Browns' 'Angels' fares better in Howard's hands than 'Da Vinci'

Posted: Thursday, May 21, 2009

Some things are simply unavoidable. Traffic in Los Angeles and rain in Juneau come to mind. Likewise, comparisons of "Angels & Demons" to "The Da Vinci Code" are automatic. What's interesting about Ron Howard's second movie based on Dan Brown's two best-selling and Catholic-upsetting novels is that everyone who sees the movie goes into it with a different mindset.

Plenty have probably seen the first movie and read both books. Others likely read both books but haven't checked out the first movie yet. Then there are undoubtedly some who could care less about the novels and simply enjoy Ron Howard and Tom Hanks working together. No matter the circumstances, it changes how one perceives this particular film. I fall into the first category (read both books, saw "The Da Vinci Code").

Personally, I was underwhelmed with the movie version of "The Da Vinci Code." It was not that Howard and company had made a poor film, it was just that they had been so true to Brown's words that it was impossible for any real suspense to build on screen. That was just me. After all, "The Da Vinci Code" grossed over $200 million in the U.S. alone.

For the purposes of this column, though, you can see where my mindset was when I strolled into screen two at Glacier Cinemas. I was weary, especially given the 140-minute running time.

Hans Zimmer began to assuage my fears before the film was even past its various studio credits and logos. His theme for "The Da Vinci Code," which I remember especially from the final frames of that film, is the first sign that we are about to begin another journey with Robert Langdon (Hanks). I'm no musical expert, and I won't try to articulate what exactly Zimmer's music does so effectively, other than to say it hooked me immediately. It got me in the mood!

Truthfully, once the actual movie started, I remained on board for pretty much all 140.

Unlike "The Da Vinci Code," "Angels & Demons" writers David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman were clearly given the green light to do their jobs; they remained true to Dan Brown's novel, but they also did plenty of tweaking.

The first major difference is that the movie is a sequel, reversing the order of the stories in the novels. It is a change that seems major but in reality makes a ton of sense if you're just looking at the films as their own franchise. We saw "The Da Vinci Code" a couple years ago, and now we're back for Chapter 2.

Howard also plays with the start of "Angels & Demons" a little, changing up the order in which we're introduced to important elements of the story. Some things have been taken away completely, like the father-daughter dynamic of the relationship between Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) and Leonardo Vetra. In the movie, that character has a different name entirely and is simply her research partner.

The roles of the book's characters in the Swiss Guard have been added to and altered a bit. Even the fates of the four kidnapped Cardinals have been toyed with just a touch. There actually are tweaks fairly consistently each step of the way.

Perhaps most importantly, someone made the bright decision to cut Langdon's hair for Chapter 2. He's no longer sporting the awkward mullet he ran around the Louvre with in "The Da Vinci Code."

All the alterations worked nicely for my money.

Ten dollars well spent, and that's something I wasn't saying after "The Da Vinci Code."

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