Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Video review: "Angels & Demons"

Tom Hanks' hair is sleeker, shorter and just plain less ridiculous. The movie, too.

"Angels & Demons" is the sequel to "The Da Vinci Code," which managed to be both controversial and lackluster. Hanks, as symbologist Robert Langdon, wore a silly, swoopy hairdo and a perpetually glum expression as he uncovered nefarious plots by the Catholic Church.

"Angels" was actually written by author Dan Brown before "Da Vinci" and takes place earlier, too, but director Ron Howard and his screenwriters neatly sidestep that issue, rejiggering the timeline so Langdon is ostracized by the church for airing their dirty laundry.

This time, though, they need his help. The ancient order of Illuminati, a group of scientists persecuted by the church, has vowed to destroy Vatican City. Most of the cardinals are in conclave to elect a new pope, but four have been kidnapped. One will die each hour, publicly, until a device containing antimatter detonates at midnight, killing thousands.

Ultimately, it's the chase rather than the history lesson that makes "Angels & Demons" something "The Da Vinci Code" was not: Fun.

Despite the lack of a commentary track, video extras are fairly broad in scope, and include the participation of all major cast and crew. However, they tend to be a little more geared toward hype than illumination.

The DVD comes with seven featurettes totaling nearly 90 minutes of material on such topics as special effects, props and the writing process (Brown himself chimes in). There's even a bit about the guy who created the upside-down ambigrams used in the book and movie, who lent his name to the Langdon character.

Especially interesting is how the filmmakers recreated Vatican sites such as the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Square using a combination of real footage, sets and computer-generated images.

In addition, the Blu-ray version comes with an unrated extended version of the film that adds eight minutes to the run time, and "The Path of Illumination," an interactive guide through Rome with additional information and interviews tied to key locations. And, a digital copy of the film.

Movie: 3 stars
Extras: 3 stars

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