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Dan Brown’s Inferno: if I wanted to go there, I wouldn’t start from here

October 18, 2016


On a wet Sunday night, what could be better than to escape the psychopaths, murderers and torturers running around the small screen, and go off to the local Odeon to see Inferno, Dan Brown’s latest silliness?

With Ron Howard directing, music by Hans Zimmer and Tom Hanks playing the lead role again, at least it promised to be stylish silliness. And any movie set in Florence, Venice and Istanbul was bound to feature its fair share of gorgeous buildings, old masters and miscellaneous antiquities.

What’s more, with the British government planning to end the teaching of archaeology, history of art and classical civilisation in our schools, the chances are that before long our kids will have to rely on the likes of The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons and Brown’s latest effort for their knowledge of such subjects.

So what would they learn from Inferno? Not a lot actually. Except that there was a chap called Dante who wrote a horrible book that gave the movie its name, and another chap called Botticelli who painted a nightmarish picture of Dante’s dream. For the first ten minutes their vision of hell swirled around the head of Hanks’s character and spilled onto the screen, filling it with all kinds of CGI nasties doing their hellish thing.

As Hanks’s deranged Professor Langdon tries to figure out what on earth is going on, we do too. The most likely outcome seems to be that the puzzle-solving academic ends up in a loony bin. His senses finally return when a gorgeous ER doctor rescues him from the attention of a hit-woman (probably the daughter of James Bond’s Rosa Kleb) dressed in Carabinieri uniform.

The plot seems to hinge on the fact that poor Langdon is being chased through Florence by not one but two sets of nutters. There’s the sinister lot who work for a security company so secret that nobody knows they exist. And then there’s another bunch of headbangers who turn out to be a SWAT team from the World Health Organisation.

The WHO? Whaat??? At this point I’m wondering if a third group might join the fun – perhaps the paramilitary wing of the Church of England, running around in big black vans, pouncing on Satanists and necromancers. I imagine Archbishop Welby, or possibly the Reverend Blofeld, white cat on lap, barking orders at fanatical novices. But no, maybe that’ll be in the next book. Or maybe I’m the one heading for the asylum.

I won’t spoil the plot by giving away too much, except to say that there’s a mad genius who plans to cull the world’s population by means of a plague. Better to take out half the human race now, he reckons, than see a total extinction event in a hundred years’ time thanks to overpopulation, war and climatic meltdown. And our hero has to stop him. Except that said genius sails off a Florentine bell-tower without a parachute two minutes into the movie. But for reasons unclear to anyone apart from the author of a best-seller, he’s left clues, and it falls upon Langdon to save the world. Again.

You get the picture by now, I imagine.

Have you ever watched a movie in which you suspend your critical faculties for a couple of hours, and then, a few hours later, you reflect on how cynically the makers have insulted your intelligence? Well, this was a case in point.

I mean, if you really wanted to unleash another Black Death, why would you give a history professor a set of bizarre clues that might enable him to cut Armageddon off at the pass? As the Irish like to say in response to requests for directions: “if I was going there I wouldn’t start from here”. Unless, of course, you believed that you were Moriarty, watching from the afterlife with whimsical curiosity to see if Langdon’s Sherlock manages to think his way out of the latest conundrum.

On the other hand, you might do it because, like the those in charge of education in Britain, you don’t consider art, archaeology and the study of the Greeks and the Roman to be essential features of our Trumpian, post-Brexit cultural wasteland, and you want to make a fool out of the good Professor and all those other effete, wannabe Kenneth Clarks before plunging the world back into the dark ages.

Howard, Hanks and Zimmer must have been pretty desperate for the money to get involved in this crock of crud. Having said that, the music was up to Zimmer’s usual standard, the plot rattled along like Disney’s Thunder Mountain, and the cinematography was pretty fine. Hanks was – how to put this kindly? – showing his age a bit during the chase sequences. Not surprising given that the poor chap has just hit sixty.

So I woke up the following morning wondering for what purpose I had wasted a precious evening of my life on a piece of Hollywood junk. After all, I could have spent the time studying the thoughts of Donald Trump, a real-life psycho, or watching horrific video clips from Aleppo, a real-life inferno.

Those of us whose patience with Dan Brown’s fantasies has finally run out can always catch up with a real professor, the wonderful Mary Beard, deepening our understanding of the fiery hell that struck Pompeii and Herculaneum.

As for the fascinating A-Level subjects that are about to slip away from the British liberal arts curriculum, why worry? There are more than enough conspiracy theories to chew over on the History Channel, and no doubt plenty of evidence about to be revealed on National Geographic that we’re the descendants of alien reptile colonisers. Well, maybe not me, but Trump for sure – a lizard in disguise if ever I saw one. Much more fun than Socrates, Michelangelo and holes in the ground.

I, however, should really stop being such a churlish culture snob, get back into my generational box and spend my evenings watching Hercule Poirot box sets. And trying to remember my name.

From → Art, Film, History, Music, Religion, UK

  1. Shon permalink

    Yes Steve … but I did enjoy it and I was glad I went.

    • Great! I didn’t mean it ways not enjoyable – up to a point. But give me Jackanory and Raiders of the Lost Ark any day… S

  2. Haha I loved this writeup, had me laughing at the end there! Do you feature your writing with any other sites?

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