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Angels & Demons(2009)
Tom Hanks reprises his role from the 2006 film 'The Da Vinci Code' as Harvard symbologist and religious expert Robert Langdon, who works alongside the beautiful Vittoria (Ayelet Zurer) to unravel the clues behind a priest's murder and prevent a terrorist act against the Vatican by resurgents of an ancient secret brotherhood known as the Illuminati, the most powerful underground organisation in history.
For more about Angels & Demons and the Angels & Demons Blu-ray release, see Angels & Demons Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on May 23, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgård, Ayelet Zurer, Pierfrancesco Favino, Nikolaj Lie Kaas
Director: Ron Howard
» See full cast & crew
Angels & Demons Blu-ray Review
An illuminated release.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, May 23, 2013
Trust no one.
While The Da Vinci Code bordered on comedy, delivering a superficially complex but ultimately paint-by-numbers laugher of a plot with one ridiculous contrivance after another, Angels & Demons manages to offer a somewhat tighter, more organic, and simply far more enjoyable romp through the world of past and present intermingled in a dangerous game of violence and deceit. It still suffers from some of the same problems that hindered its predecessor, namely somewhat shallow and superfluous side characters, plot contrivances, "secrets" that aren't the least bit difficult to discern well before the characters in the film manage to do so, and a sluggish pace. Still, the problems don't destroy the film, but they do weigh it down enough to keep this from being a real nail-biting winner. The latest film adapted from controversial author Dan Brown's library, Angels & Demons is billed as a sequel to The Da Vinci Code (the two share no real common story threads), but the novel was actually published before The Da Vinci Code. Nevertheless, Director Ron Howard, returning to once again helm a Brown novel-turned-film, injects Angels & Demons with a bit more focus and plenty of technical know-how, the result a film that's not great by any means but certainly watchable and far better than the critically-panned The Da Vinci Code.
In Switzerland, the Large Hadron Collider -- a particle accelerator capable of creating "anti-matter" -- has just gone online, and Scientist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) finds a colleague murdered and the sensitive anti-matter stolen. Meanwhile, Symbolist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump) is called to the Vatican after the untimely death of the Pope to help ward off a threat from an ancient and long-thought-defeated enemy of the Catholic Church, the Illuminati. With the help of Camerlengo Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor, Black Hawk Down), the man in charge of the Vatican until a new Pope is elected; and Commander Richter (Stellan Skarsgård, Ronin), head of the powerful Swiss Guard that protects His Holiness himself, Langdon is tasked with not only piecing together the puzzle of the Illuminati, but saving the lives of four kidnapped Cardinals and saving the Vatican itself from the anti-matter that has but hours until it explodes with enough force to obliterate the Vatican off the face of the Earth.
Despite Angels and Demons' somewhat complex (if not slightly cumbersome) journey into the deepest bowels, darkest secrets, and complex hierarchal structure of the Vatican, Director Ron Howard makes the film rather accessible and easy to follow, despite a long runtime, an abundance of historical and technical jargon, and a moderately slow pace. The story delivers an interesting premise, made all the more fascinating by the dichotomy between the latest in modern technology and most ancient of places, beliefs, tales, and rituals. There's more of an aura of mystery about the picture, far more so than The Da Vinci Code, and while it's not too terribly difficult to figure out -- or at least make a smart guess based on observation and the tendency towards twist endings -- the film manages to keep up something of a decent shroud over the finer details of the story, at least for a while. Still, Angels & Demons delivers too much of a good thing, and after a while the film simply becomes less and less kinetic, dangerous, and fascinating and more and more cumbersome and dull. Clues start to jumble together, the film loses its sense of urgency and danger, and tension is kept to a minimum, save for a particularly excellent scene featuring Langdon coming to the rescue of a victim caught in a deadly and breathless trap. In the end, Angels & Demons is interesting but not smart, a picture that relies on stunning locations, strong technical attributes, and the semblance of a good story to mask the fact that it's nothing more than a big-budget ballyhooed example of the same old, same old.
