Sunday, September 13, 2009

Review of Dante's Inferno (2007)

The film Dante's Inferno (2007) is a very interesting project. Shot with little paper puppets and placed in a more modern, gritty urban landscape, the film manages to capture some of what Dante was doing in his original. Though it takes a while to catch its rhythm, the film eventually develops as a dark comedy with wry social commentary, and the occasional history lesson to offer context to some of Dante's original denizens of Hell.

At first I found the paper puppets a little off-putting (and a friend of mine found it unwatchable because of them), but eventually I came to appreciate the medium, and even enjoy a few of the little tricks they would do that emphasized the silly 2-D puppets shot on 3-D miniature sets (such as having a reaction painted on the reverse side of the puppet, and simply turning the puppet around to change how it looks). It also allows it to continue to be a dark comedy. If the Inferno were to be shot as an ultra-modern CGI FX fest, it would run the risk of either being unbearably gory or having to pull too many punches. The puppets allowed a dark depiction of Hell that's not going to put you in therapy. To get a sense of the look of the film, watch the embedded trailer below.

The structure was a little awkward. The film rushes through the first 6 levels of Hell in the first half hour, then meanders about the last 3 levels for an hour. As a result, the first third of the movie isn't nearly as funny and insightful as the last two-thirds, and I'd have wished for a more evenly paced journey.

I found some of the political cheap shots off-putting, and there's a strong anti-Catholic sentiment. The underlying political idea (though it is inconsistent) seems to be that Republicans are politically evil, and Democrats are personally evil. At first it seemed to me that rather than scoring cheap and vapid political points, it would have been better to assign one party to be the Guelphs and one the Ghibellines to bring it in line with the poem. Upon further consideration, though, I wonder if it isn't appropriate to have these political cheap shots, since it strikes me as likely that Dante's audience might have felt that he was being unfair, but we are simply too far removed from the situation to have that sense.

One last potential problem with the contemporary references is that they might be too contemporary. I suspect if I asked my students who Lee Atwater and F. Lee Bailey are, they would neither know nor care. Atwater particularly has been dead nearly 20 years now, and the O.J. Simpson trial (how most people would know Bailey) was even longer ago. Doing rear-guard action on such minor culture war battles all these decades later only makes the film feel dated in a way that historical references of greater magnitude (like Pope John XII or John Wilkes Booth) do not.

No comments:

Post a Comment