Prepare to be ripped apart you pathetic excuses for adaptations! Back in February of 2016, I watched The Da Vinci Code on Netflix for no particular reason. By the time it was over, my “Confusion-o-Meter” was off the charts. I knew it was an adaptation (one with some interesting ideas), so I got my hands on the original novel by Dan Brown and gave it a shot. Wow. I couldn’t put that book down! Interesting characters, great suspense, and a spiritual setting unlike any I’ve seen in a novel (the epilogue still gives me the chills). What followed was a marathon of reading both the books in the series and watching their film adaptations. I wanted to write this thing when the Inferno movie was released in theaters last year, but I hadn’t finished the book, and Ron Howard was NOT going to ruin another one of these incredible endings for me! I finally got a copy and watched it… oh my gosh. Had I seen it in time, this pile of cinematic waste would rank pretty dang high on my Top Ten Worst Movies of 2016 list.
Anyway, today we are doing something special. In addition to reviewing Inferno, I’m going to throw my twenty-two cents (inflation) into the hat on the “books vs. movies” debate, as well as Dan Brown’s controversial books. It’s gonna be awhile, so strap in and grab your popcorn because this is going to be a very emotional experience.
Inferno is directed by Ron Howard and written by David Koepp. Stars-Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, and Irfan Khan. Premise-After waking up in a hospital, with amnesia, in Italy, Professor Robert Langdon must elude a secret service agency whilst trying to recall what he was doing before he lost his memory. All he knows is that whatever he was doing was worth a billionaire’s suicide, a strangely curious doctor’s assistance, and the lives of billions.
This is going to be a spoiler-filled hybrid review, but I am going to avoid spoiling the books as much as possible because you should read them regardless of how badly the movies basterdize them. That said, they changed the second half of Inferno so much that you’d swear they adapted a different book! The very first scene is only the beginning of the torrent of crappyness we are about to be subjected to. Billionaire geneticist Bertrand Zobrist (Foster) is being chased through the city of Florence, Italy (in a very poorly shot chase scene). When he is cornered atop a tower, Zobrist intentionally falls off to his death. We then cut to Langdon in a hospital where he is experiencing migraines and memory flashes. Doctor Sienna Brooks (Jones) informs him that he was shot in the head and left with amnesia from the bullet (which grazed his skull). After an assassin shows up (obviously for Robert) and shoots a supervising doctor, Brooks helps Langdon escape the hospital.
This brings me to my first of far too many issues with Inferno; Robert Langdon is a freaking moron! Never once does he question why a seemingly random doctor keeps helping him on his quest to find out why he’s being hunted. I can buy her taking him out of harm’s way, but she takes him to her apartment, gives him some clothes (that fit too perfectly), and when he produces a biotube from his bag she helps him decipher it. At some point, any human with half a wit would ask, “Why the heck are you joining me on this quest across Europe to find a secret cave? Especially when I’m being pursued by secret service agents, and my only lead is a map of Dante’s Inferno (the first third of poet Dante Alighieri’s ‘The Divine Comedy’)?” In case you’re wondering, amnesia doesn’t take away the ability to ask basic questions.
Robert Langdon may not be a superhero, or a historical revolutionary, but he is one of my favorite literary protagonists. I’m not saying anything groundbreaking when I say that Brown’s novels demand quite a lot of suspension of disbelief, as well as faith and focus. There are MAAAAANY people who dislike these stories because of their “impossible premises.” Either that or easily enraged immature audiences who claim these books are “anti-religious propaganda” or that all seculars/atheists are idiots. Both of these arguments are ridiculous and invalidated by Langdon alone. He is a Harvard symbology professor with an incredibly likable personality. As you would expect, he’s a bit of a skeptic. Not against the idea of religion, but his intellectual mind doesn’t “allow” him to believe in such things (if you want to hear some mind-blowing debate on science vs. God, read Angels & Demons). A quote from Langdon himself, “Faith is a gift that I have yet to receive.” It is Langdon’s down-to-earth views that make him an excellent character to follow on these, admittedly improbable, adventures. He’s kinda like Dan Fogler in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, only Langdon is brought along because he can decipher cryptic clues and, well, he is the central hero. The books are worth reading purely for this well-written character.