Fortunately, Angels & Demons sports excellent technical attributes that elevates the film a notch or two higher than it probably deserves. Tom Hanks delivers a scene-commanding and intelligent performance. He plays Dan Brown's hero well, particularly here, where his character seems more capable of going beyond the basic scholarly call of duty and getting his hands dirty in the process as he saves lives and uncovers a deadly conspiracy. Even when the situations and dialogue become somewhat nonsensical, Hanks maintains a confident aura that keeps the movie on a fairly even keel, and he does an excellent job of selling the material even when the material itself falls short. Ewan McGregor's character that plays pivotal to the film is fairly well developed but the Star Wars actor's effort leaves a bit to be desired, particularly in the delivery of his occasionally-mumbled dialogue. Angels & Demons' additional primary cast -- Ayelet Zurer and Stellan Skarsgård -- are fine if not slightly superfluous and underdeveloped, respectively. Aside from Hanks' performance that proves far and away better than that in The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons enjoys steady and confident direction from Ron Howard, and he makes sure to milk every breathtaking vista to fantastic effect. Even when all else fails, Angels & Demons is generally a gorgeous film to look at.
Angels & Demons Blu-ray, Video Quality
Sony's commitment to releasing the finest Blu-ray products is evident with every spin of a Sony-branded disc. The consistency of product -- from the latest blockbusters to the most cherished classic titles from years gone by -- is arguably tops in the entire industry, and why shouldn't it be; Sony was a lead Blu-ray design and advocacy outfit, its PlayStation 3 console offered disc playback and instant wide format adoption, and the first wave of titles released back in 2006 bore the Sony label on the spine. Since then, and through a few growing pains and spurts -- a bloody format war, a misstep or two, the transition from Dolby TrueHD to DTS-HD Master Audio -- the studio has emerged as the most trustworthy in the industry when it comes to its Blu-ray product. When it says Sony, chances are extremely high that the movie is going to look (and sound) about as good as the format allows. Now, Sony is recalling the days of its "Superbit" DVD releases with the emergence of "Mastered in 4K" (*) Blu-ray discs. The initial wave consists of a handful of films, all of which have enjoyed previous, and largely very high quality, Blu-ray transfers. The new transfers are sourced from 4K masters but here's where the giant asterisk comes in: they're then downscaled to standard Blu-ray 1080p resolution. That means buyers can enjoy them on their regular old Blu-ray players and their regular old HDTVs -- no fancy new hardware required. The downside is that viewers aren't really seeing the material in 4K; even those who shell out the large sum of cash for a new 4K TV will be treated only to an upscaled presentation, much the same way today's regular old TV/playback 1080p device combos upscale standard definition DVDs.
Watching the "Mastered in 4K" transfer in 1080p does yield some benefits over the standard 1080p Blu-ray releases, even if it's not a true 4K experience. The discs take advantage of a significantly higher bitrate than regular old Blu-ray discs, meaning more muscle to produce the finest picture quality, revealing superior details and showcasing that perfect cinematic, pleasing grain texturing for pictures photographed on film and more accuracy for those photographed in the wholly digital realm. "Mastered in 4K" discs also promise superior color balance and accuracy, reproducing a more faithful-to-the-source palette that will reveal the sort of natural shading and subtle nuance even the best of 1080p Blu-ray cannot match. More, Sony promises enhanced viewing on its own line of 4K TVs thanks to a proprietary upscaling algorithm that's designed to squeeze the most out of the "Mastered in 4K" line of Sony discs, above and beyond what any competitor's display can offer. Makes sense considering some branch of Sony is at work along every step of the process. Unfortunately, one of Sony's shiny new 4K televisions was not available for review purposes, but suffice it to say that either of the launch displays -- the 55" and 65" XBR-labeled sets -- will undoubtedly offer the best consumer viewing picture to date, whether joined with a Sony "Mastered in 4K" disc or a regular old Blu-ray from any studio.
