2 DISC THEATRICAL & EXTENDED EDITION
Studio: Columbia Pictures (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Film Year: 2009
Film Length: 2 hours 18 mins (Theatrical Cut) 2 hours 26 mins (Extended Version)
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
BD Resolution: 1080p
BD Video Codec: AVC (@ an average 25 mbps)
English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 3.5 mbps, going up to 5 mbps in the big moments)
French, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French
Film Rating: PG-13 & Unrated (Violence, Disturbing Images and Thematic Material)
Release Date: November 24, 2009
Starring: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Avelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgard, Pierfrancesco Favino, Nikolaj Lie Kass and Armin Mueller-Stahl
Based upon the Novel by: Dan Brown
Screenplay by: David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman
Directed by: Ron Howard
Film Rating: 3/5
Angels & Demons, like the adaptation of author Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, is another effective adventure romp, somewhat in the vein of the National Treasure movies, this time in the form of an evolving murder mystery and map puzzle that stretches across Rome and Vatican City within a single evening. The basic plot here is more contained than in the prior film. Symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks again, this time with a shorter haircut), is called on to help locate four kidnapped Cardinals who have been threatened to be killed once an hour within a single evening before a stolen canister of antimatter is detonated somewhere near the Vatican. The puzzles this time concern the intellectual society known as the Illuminati, and are focused around the four elements of earth, air, fire and water. Like the prior film, the mystery is fun to follow as it unfolds over the nearly 2 ½ hours of the extended version, but it doesn’t hold up to any deeper scrutiny once the movie is over. (The movie presents several possible good guy/secret bad guy types and once the real villain is revealed, the whole enterprise becomes a lot harder to buy…but this is typical of many modern movies and television shows that pull one twist too many in an attempt to stay ahead of the viewer.) With this kind of material, Ron Howard is in a great position to demonstrate his mastery of the craft of clean storytelling and staging. And this film is just as effective as The Da Vinci Code in taking the viewer on a fun adventure through various scenic locales in Rome with several performers turning in great character roles, including Stellan Skarsgard and Armin Mueller-Stahl. Tom Hanks delivers a fine performance that is actually more assured than his appearance in the earlier Dan Brown adaptation. For those looking for a somewhat weightier metaphor, the film does offer an interesting comparison between centuries-old religious customs and the most cutting edge modern technology. It’s not particularly deep, but it’s well-presented as a pair of bookend visuals – in one of the more effective stagings seen from Ron Howard’s filmography. This is an entertaining movie with a lot of production value to offer, and while it’s not trying to be meaningful in any way, it will provide a great movie night for many fans of the Dan Brown books as well as Tom Hanks and Ron Howard. (I’m aware there are likely many Dan Brown fans who will take issue with the adaptation choices, even though Brown has endorsed them, so I’m being careful about my phrasing here…)
Angels & Demons has been released last week both on standard DVD and Blu-ray. The Blu-ray release is actually a 3-disc affair, with the first disc containing both the Theatrical Version and an Extended Version running about 8 minutes longer. The second disc contains an interactive information guide on key locations shown in the film, along with over 85 minutes of HD featurettes on the making of the film. The third disc contains a digital copy of the film, along with a trial version of a sound mixing program (“Hans Zimmer Music Studio”).
VIDEO QUALITY 4/5
Angels & Demonsis presented in a 1080p AVC 2.40:1 transfer that shows more detail and deeper color than the Blu-ray I reviewed earlier this year of the extended version of the prior film. There seems to be a much greater variety of colors, textures, people and environments on display with this film, and the HD transfer appropriately reveals a satisfying depth of detail in everything from a CGI representation of a super collider at work to a depiction of a Vatican Conclave of Cardinals trying to elect a new pope. The marriage of CGI to real locations is fairly seamless, except in the very few situations when it’s clear that nothing but CGI could depict the visual. I should note that I am watching the film on a 40” Sony XBR2 HDTV. If anyone is watching the film on a larger monitor and is having issues, please post them on this thread.
AUDIO QUALITY 4/5
Angels & Demons is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in English and French. The mix provides clear dialogue from the front channels (no mean feat given the wildly varying accents on aural display here from the cast) along with effective use of the surround channels for atmosphere and music. There is some satisfying use of directional effects in the surround channels – particularly one search sequence within a construction area. As with the first film, the subwoofer gets a pretty intense workout, particularly during the big action sequences, the big music moments, and during the obvious opportunities like the aforementioned super collider event, and the film’s climax.
SPECIAL FEATURES 3/5
The Blu-Ray presentation of Angels & Demons comes with a fair amount of special features. There’s the two versions of the film on the first disc, along with some BD-Live and PIP functionality, as well as several HD previews. There’s the interactive tour and almost 90 minutes of featurettes on the second disc. And there’s the third disc with the digital copy and the music studio software. There’s nothing particularly deep here, but there are some interesting tidbits all along the way.
On Disc 1:
First, there are two versions of the film here – the theatrical version, and an extended version that adds almost 8 minutes of additional footage.
Movie IQ – While watching the movie, this Blu-ray function allows you to bring up an on-screen trivia box, with information about each scene, from the cast to the musical score cue to the relevant part of Dan Brown’s book. There’s some interesting trivia here, but for the most part, I found this function to be limited in entertainment or informational value.