Back to Inferno, we get some *ahem* “disturbing” imagery that is taken right out of Dante’s Map of Hell. Only problem is, they CGI’d the heck out of it, and the result looks horrible! If the crazy editing wasn’t annoying enough, we get at least a dozen mini-flashbacks from Langdon’s fragmented memory. Half of those flashbacks contain these ugly looking effects that come right the heck out of nowhere. Despite how bad What Dreams May Come is; at the very least they nailed the set design and visuals. Inferno looks cheap as heck. I considered going through as much of the story as possible, but then I realized that most of it was pure exposition. That’s another problem; this movie treats its audience like children. In addition to dialogue that only exists to explain the plot, there are a few instances where text on the screen will be spoken by a character. As if to say, “We [the filmmakers] don’t think you have the brain capacity to read, or recall information. Have a nice day, and thanks for your money, we’ll use it to fund the remake of To Kill a Mockingbird starring Dwayne Johnson.” While I would be satisfied with giving this film two “birds,” I’d like to point out that these novels are not for younger audiences. If the religious and historical themes aren’t enough, we also have issues like international terrorism, insanity, and mass genocide in the plot! In addition, this movie was directed by the guy who made: Parenthood, Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon, and A Beautiful Mind (which won him two Oscars!). Each of these dealt with adult themes and complex issues with grace and maturity, you’d think he could use some of the ol’ talent with a series that he apparently loves. The final nail in the proverbial coffin would be the writer, David Koepp who penned: Snake Eyes, Spider-Man, Mission: Impossible, Premium Rush, and Jurassic Park! You’d think he could craft an entertaining thriller!
If you were wondering why they didn’t adapt The Lost Symbol book before Inferno, then ask Ron Howard who replied with, “We didn’t know how to make something that would really feel fresh and exciting, on a cinematic level for audiences.” I don’t buy that. You guys adapted the first two, why was The Lost Symbol so difficult? Also, you’re one of Hollywood’s most famous/best actors-turned-directors. Your movies have collectively grossed over 3.3 billion dollars, and you beat Peter Jackson, Robert Altman, Ridley Scott, and David Lynch for Best Director. I’m pretty sure you can take on a historical thriller set in Washington D.C. Barring that, we all know the real reason why they skipped The Lost Symbol, it wasn’t as big of a success as the previous two books. There is no amount of well-researched rhetoric that can convince me that the producers weren’t drooling over the sales of The Da Vinci Code in theaters (as it was #1 in the box office opening weekend and made over $700 million worldwide). What I am saying is, Howard, you’re better than this.
Inferno reeks of laziness. I don’t know how they managed to convolute the plot even more than they did with The Da Vinci Code. That movie’s biggest problem was how boring it was. Angels & Demons’ biggest problem was how forgettable it was. Inferno’s biggest problem is EVERYTHING. Ron Howard’s only Razzie nomination was for The Da Vinci Code (in all seriousness, the lackluster direction led to most of the issues), but the amount of failure present in Inferno rivals that of Miracles from Heaven. If you want a perfect example, Langdon’s amnesia is wildly inconsistent. In two separate scenes, Langdon states that he cannot remember his middle name, and what coffee is (it is explicitly stated that his memory is short-term, those two things should not be affected). All this does is embarrass Tom Hanks, who has to spend most of the movie with this ridiculous expression on his face (and needs to fire his agent). The performances can’t save this picture either. Hanks is stumbling his way through every scene (at least they got rid of his stupid haircut from the first two films), Foster doesn’t have enough screentime to shine, and Jones is atrocious! Again, Howard’s direction was probably a hindrance on the set rather than a help because these actors are not trying.
In keeping with being unfaithful to the source material, literally NONE of the characters are the same as they are in the novel. I’d use that old critic saying, “I know it’s an adaptation, obviously some things have to be changed” but that is both obvious and kinda giving the filmmakers an excuse to change something that’s already perfect. I will admit that these particular books would be difficult to adapt to the big screen, but that’s why you have to try. Especially if these are not studio mandated projects as Howard claims. The movie has no concept of logic or pacing. It’s even more difficult to get pacing right in books because everyone reads at their own pace as opposed to everyone watching the same screen in real time. While the adaptations of Angels & Demons and Inferno are mercifully fast-paced, they cut out the best things in each book. With Angels & Demons, they took away all the great humor and character moments, neutered the villain, and brushed over the incredible religious/political/scientific/cultural commentary. In the case of Inferno, it barely resembles the novel. Let’s get back to the movie.
