Angels & Demons: Two-Disc Theatrical & Extended Cut [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan C. Stevenson (18th November 2009).
The Film

I have a confession to make. I like “The Da Vinci Code” (2006). Or, perhaps the more accurate statement would be that I don’t hate it. I know that I should hate said film; every critical bone in my body says I should… but, for some reason, I don’t. I don’t hold it in high regard or anything, and I realize that the film is completely mediocre, but hey, I’m entertained by it, I own it, I even re-bought it on Blu-ray. Shoot me. But, also realize this; even I, a casual fan of “The Da Vinci Code,” know that the quote on the front of “Angels & Demons,” which proclaims, “Ron Howard and Tom Hanks have topped “The Da Vinci Code” in every way…” doesn’t mean much.

And yet, the above statement nevertheless does ring true. “Angels & Demons” is better than it’s predecessor, if, admittedly, not in absolutely every way imaginable (there are a few key areas in which I do think “Da Vinci” is superior, but, I digress). For one, Tom Hanks seems better fit in the role of symboligist Robert Langdon for this film. Whether the latter is true because I am simply more accustomed to Hanks as the character, the fact that his hair is far less bird-like and thus is less distracting because it doesn’t look as likely to fly away at any moment (sadly, the bird-hair just migrated to Nic Cage’s head, and didn’t die like I previously hoped), or because he gives a better performance (which possibly is because he has a better-written character this time around), or even a combination of all three, I don’t know, but regardless, he is better and it helps the film immensely.

I would say that “Angels & Demons” is a better film because it was the better book out of the two, but that can’t possibly be the reason for “Demons’” superiority; particularly, because the adaptation of book to film is rather poor in this case. Too much of the original story has been distorted, tampered with or altogether removed, for it to be, what I would consider, a decent adaptation. As a matter of fact, the faithfulness to the source material is one of the areas in which I find “Da Vinci” to be unequivocally better (at least in it’s 3 hour Extended form). Frankly, “Angels” is rather disappointing as a reworking of the book for film, and, as a consequence, I think fans of the original novel will be turned off by director Ron Howard’s motion picture (at least, that is if they expect an exact retelling). “Angels & Demons,” the film, is best viewed then as a sequel to “The Da Vinci Code,” the film, and the books on which each is based, should be completely forgotten about in this context.

So, what we have is an expensive summer Blockbuster, which has a million thrills and just as many explosions. Well, not really. But, the film is a mile-a-minute thriller; that is to say, although it’s not all together taught or well measured, “Angels & Demons” is at least engaging and consistently forward-moving for a majority of it’s run time (see my comments below about how the pacing falls flat eventually). Set against the backdrop of an election of a new Pope, the plot involves Robert Langdon and an attractive scientist named Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), as they race against the clock, in search of a mysterious, recently stolen, and highly unstable element known as “antimatter,” which, in the hands of a terrorist (as it just so happens to be, in the film), could be used not only to destroy the Vatican itself, but obliterate most of Rome as well. Somehow tied to the missing antimatter (and the impeding threat of an attack on the Vatican), are four, recently kidnapped, papal candidates. As Langdon, Vittoria and the Vatican police force, spearheaded by the quick witted Inspector Olivetti (Pierfrancesco Favino), search for the missing “preferiti” and the dangerous explosive device, the revelation that the previous pontiff may have been murdered, as opposed to having died of natural causes as previously thought, sends a shockwave through the College of Cardinals and Swiss Guard. With a fair bit of detective work, mostly looking though ancient texts in the Vatican Archives, Langdon realizes that the Illuminati, a long lost secret society hell-bent on destroying the Catholic Church, could, possibly, be behind everything.

