Director Ron Howard and his two-time Oscar winning buddy Tom Hanks return to religious-tinged thriller territory in the Sony Picture’s release of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons. Adapted by David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman from Brown’s first book in the Robert Langdon series, the story has been transfigured from prequel to sequel, with Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon enlisted by a wary Vatican to help defend the Church against a secret brotherhood known as the Illuminati. The questions everyone want answered: Is it going to offend Christians or mislead others?
Beginning weeks before its release, I noticed that the Internet was littered with prickly articles concerning A&D by those who had not yet seen the film. Dan Brown’s views have been clearly defined in his own writings and statements. And certainly members of the Christian press were hoping for a more solid declaration as to their spiritual beliefs from men like Howard and Hanks. But all written attempts to put the film on trial have been done on the defense rather than the offense. In an attempt to discredit Dan Brown’s perceived Christian bashing, we seem to be giving ourselves black eyes.
At a recent press junket held in Rome where a few exterior scenes were filmed (actual Vatican locales were meticulously reproduced in CA), I was able to interview the cast and director of Angels and Demons, as well as Dan Brown himself. Geared up for the inevitable questions brought upon this production by Mr. Brown’s past outspoken anti-religious theorems, both the novelist and the auteur presented their responses with what seemed a rehearsed, yet reasonable defense.
Said Ron Howard, “All I can really say is that if you think it’s going to upset you, don’t go. Or talk to someone who has seen it and see what they think, then make up your own mind. I know in my heart I’m not out intentionally trying to upset people. By the same token, if I didn’t believe in some of the themes and questions or the Robert Langdon stance on some of these issues, I wouldn’t be making this film. So, if that’s controversial to people, then so be it.”
I pressed the subject by asking if Angels and Demons was meant as an olive branch to the Christian community. Mr. Howard seemed genuine in his response. “I have always hoped that the film would present in its themes, in its ideas, a kind of balanced perspective. That it would acknowledge many of the virtues that the church offers humanity. And at the same time, address the inevitability that any institution can be subverted and its power abused by human beings. And that abuses of power, both past and present, must be acknowledged. So, it’s never been meant to be an attack on faith or the principles of the Catholic Church or any other church. To me this is the balance that we were trying to offer to create the drama. I think when people see the film they’ll feel the effects of the perspective I was trying to bring to it.”
Dan Brown added, “These are fictional stories built around real world topics. It is my hope that these stories will spark interest and research on people’s own to figure out what in these stories is fictional and what is real. I think the movie does a terrific job of leaving you with a lot of those questions once you’re in the parking lot after the movie.”
Speaking of his Robert Langdon character, Tom Hanks chimed in, “Langdon is an academic. The character is saying, ‘My head says I’ll never understand God and my heart tells me, I’m not meant to.’ That means he’s open for absolutely everything. He’s literally saying, ‘I don’t know. My job is not to prove or disprove the existence of anything. My job is to help other people interpret the facts so you can make up your own mind.’”
When viewing the movie, one must do that whole suspension-of-disbelief thing (to give examples of silly situations would divulge plot points), but if you are able to leave all reasoning at the box office, and if you are forgiving of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Church-bashing, you will find yourself getting involved with the film’s mix of fast-paced, action-pumped, nonsensical deeds of derring-do, mesmerized by its gilded Renaissance glow, amazed by a meticulous production design, and subdued by the auteur’s capable, visceral directorial style.
What’s more, any film dealing with religious themes gives Believers an opportunity to answer questions from those more familiar with the writings of Dan Brown than those of Peter, Paul and the Apostles. As for either of Dan Brown’s books, they can be enjoyed as pleasant air travel piffle. For the feeding of the soul, however, peruse the Psalms. For challenging the mind, plunge into Romans. And for thrilling, unnerving adventure, read The Revelation.
Rated PG-13, Angels and Demons opens May 15. Boatwright’ review can be read opening day right here at previewonline.org.