If there's been one constant with these "Mastered in 4K" discs -- other than that they all look amazing -- it's that, for the most part, their regular old 1080p release predecessors were so strong that it's just been hard to heartily recommend them. Sure fans might want to pick up their favorite film and see the quality for themselves, but wholesale trading out of discs just isn't warranted, particularly considering the loss of supplemental content. Angels & Demons' "Mastered in 4K"/"1080p" Blu-ray release is no different, a victim of its own predecessor's greatness at least insofar as appearing significantly better and worth the upgrade. But don't let that take away from just how amazing this one looks. It's been said with other titles -- The Karate Kid, Battle: Los Angeles -- that they represent pretty much the best home video transfers to date, and that holds true with Angels & Demons. Never does the transfer disappoint in any way. The film-sourced transfer is, in a word, breathtaking in terms of its stability, coloring, and attention to detail. This one's particularly amazing considering all of the ornate objects seen throughout the film, gold and velvet and silver and old papers and the many close-up shots that reveal in exacting detail the finest little textures and nuances. It's a treasure trove of eye candy of the highest order, every object near and far detailed with a precision almost never before seen in the home to such a high level of perfection. Aside from all of that Vatican visual goodness, the standby clothing and facial textures appear insanely well detailed, down to the finest pore on Hank's face and the most subtle-to-serious wrinkles on the faces of some of the eldest Cardinals. Colors, likewise, are beautiful. There's a heavy dosage of reds and golds that shine with the best. The cold archives; the earthen Vatican City exteriors; and the darkened, moody interiors all reveal every shade with a perfection that viewers might even start to take for granted as the film progresses. Black levels are superb, deep and pure in every applicable shot and to the perfect degree. Flesh tones are spot-on, influenced only by lighting conditions. There's no wear, no banding, no edge enhancement, no blocky backgrounds. Only a gentle layer of film grain accentuates one of the hands-down best-looking Blu-ray discs on the market.
All screenshots have been sourced from the "Mastered in 4K" Blu-ray disc. The first nineteen shots have been selected to match those found in the review of the old release. New screenshots have also been aded for perusal.
Angels & Demons Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Angels & Demons delivers a sinfully wonderful DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack, with no reason to believe it's not the same from the previous release. Every note of music is replayed with authority; from the deepest, devilishly-good bowels of the low end to the crystal-clear angelic highs, the music enjoys pristine and lifelike clarity throughout. In fact, Hans Zimmer's score seems incredibly organic; music seems not to stem from a detached orchestra but instead flows from the locations seen on-screen. It's a rare sensation to enjoy a score that so precisely fits in with the material, and Zimmer has pulled it off here, and the Blu-ray's capability of delivering each note with pinpoint accuracy, clarity, and volume does wonders for both the score and the film. Elsewhere, the particle movement inside the Collider delivers a remarkable whooshing sensation as it travels at high speed through the soundstage, and never does the track falter in delivering anything but the most pinpoint clarity through this entire mind-blowing sonic sequence. Supporting surround use is one of the track's strengths; whether more aggressive instances such as a helicopter buzzing across the soundstage or more subtle atmospherics -- dripping water, fluttering birds, or general crowd din outside the Vatican -- Angels & Demons never fails to deliver a satisfying and immersive listen. Save for a few mumbled lines that seem the fault of the actors and not the soundtrack, dialogue in Angels & Demons is accompanied by a hint of bass but nevertheless sounds clear and crisp. Angels & Demons' lossless soundtrack is, perhaps, the disc's -- and the film's -- strongest asset, nearly a match for the stellar "Mastered in 4K" picture.
Angels & Demons Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
No supplements are included.
Angels & Demons Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Superior to The Da Vinci Code in every regard, Angels & Demons still isn't great cinema, but it does make for passable entertainment that has on its side a decent if not predictable story, a good performance from a legendary actor, and strong technical elements that accentuate the film's gorgeous locations and sets. On the flip side, Angels & Demons is something of a meanderer, and the film becomes a bit too repetitive and dull once the novelty of the concept begins to wear thin, and it seems that it matters not how the film arrives at its ending but rather that it -- eventually -- does get there and only for a payoff that astute viewers will see coming a mile (or, in this case, a reel or two) away. Sony's Blu-ray "4K" release of Angels & Demons, no surprise, features fantastic, reference-quality video. This is truly breathtaking stuff from beginning to end, a real looker if there ever was one. The soundtrack is great but this release excises all the supplements from the old release, not to mention scrapping the extended version for the shorter theatrical cut. Dedicated fans will want to see it in all its "Mastered in 4K" glory, but those who already own the old release are encouraged to stick with it.
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