Review: 'Inferno' book vs. movie

Fred Hawson

Posted at Oct 15 2016 05:59 PM

The previous film versions of the popular Robert Langdon series of books by Dan Brown had been met with mixed to negative reviews.

After "The Da Vinci Code" (2006) and "Angels and Demons" (2009), here we are now with the third film about the fourth book, "Inferno." For some reason, the third book "The Lost Symbol" was skipped, for now I guess. Both Ron Howard and Tom Hanks return as director and star respectively.

Robert Langdon woke up injured in a hospital in Florence, Italy, unable to remember what had happened to him. He had apparently been grazed by a bullet in an attempt on his life, as told to him by his attending physician, Dr. Sienna Brooks. Not long though, a policewoman comes into the hospital and attempts to finish Langdon off, but Dr. Brooks was able to help him escape.

From there unfolds an elaborate plot involving an attempt to spread a deadly virus by a billionaire megalomaniac who thought humanity is the disease of the world. Langdon had to get his memory back, figure out the hidden clues, ferret out the bad guys, and travel across Europe in time to stop this potential catastrophe from taking place.

"Inferno" has all the ingredients of the previous Langdon films. He is still interpreting clues hidden in pieces of art and literature (Dante, Boticelli, Dandolo), located in the most beautiful museums and iconic landmarks (Palazzo Vecchio, St. Mark's Basilica, Hagia Sophia) in the world. He still had a beautiful younger female (this time it's Felicity Jones as Dr. Sienna Brooks) along with the ride to help him figure out the big mystery.

While the basic plot is the same, the film departed from the book in certain details. Scriptwriter David Koepp injected a romance angle between Langdon and Dr. Elizabeth Sinskey of the World Health Organization, which I admit was an interesting cinematic angle, however contrived. They also significantly changed the outcome of the events set the cisterns of Istanbul, Hollywoodizing the ending of the film as contrasted from the book.

Tom Hanks is a reliable and credible actor for playing smart heroes like Robert Langdon. I always thought that Hanks was miscast from the start. He was never the face of Langdon I had when I read the books. But I guess we have to accept now that Hanks' star power is one of the reasons that is keeping this film franchise alive.

Felicity Jones follows in the footsteps of Audrey Tautou and Ayelet Zurer in their roles as Langdon's travelling and investigating companion. I guess if there are Bond girls, then they are the Langdon girls. However, the character of Dr. Sienna Brooks was given an interesting spin and development setting her apart from the previous two ladies.

Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen played the role of Dr. Elizabeth Sinskey, head of the WHO, who shared a past with Langdon. Knudsen and Hanks actually had good middle-aged onscreen chemistry together. Ben Foster played Bertrand Zobrist enigmatically, so believably calm you'd actually believe the crazy genocide he is espousing. Irrfan Khan and Omar Sy play the foreign agents who confound the plot with their deceptive ploys.

Overall, "Inferno" did give us the symbology and humanities lessons we have come to expect from a Robert Langdon film. Fortunately, because of the hallucinogenic visions Langdon was suffering from, Ron Howard was given leeway for some disturbing imagery and special effects to make the film more exciting. However, the intangible topic of Bertrand Zobrist's misplaced philosophy of magnanimity for promoting mass genocide was really better described and grasped via words in a book than via images on the screen. 7/10

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."