Cinechat – This BD-Live feature allows the viewer to send messages to other viewers while watching the movie.
BD-Live - The more general BD-Live screen is accessible via the menu, which makes various online materials available, including trailers and special events.
Previews (1080p) – Eight previews are included in high definition: A current Sony Pictures Blu-ray general trailer, Julie & Julia, The Da Vinci Code Extended Edition, Year One, Casino Royale CE, Close Encounters of the Third Kind 30th Anniversary, Whatever Works and It Might Get Loud. The first three trailers are automatically activated whenever you initially place the disc in your player.
On Disc 2:
I should note that pretty much all of the features and featurettes on Disc 2 contain a plethora of SPOILERS for the film’s plot. If you have not seen the film and want to have a fresh experience of it, I strongly recommend waiting to play the 2nd disc until after you have watched the movie.
The Path of Illumination – BEWARE OF SPOILERS IN THE DESCRIPTION OF THIS FEATURE HERE. This is an interactive tour of five major locations for this film in Rome: Piazza Del Popolo, St. Peter’s Square, Santa Moria Della Vittoria, Piazza Navona and the Pantheon. Each location has its own sub-page, containing clickable access to a glossary, some general information about the location, a brief 1080p BTS clip about the filming there, story information about the clues found at the location, and basic information about the element discussed there. Each location also has a brief 1080p summary clip, narrated by Ron Howard.
Rome Was Not Built in a Day (1080p, 17:30) – Under 20 minutes long, this featurette addresses some basic areas, from production (an interview with a producer/2nd Unit director) through to costume design, production design, visual effects, editorial, music, and the conversion of a Hollywood Park lot to a large exterior square.
Writing Angels & Demons (1080p, 10:09) – This featurette covers the adaptation of Dan Brown’s book into a screenplay that Ron Howard could direct. Dan Brown and the two credited screenwriters are all interviewed separately. One curious note here is that Ron Howard clearly states that David Koepp was brought in to do rewrites and essentially complete the script after Akiva Goldsman had to stop work due to the then-erupting WGA strike in 2007. One has to wonder about this, given the publicity about the “Pencils Down” campaign at the time…
Characters in Search of the True Story (1080p, 17:10) – This featurette discusses the casting of the movie, and includes interviews with almost every major player in the movie. THERE ARE MAJOR SPOILERS IN THIS FEATURETTE. There’s not a great depth of material here – mostly it’s just Ron Howard describing what a great actor is playing the part, and then the actor talking about what a great experience they had on the movie.
CERN: Pushing the Frontiers of Knowledge (1080i, 14:52) – This featurette (the only 1080i one on the disc) is an overview of the CERN facility in Italy, including interviews with its Director of Research and its Head of Communications. As an interesting sidenote, they admit near the end of the featurette that they are not capable of producing the deadly amount of antimatter shown in the film.
Handling Props (1080p, 11:35) – Prop Master Trisha Gallaher Glenn discusses and shows the many intricate props created for the film, including “ancient” texts, brands, weapons and papal materials. There isn’t anything deep here, but it is a lot of fun to get close-up views of the beautiful materials Glenn put together.
Angels & Demons: The Full Story (1080p, 9:46) – This is another brief collection of interview snippets and behind the scenes footage. Here, we see materials about shooting on location in Rome, building the film’s sets, making costumes for hundreds of people in the depiction of Vatican City, the work of DP Salvatore Totino, and a look at the filming of a fire stunt sequence. I suppose you could put this together with the earlier Rome Was Not Built in a Day featurette and have a more complete view of the film. It’s puzzling why the two featurettes were split apart in this fashion.
This is an Ambigram (1080p, 4:46) – This brief featurette focuses on John Langdon, the author of the book Wordplay, and the inspiration for the lead character in this series of Dan Brown novels. Brown describes how he discovered Langdon’s work, and Langdon demonstrates how he made several ambigrams for use in the film – creating word constructions that can be read the same way right side up or upside-down.
On Disc 3:
Digital Copy - A digital copy of the extended version of the film can be loaded on to your computer or portable device.
Hans Zimmer Music Studio Powered by Sequel 2 – A trial version of this music mixing software is available here, including some samples from Zimmer’s score for this film. I did not try using this program, but I’d be curious to hear if any readers can make use of it.
IN THE END...
Angels & Demons is an equally successful adventure romp to the earlier film The Da Vinci Code. It doesn’t have a lot of substance to it, and the mystery does not hold up to much scrutiny, but it’s very well crafted and it’s beautiful to watch. Fans of Ron Howard and Tom Hanks will have a great time here. I expect that fans of Dan Brown’s book may or may not completely embrace this adaptation (there’s always an argument), but I had a great time with the film. (I consider the series a kind of adjunct to the National Treasure movies from Disney – they’re all light, fluffy fun, albeit with a hint of thriller violence thrown in to shake things up.) I didn’t find a lot of depth to the special features here either, but there’s certainly enough material to keep fans occupied for an additional couple of hours past the viewing of the film, and some interesting material along the way. I’d recommend a rental before purchasing, but this is still a fine HD transfer and a fun movie to watch.
December 4, 2009.