I’m glad to see that in this day and age of our obsession with machines and the internet, books are still getting high sales and strong marketing power. Hollywood still understands that books are another source of wealth if it can successfully make the transition from page to screen. For those that complain that we have too many adaptations these days, it’s important to remind them that before TV shows, cartoons, and musicals were given front line access to become movies, they’ve been adapting books for ages with many hits like Frankenstein, Gone With the Wind, Wizard of Oz, and even the countless number of Disney stories based on fairy tales.
Having a good adaptation is one thing, but what about the ones that don’t adapt well? Unlike original movies that can easily settle for a specific audience, books have different reading levels and are the victim of time. This means that not only do the creative minds have to figure out who the adaptation is for, but just how much from the book is important for the sake of making it into a visual story. This is why I feel like that detective stories can be the toughest books to make into movies. Especially something like Inferno from Dan Brown.
Set some years after The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, Harvard professor Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks) wakes up in a hospital in Florence, Italy without any memory how he got there or how he got a massive head wound. His injuries also seems to be triggering visions of Hell on Earth with some people wearing Black Plague masks for protection. One of the doctors looking after him, Sienna Brooks (played by Felicity Jones) tells him that he came in with a grazed bullet injury and that she’s a fan of his work. When an assassin comes to kill Langdon, Sienna helps him escape to her apartment.
Trying to retrace his memory, Langdon finds a mini projector that contains a replica of the Map of Hell painting based on the poem Dante’s Inferno. Upon finding some letters added in the details, they trace the map to billionaire scientist Bertrand Zobrist (played by Ben Foster) who had just committed suicide. They find out that Zobrist has created a virus that could wipe out half the population to deal with the overpopulation crisis. Various clues lead Langdon to Venice and Istanbul to try and stop the new plague while being chased by Zobrist followers and the World Health Organization.
While both The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons weren’t major detective stories, they were fun enough to watch as entertaining movies. Director Ron Howard and Tom Hanks seem to be in full force in returning to this series, but Inferno feels both late and tired. What’s strange is that this is the story that feels like the most is at stake, but I didn’t care much as before. Part of the problem is the dialogue, which is focused as spewing out a lot of plot exposition to try and connect the various characters with the complicated backstory.
Part of the flaw is that I’m not getting much new out of the stories of Robert Langdon. There is a later attempt to add a romance, but it feels sudden out of nowhere as the character only comes in in the middle. Much of Inferno is the same of the Harvard Professor running around Europe and examining historical works for clues. The only saving grace is the last act which was intense and actually felt like an action movie. It was standard, but very welcome for something that was moving at too leisurely a pace.
I’ll give this three Dante death masks out of five. While I haven’t read the Dan Brown book, the movie version of Inferno seems to be telling me that a lot of the content read much better on paper. While its not even a bad movie, it simply feels like more of an obligation to continue this franchise. I only recommend this to either fans of the book or previous movies and simply want to say they’ve seen it all. Should we see Robert Langdon once more, I hope they can actually find some better clues to a more interesting mystery.