Outlandish and absurd, the story, conceived of by Dan Brown, written for the screen by previous “Da Vinci Code” scribe Akiva Goldsman, and polished by David Koepp, is stuff of popcorn fodder, but I admit to being entertained by it (which means, I guess, it was good?). Elements irked me to no end, this is true especially concerning the matter of what was and was not changed from the book, but, as I said above, take the film on it’s own, or within the film franchise, and not as an accurate retelling of the original text. In doing so, I’m fine with it. (Side note: I still have a hard time believing that Langdon, a supposed intellectual who is the top expert in his field of “symbology,” would need help reading Italian and Latin, but, whatever…)

Does the film have a few faults? Certainly it does. Most distressingly, “Angels & Demons” suffers from what is known as anti-climax syndrome. The picture builds and builds, the story becomes more and more complex, and it builds and builds some more, and does so until, in the case of this film, about the 90 minute marker, when it just sort of hangs about, meandering to an ultimately unsatisfying and mediocre conclusion. On top of that, the film suffers from the opposite problem of its precursor. Whereas “The Da Vinci Code” was too long, full of unnecessary exposition, which was presented at a slow and methodical pace, “Angels” could possibly benefit from a bit of breathing room. Not that the film needs to be longer per say (at approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes, it’s long enough), just that some creative editing and a shuffling of certain events would alter the pacing, and, in the end, help matters.

I was hoping that the included “Extended Cut” would remedy the pacing issue, and it does to a degree, but not completely. Unlike the alternate cut of “Da Vinci,” which ran nearly half-an-hour longer, “Angels & Demons: Extended” contains only about 10 extra minutes. These extensions are mostly bits of gory violence that Howard was forced to remove in order to keep the films PG-13 rating. Although most of these scenes, a majority of which are centered around a priest burning alive and a shoot out, don’t particularly alter the narrative flow, they do change the overall tone of the film, giving the movie a darker quality which, again, does improve things.

Overall though, the film is well made, and the acting, solid. Some say that “Angels & Demons” has the cast it doesn’t deserve. Perhaps that is true. Ewan McGregor is more than acceptable as Camerlengo Patrick McKenna, and both Stellan Skarsgård and the always-exceptional Armin Mueller-Stahl are class acts. Technically, the film is near flawless. The effects, acting, set design, even the direction and cinematography, are all excellent; everything that a big budget film with well-known, tenured actors and experienced crewmembers should be. But, the script is a bit problematic, and it has to be said that “Angels & Demons” is nothing other than popcorn entertainment. But, then again, I don’t think anyone every really expected it to be.

Video

Although they are both available on Blu-ray with 1080p 24/fps, AVC/MPEG-4 encoded, 2.40:1 widescreen transfers, “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons,” visually, are worlds apart. Sure, it was a revelation over the absolutely atrocious DVD, but I found the Blu-ray of “Code” to be problematic to say the least. It’s a grainy, murky, soft, overly dark affair that suffers from frequently noisy grain patterns and an unforgiving case of crushing shadows. Perhaps an accurate representation of the natural light-based photography of DP Salvatore Totino (who also shot this film), “The Da Vinci Code” is still a far less polished and not nearly as expensive looking film, than it’s sequel. “Angels & Demons” is everything it’s predecessor is not; it’s sharp, finely grained, bright, and boldly colored (the crimson of the cardinal’s robes is particularly eye catching; as are the numerous gold inlays splashed across the screen). Whereas “Da Vinci” took place in dark, dreary museums and almost exclusively at night, more than half of “Angels” is cast in the warm golden hues of a Roman afternoon; that, or the harshly lit interior of the Vatican archives. Even when the film has the light switched off, and day becomes night, the picture remains attractive. Blacks are consistent and pure, never faltering. Fine texture detail is ever noticeable. Patterns are rendered cleanly. In short, even at its worst moments, “Angels & Demons” is impressive.

The picture is admittedly a little flatter than one would expect, never really attaining that 3D quality, and the film does occasionally suffer from some problematic black crush (which is intentional, I assume), but overall this is a great looking disc. “Angels & Demons” is free of any signs of unwanted digital noise reduction, edge enhancement or erroneous encoding errors. Blocking is non-existent and there are no moments of posterization, or moiré effects, even in the numerous wide shots in the expansive sky over St. Peter’s Square or the staircases in the Vatican interior. “Angels & Demons” is a polished, sleek blockbuster that transfers well into the realm of high-definition.

