2 hours, 1 minute
Last week on the radio show that I co-host we talked about adaptations and how tricky a prospect that can be. People want them — it’s a great way to continue a good experience and, on rarer occasions, a way to rectify a poor one.
They are tricky, though. A book is certainly a different animal than a movie. Case in point — one of the most disappointing adaptations I’ve ever seen was “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” a silly, bombastic space adventure that completely misses the point of the book. Some books just shouldn’t be adapted, even books that seem tailor-made for it, such as this week’s big screen debacle “Inferno,” starring Tom Hanks and adapted from the hit best seller of the same name by Dan Brown.
On their face, the Dan Brown trilogy of films, “The Da Vinci Code,” “Angels & Demons” and now “Inferno” seem like harmless Sunday afternoon potboilers, but considering the talent involved and the popularity of their source material, you’d think they’d be better. Starring Tom Hanks, directed by Ron Howard and featuring a bevy of high profile co-stars, the Dan Brown movies have hit written all over them.
Unfortunately, only the first was a hit, and only because of the hype surrounding it. (You remember — it was the book that said Jesus was married to Mary Magdelene.) I enjoyed “The Da Vinci Code” when it came out, but upon reflection, the film is flat and, frankly, pretty dull. The book, on the other hand, was a blast. The same could be said for “Angels & Demons,” the sequel. I haven’t read “Inferno,” but I’d be willing to bet I’d enjoy the book more than I did the movie.
Tom Hanks is Dr. Robert Langdon, world renowned professor of cryptology. That’s one of those jobs that I’m not sure where you get your degree. Langdon is world-famous for running around the globe, finding mysterious clues hidden within works of art and antiquity, and stopping world-changing catastrophes just in the nick of time. In this film, Langdon wakes up in a hospital in Florence, Italy, having no memory of the last several days, but possessing, in addition to a concussion and amnesia, a mysterious vial containing a mysterious map which leads our hero and his helper, Dr. Sienna Brooks, on a mysterious tour of Europe in an attempt to stop a mysterious virus from wiping out mankind.
The movie is well shot by Ron Howard, who finds it difficult to make a bad movie, and well enough acted by its international cast including Ben Foster, Felicity Jones, Irrfan Khan, and Omar Sy, but falls flat when it comes to the script. I don’t know if the fault lies with screenwriter David Koepp who, as the writer of “Jurassic Park,” “Mission: Impossible,” and “Carlito’s Way,” is certainly more than capable, or if it’s simply that Dan Brown’s prose doesn’t lend itself to the screen.
The movie is vague when it should be specific, and specific when it’s unnecessary. The killer virus is always more of a concept than an actual threat, but when it comes to the specifics of the pieces and parts of the byzantine trail of clues, the exposition is long and stops the action dead in its tracks. There is a scene in a museum where three characters, all established experts in the poet Danté, spend ten minutes telling each other facts about Danté. This is interesting stuff for the audience to know, but its delivery is ridiculous. In a book, you can have a disembodied narrator explain all that stuff, allowing the characters to behave naturally.
The other thing a book has is time. “Inferno” runs a full two hours and yet we’ve already discovered the presence of a killer virus, the connection to Danté’s Inferno, and had a shoot-out in the first ten minutes. This film feels like it is rushing to try to get to the plot without giving us any time to get comfortable with the characters.
There are some entertaining aspects to the film. The globe-trotting is fun, and there are a few little surprises that caught me off guard. Hanks is always fun to watch, even in seriously lesser Hanks, like this.
Then again, I never could really care about the characters, nor did I ever really fear for the fate of mankind, which is a big problem with this kind of potboiler. The real question is never “will the virus actually wipe out half the Earth’s population?” We all know that’s not going to happen in a Dan Brown/Ron Howard film. The question is really, “which of these characters in not who he/she seems?” And that reveal is only good if you’re invested in the characters. Unfortunately, I was not.
“Inferno” is rated PG-13 for brief language, violence, and frightening images.
Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.