FILM REVIEW: Inferno (2016)

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Why wasn’t Inferno a huge success?

The latest movie from director Ron Howard starring Tom Hanks had all the ingredients of success. The original novel was by Dan Brown (The DaVinci Code). It also stars Felicity Jones, soon to star in the new stand-alone Star Wars: Rogue One out in December.

It’s now been out for a week so any spoilers should be out already but I’ll try to be discreet. Full disclosure: I saw it twice, the second time to make sure of my opinions.

Inferno’s greatest pluses were the stars casting, director, Italian cities, and istanbul. It also has some great lines including the villain’s “Nothing changes behavior like pain,” and “Doorways. The most interesting things happen in doorways,” by the heroic historian and iconologist, Robert Langdon (Hanks.)

Its major flaws? A combination of poor adaptation and erratic film cutting managed to make a comfortably mid-level movie into something that is capable of giving you a headache.

Inferno centers around a race against the unleashing of a biological killer. A billionaire entrepreneur Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) has created a virus that will kill 90% of humanity. He considers it culling the herd. He commits suicide when it looks like the authorities have caught up with him.

It’s up to Langdon, saddled with amnesia for the first half of the film, and the head of the World Health Organization, Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen), to prevent the virus from being released. Zobrist’s friends are trying to make sure his plot succeeds.

Sounds complicated? Yes. The book handles the complications very well. The movie does not. The film is almost too dedicated to following the book’s twists.To book purists, the changing of the ending will offend on major levels.

So why bother going? Well, it’s kind of fun. For anyone who has read Dante’s Inferno (I recommend the Barbara Reynolds’ version for its readability,) it’s interesting to see how well the filmmakers use the imagery from the original text, which has inspired great artists for centuries.

So art history lovers, archivists and those interested in Christian hell, this is for you. Artist Sandro Bottecelli’s Map of Hell done in colored pencils and parchment plays a major part in the film. Many of the graphic Black Plague images from the parchment are used in Langdon’s delirium during his amnesia.

For those who want to visit Italy, there’s the travelogue of Florence, Venice and Istanbul. In Florence, they visit the town hall, the Palazza Vecchio, the Baptistry of San Giovanni, and run amid the Boboli Gardens hunted by a drone. In Venice they go to St. Mark’s and stand next to the horses plundered from Constantinople – which many now known by another name. Istanbul. That’s where the race culminates at the Basilica Cisterns.

An imaginative schoolteacher might even show parts of the film in a class, and use it as a springboard to discussing medieval history. Tortured sinners buried head down in smoking earth might wake up their students.

So you have travel, you have art history, you have a history lesson about the black plague and iconology, you have a cautionary lesson about the danger of ripping open plastic bags full of deadly viruses. What’s not to like about Inferno?

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