Audio

Recently, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment announced that they would be switching to the DTS-HD Master Audio codec for sound delivery on all of their upcoming Blu-ray releases. “Angels & Demons” comes as one of the first day and date titles to sport an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit) soundtrack from the studio, although, it doesn’t hold the distinction of being the very first day and date, and, in the month of October, Sony released a few catalog titles using the format, so even the first day and date (“The Taking of Pelham 123” (2009)) was not the first ever Sony disc to carry the DTS-HD MA logo. And, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977) offered an optional DTS track, so... Anyway, I’ll just will say this: the decision to use Master Audio is an inspired choice on Sony’s part; yes, I do have a preference for the DTS codec, but not because it sounds better than other lossless options (lossless = lossless, the end); rather, I simply prefer it because it uses the Core + Extension method, which offers better sound, via a 1.5 Mbps “core,” for those without lossless decoding capabilities. But, I digress.

Regardless of codec, this is an excellent sounding disc. As any self-respecting big budget blockbuster should, “Angels & Demons” provides a bombastic, loud, surround filled experience.
Yes, explosions abound and, as a result, LFE gets a strong workout. And, there are more than a few “wall-of-sound” moments throughout this film, delivering powerful, room filling effects and music. However, it’s really the little things, like the sprinkling of sounds that bounce around the 5.1 sound-field in certain sequences (I’m thinking the opening anti-matter test here), and the soft spoken dialogue, that also show the care and clarity of this mix. Not a word is lost anywhere in the film. I didn’t feel at any moment that the track was out of balance. Even Hans Zimmer’s score, which I find a bit by-the-books to be honest (the same can be said for his work on “The Da Vinci Code” as well), delivers the goods, with crisp choral work and deep, hard hitting, percussion tones.

A French dub is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit); optional subtitles are offered in English, English for the hearing impaired and French. Unfortunately, Sony continues to place subtitles with one line in the frame and one line in the letterbox, a problem for those with Constant-Image-Height projection systems. I don’t usually notice this issue as I rarely watch films with subs, but in the case of “Angels & Demons,” which contains subs even on English default, for various foreign languages spoken in the film, I was immediately struck by the placement.

Extras

This 3-disc edition of “Angels & Demons” contains 2 different cuts of the film, approximately 90 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes, BD-Live features, a digital copy of the film’s Extended Cut, an interactive special feature and bonus trailers. Curiously, not a single trailer for “Angels & Demons” is included in this release and, although the set is surely packed with material, the lack of an audio commentary and/or picture-in-picture track seem odd, and make me wonder if the studio held off on those elements for the inevitable double dip down the line. Befitting a new release, all video-based material is presented in, often stunningly gorgeous, 1080p high-definition.

DISC ONE:

BLU-RAY EXCLUSIVE: Both the "Theatrical" (138 minutes) and "Extended" (146 minutes) cuts of the film. Only on Blu-ray do you get both versions of “Angels & Demons,” seamlessly branched and in one package. On DVD, the "Theatrical Cut" is only available on the single disc edition, which lacks extras. The "Extended Cut" is offered on the two-disc DVD, but it lacks the "Theatrical Cut" for some reason. Although I think the "Extended Cut" is superior, as it supposedly reflects Howard’s original final cut of the film, which the MPAA deemed to graphic for a PG-13, I don’t discount that the inclusion of the "Theatrical" version will please many. And, as always, giving viewers the choice seems a decent thing to do given the available space on the Blu-ray format.

BLU-RAY EXCLUSIVE: BD-Live. “Angels and Demons” includes BD-Live access for profile 2.0 players, here you can access the “Movie IQ” feature, engage in a “CineChat” and log on to Sony’s standard web portal, which offers additional trailers (but not much else). Features that require BD-Live include:

- "MovieIQ" is an interactive trivia track where you can view information about the scenes in question, cast and crew filmographies, biographies, information about the soundtrack and other topics of interest. “Movie IQ” is available on both the "Theatrical" and "Extended" versions of the film.
- “CineChat” >b>interactive feature allows one to engage in a text-based chat with friends and family through the magic of the Internet and your Internet connected, profile 2.0 BD-Live enabled Blu-ray player. Discuss whatever you want… whenever you want, as the film plays. Frankly, I think this is a stupid gimick. It’s nice for the type of people who want to converse with friends while they watch films, but I like to actually watch my movies, and rarely talk during them. And, even if I do talk, I still couldn’t imagine texting during one….

