recorded sound effects and a full, powerful-sounding score from Hans Zimmer.
EXTRAS: Surprisingly, no commentary.
The extra features are offered on a second disc, and include: "Rome Was Not Built in a Day", a 17-minute documentary that largely discusses the extensive work that had to be done building sets in instances where the production could not film at the actual location. We also learn more about a big FX sequence, as well as sound design elements for the sequence in question.
"Characters in Search of the True Story" runs a little over 15 minutes and looks into the casting, performances and character development. "Writing" interviews writers David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman, who discuss the process of adapting Dan Brown's bestseller.
"Angels and Demons: The Full Story" runs a little under 10 minutes and feels like a promotional overview of the film. More interesting is "CERN: Pushing the Frontiers of Knowledge", which is a pretty fascinating look into the research facilities that are a part of the story. "Handling Props" is a 10-minute look at just that, and it's a pretty enjoyable look at some of the minor and major props seen in the picture. We also get "This Is an Ambigram" featurette and "The Path of Illumination", a feature that leads viewers through the history of some of the locations seen in the film.
Finally, a digital copy is offered, as are BD-Live features (MovieIQ, cinechat) and a Hans Zimmer music studio (powered by a trial version of Sequel2) program. Previews for other titles from the studio are also offered.
Final Thoughts: "Angels and Demons" would have been helped mildly by boiling the story down more to the essentials, but otherwise, the movie offers up a fine popcorn thriller. The Blu-Ray edition boasts excellent audio/video quality, as well as a nice set of supplements.
The Film B