After completely cutting out one of the most suspenseful scenes in the book and replacing it with, “Hey look, there’s the way out,” Langdon and Brooks learn what is going on. To sum it up: Zobrist was a transhumanist, someone who believes that humans can evolve through the use of technology, who’s strongest belief was that the human race will destroy itself if overpopulation continues to inflate. After being ignored by the world’s top scientific minds (and most of the public), Zobrist went into hiding through the use of an organization called The Consortium. After committing suicide, he left cryptic clues as to where his genetically created “inferno” (that he states will solve the humanity problem for good) is located. Yes, we have yet another bad guy who hates humans and whose master plan is to kill a bunch of ’em (you may recall this unique-but-tired plot in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or Kingsman: The Secret Service). This isn’t the movie’s fault-just like the fact that it’s an amnesia storyline-the book used these clichés first. Despite that, the movie made some major deviations from the character arcs. The climax particularly is beyond infuriating, especially to someone who loves the novels.
You see, Sienna Brooks was apparently Zobrist’s lover, and she has been leading Robert on the whole trip so she could ensure his device will be undisturbed. She betrays him back in Italy and he is captured by his pursuers. These enemies turn out to be an organization (that I’m not going to spoil) that denounced Zobrist’s overpopulation concerns. They quickly explain why they were after him, and what is at stake. An hour of exposition later, they fly to Istanbul where Zobrist’s “inferno” is going to be released, the Basilica Cistern specifically, which would make a great breeding ground for a deadly plague. After a horribly choreographed fight scene involving Irfan Khan (director of The Consortium), 2 random stuntmen henchmen, and Felicity Jones phoning it in (which is hilarious because her character is a thespian in the book), Brooks pulls the pin on a grenade in an attempt to rupture the bag that “inferno” is contained in. She kills herself in the process and fails to release the plague. Oh boy, time to go on a rant!
First of all, Sienna does not kill herself in the book, nor is “inferno” a plague. Of all the characters in the movie, she was the one they changed the most. In the book, she is: calculated, sympathetic, extremely resourceful, quick-thinking, blonde, and a great character. In the film, she’s: a brunette, doesn’t contribute much, and everything interesting about her was completely written-out. Considering that 2016 was the year of the feminist agenda, I’m amazed that so little fuss was made over the butchering of Sienna Brooks’ character. It could have something to do with the pitiful $34 million it made domestically, but still. Inferno isn’t the best book in the series, but it has the best female protagonist out of them. Pretty much all the intelligence and maturity from the book was replaced with cheap thrills and action movie clichés that is the intellectual equivalent to junk food for the mind. When you read the climax of the novel, it will leave you speechless. It’s so monumental that it will take a few minutes for your mind to process it. Ok, I can’t take any more, let’s wrap this up.
Typically, when one reviews an adaptation, they cannot compare it to the original source material. An adaptation can be reviewed by someone who has seen the original, and someone who has not seen the original. The only difference is opinion. I wanted to write this because these great literary works have been thoroughly ruined 3 times too many. The only thing that remained decent in all three films is Hans Zimmer’s music (for reference, listen to the buildup in this, the intensity of this, and the mystery of this) which provided me with a much needed reminder that even the worst films can contain a diamond in the rough. When all is over and done with, the sacred novels are still here, and still awesome. But for now, Inferno gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an F.
This was the first of many projects I have planned for 2017. Yep, the fun/experimentation didn’t stop with Brian De Palma Month, we have many more to go. Comment and tell me what you thought of this post. Or say nothing and let me pretend that I did a good job. Thank you.
The Robert Langdon Series Ranked
Angels & Demons (2000 Novel)-A+
A perfect mix of action, science, historical art, religious commentary, character, humor, and pacing make this book one of the best I have ever read. It remains timeless/relevant to this day, and I recommend that everyone should read it. Also, the villains in Angels & Demons are frighteningly effective.
The Da Vinci Code (2003 Novel)-A-
It’s more subtle (i.e. slower and more detailed) than Angels & Demons, but still thrilling and creative.
The Da Vinci Code (2006 Film)-D
This movie is ungodly boring! The (seemingly perfect) cast is wasted, the screenplay is lifeless, and it’s shot like garbage.
Angels & Demons (2009 Film)-C-
The only reason this movie is better than the predecessor is the faster pace. Otherwise, the villains are underdeveloped, the suspense is weak, and the commentary is ground-level easy.
The Lost Symbol (2009 Novel)-B-
Removing the religious elements from this one lowered the stakes/interest, but on its own, The Lost Symbol is a decent mystery that takes full advantage of the setting, (and a shocking twist).
Inferno (2013 Novel)-A-
The amnesia cliché and pre-established formula hold it back, but the urgency, art references, and amazing ending make it more than just a simple action thriller.
Inferno (2016 Film)-F
Did you not read the review?