Pre-menu bonus trailers:

- "Sony Blu-ray" promo. 2 minutes 27 seconds.
- “Julie and Julia” on DVD and Blu-ray. 2 minutes 38 seconds.
- “The Da Vinci Code: Extended Cut” on Blu-ray. 1 minute 6 seconds.

In addition to the trailers outlined above, a sub-menu marked "Previews" features further bonus trailers from the Sony and Columbia film library:

- “Year One.” 2 minutes 17 seconds.
- “Casino Royale: Collector’s Edition” on 2-Disc Blu-ray and 3-disc DVD. 1 minute 34 seconds.
- “Close Encounters of the Third Kind: 30th Anniversary – Ultimate Edition.” 1 minute 34 seconds.
- “Whatever Works.” 2 minutes 17 seconds.
- “It Might Get Loud.” 2 minutes 36 seconds.

DISC TWO:

BLU-RAY EXCLUSIVE: “The Path of Illumination. Kicking things off on disc two, we have the daunting “The Path of Illumination” interactive database. Focused on the landmarks that mark the Path, this feature offers branching video segments, detailed text on the locations, which help explain the locations place in the novel and film, as well as the symbolic meaning behind the elements associated with said location, and it’s historical context. A running glossary of terms is also offered. An introduction, running 1 minutes 21 seconds, establishes the inner workings of feature and explains how to navigate the overly complex database. Ron Howard offers narration for many of the video segments, which was a little strange for me. Being a fan of “Arrested Development” (2003-2006), I kept expecting him to go off on a tangent about Michael and the rest of the Bluth family at any minute.

The initial “Home” page includes:

- "Rome facts," 8 pages.
- “The crew on the Streets of Rome Montage” Branching video segment. 45 seconds.
- "Book quotation." 1 page.
- "Illuminati 101 – The Elements." 1 page.

From there, each section is then broken down by location.

The Plazza del Popolo includes:

- “The Church” branching video segment. 42 seconds.
- “The Obelisk” branching video segment. 34 seconds.
- “On Location with Ron Howardbranching video segment. 40 seconds.
- "Contextual Information." 9 pages.
- "Illuminati 101 – Earth." 1 page.

Santa Maria Della Vittoria includes:

- “The Church” branching video segment. 43 seconds.
- “Rebuilding History: Designing the Set” branching video segment. 41 seconds.
- “The Second Unit” branching video segment. 34 seconds.
- "Contextual Information." 9 pages.
- "Illuminati 101 – Fire." 1 page.

The Pantheon includes:

- “Pantheon” branching video segment. 41 seconds.
- “The Tomb” branching video segment. 39 seconds.
- “Shooting the Pantheon” branching video segment. 42 seconds.
- "Contextual Information." 9 pages.

Plazza Navona includes:

- “The Plazza” branching video segment. 42 seconds.
- “Stunts – The Fountain Rescue” branching video segment. 45 seconds.
- “Recreating the Plazza Navona” branching video segment. 39 seconds.
- "Contextual Information." 9 pages.
- "Illuminati 101 – Water." 1 page.

St. Peter’s Square includes:

- “The Basilica” branching video segment. 45 seconds
- “Electing A Pope” branching video segment. 41 seconds.
- “Vatican Archives” branching video segment. 30 seconds.
- “Designing the Square” branching video segment. 45 seconds.
- "Contextual Information." 9 pages.
- "Illuminati 101 – Air." 1 page.

Although the material included in the above is informative, even dauntingly so at times, I can’t help but feel that the interface is far too problematic to make it even remotely worthwhile. The branching interviews and behind-the-scenes footage is nice, sure, and the text information, detailed, but it all feels a bit cobbled together and unorganized. It seems like a missed opportunity that Sony didn’t take “The Path of Illumination,” slap it on disc one and wrap it in a nice "BonusView" package, as the material seems ripe for a multi-layered, picture-in-picture overlay, much like the one included on the recent 2-disc Blu-ray of “The Da Vinci Code.”

