Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Angels & Demons

First, the Echoes progress report: still working. Fourth act now, but I also went ahead and wrote the epilogue, which means I'm...close. Maybe by the end of the week. If I can get this one difficult part out of the way, maybe sooner than that, even. I will have to finish writing the second afterword, however.

Now, in my continuing reviews of movies I see, I discuss Angels & Demons. And no, I don't care for ampersands.

I'm a physicist by trade, you might say, so immediately a plot that revolves around an antimatter bomb gets my attention. Of course, this near-opening scene involving scientists at the LHC is full of hogwash and inaccuracy. First, antimatter is terribly difficult to produce in large (that is, macroscopic) quantities, certainly not enough for three vials or tubes or what have you. Second, while it would be magnetically contained, it wouldn't be conveniently portable for your terrorism needs. But I digress somewhat; that's a weakness of Brown's book more than the movie. The movie has enough problems on its own.

I will say that, like the other movies I criticize, I generally enjoyed the film, but I also wish to learn from the mistakes of filmmakers and the weaknesses in their presentations to improve my own writing. Thus, every time a filmmaker chooses to forgo logic and consistency for plot or aesthetic reasons, we should judge whether the choice is effective, reasonable, and moreover, not distracting in and of itself. There are several such choices in this movie, and I shall break them down in detail.

A recurring element most people will notice is timing. The four cardinals will be executed on the hour from 7 to 11, and to bomb will go off at 12 midnight. Fair enough, we can accept that. What must be scrutinized, however, is how Langdon and everyone else is always conveniently late. It's a cheap tactic to build tension, and it also puts into question everyone's ability to do a task. Just once, I would've liked to see Langdon arrive half an hour early at the right scene, only to be waylaid or entangled in order to buy time for the execution. I know well the temptation to fudge timing to make things work on a dramatic level, but it has to be done with care, in a way that timing coincidences merely clean up the story. As it is, this seems a cop-out in this movie, that Brown (or Howard) wanted to make things happen a specific way in spite of the characters, as a way to manipulate the audience.

Perhaps the most audience-manipulating tactic of all, however, is the misdirection with the Camerlengo, Father McKenna, and Commander Richter of the Swiss Guard. All along, Richter has been setup as the villain behind it all, taking the journals, perhaps cutting power to the archives to kill Langdon with low oxygen (another point I would debate; rate of oxygen consumption in a room like that does not strike me as plausible). Then we find out the father is the villain instead (which has been established well, I will say, both for his speech in the Sistene Chapel to the College of Cardinals and his previous remarks about the Higgs boson, which in turn made me laugh every time they called it the "God" particle; nobody calls it that), but this leaves dangling questions. Why does Richter wish to stop Langdon from saving the last cardinal? Why does he take the journals and not bring Vittoria in on the father's duplicity right then and there? If Richter didn't cut the power to the archive at that specific moment to kill Langdon, is it just a coincidence, as we are led to believe was a cover? Richter's actions, I think, are not consistent with a good guy with good intentions, even if Father McKenna's are consistent with a villain after all (though I don't believe he could've foreseen election to the papacy--that, at best, could've been only a bonus; as an ideologue, McKenna could only have hoped to galvanize the cardinals into a reaction against science, nothing more).

Overall, though, an enjoyable way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

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