Far more satisfying than the interactive feature above are the standalone featurettes, which I’ll detail below. Informative, well put together and featuring comments from most of the principles involved, there’s little more one could ask for with the following material, and thus I have few qualms, save for the fact that I can’t help but think that the featurettes were split up from a larger documentary, in order to add more bullet points to the rear of the artwork. Clocking in at around 90 minutes, the behind-the-scenes material includes:

“Rome Was Not Built in A Day.” In this featurette, director Ron Howard, executive producer Todd Hallowell, costume designer Daniel Orlandi, production designer Allan Cameron and numerous others discuss the importance of creating a real, believable world for moviegoers through costumes, cinematography, set design, location shooting, special effects, editing and all of the other tools that immerse the viewer. The interview material is all fine and good, but what’s really interesting here are the included composite breakdown reels which show the original plate, green screen, early renders and the final product for many of the CG enhanced locations. 17 minutes 30 seconds.

“Writing Angels and Demons” featurette, Ron Howard, Tom Hanks, screenwriters Akiva Goldsman and David Koepp and author Dan Brown, among others, discuss the steps taken to adapt a novel which, chronologically, came before “The Da Vinci Code,” into that films sequel. Although still interesting, this piece just rubs me the wrong way due to the fact that everyone makes Dan Brown out to be the next William Shakespeare. Brown writes entertaining books, but they are not masterpieces folks, no matter how hard you try and make them seem like they are. 10 minutes 9 seconds.

“Characters in Search of the True Story” featurette. The principles again return for this character-focused piece. The actors discuss their roles, Brown talks about the casting and how each actor relates to his original idea of who and what each character was when he was writing them. 17 minutes 10 seconds.

“CERN: Pushing the Frontiers of Human Knowledge” This featurette, part historical overview of the European Organization for Nuclear Research and part behind-the-scenes documentary, discusses the achievements in scientific research that the organization has pulled off, as well as the role that they played in the book and film. Howard again takes the reigns discussing how they took up the task of making the CERN-centric scenes as accurate as possible. 14 minutes 52 seconds.

“Handling Props.” Fairly self-explanatory if you ask me, this featurette is about, what else, props. Howard and numerous others discuss various props and how the creative team worked hard to try and make them as close to what Brown describes in his book as possible. 11 minutes 35 seconds.

“Angels & Demons: The Full Story.” Less informative featurette and not nearly as focused as the other pieces in this set, “The Full Story” is your standard EPK fluff piece. It’s an overview of the production and much of what is discussed here is covered on the disc, and done-so far better elsewhere, in the various featurettes. Everyone is really congratulatory and overly happy, which is why I hate these things. They just seem so forced and artificial. 9 minutes 46 seconds.

“This is an Ambigram” featurette. What’s an ambigram, you may ask? Watch this short featurette to discover the mystery and mastery behind creating words, which read the same upside down as they do right side up. Pretty neat actually, as you get a glimpse of the designs used in the film. 4 minutes 46 seconds.

DISC THREE:

BLU-RAY EXCLUSIVE: Digital copy. The third disc in the package, a DVD-5, contains a digital copy of the "Extended Cut" of the film, for playback on iPod, Mac, PC, WMV-compatible and Sony PSP devices.

Packaging

A thicker style 3-disc Amaray case houses 2 dual layer BD-50's and a DVD-5 containing the film's digital copy. A more expensive gift set (not reviewed here) is also available, which includes 2 collectable bookends. The discs (content) and actual Blu-ray case are identical no matter the version.

“Angels & Demons – 2-Disc Theatrical & Extended Cut” is locked to Region A.

Overall

Is “Angels & Demons” perfect? No, not at all, but, a slightly superior, and more importantly, director approved, "Extended Cut" of the film, superb A/V quality and a mountain of supplements make this Blu-ray release an easy recommendation.

The Film: B- Video: A- Audio: A Extras: B Overall: B

 


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