Director Ron Howard says it is not in his nature to seek controversy. But now that he has, first with “The Da Vinci Code” in 2006, and again this year with “Angels & Demons,” he said it has been a good experience for him. Both films, based on books by Dan Brown, deal with the conflict between faith and science and the very foundations of Christianity.
“Before I made ‘The Da Vinci Code,’ people whom I respected very much advised me not to do it. They said it is hard enough making movies without my stirring things up even more,” said Howard, 55, during a visit to Japan last week with stars Tom Hanks and Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer. “I knew that we couldn’t please the entire audience but I hoped that everyone would weigh their own convictions, just as I did. It was new for me to take that step as a filmmaker.”
In “Angels & Demons” (which Brown wrote before “The Da Vinci Code”), Hanks reprises his role as symbologist Robert Langdon, who finds himself caught up in a plot to hijack the papacy by the Illuminati, an ancient shadowy brotherhood. Zurer, 39, plays an Italian scientist who must help Langdon crack codes to rescue cardinals targeted for death. Hanks, 52, a two-time Oscar winner, said he was happy to revisit his character. “There is a lot more action this time, but Langdon is not your typical action hero. I think of him as an intellectual Indiana Jones without the whip. All he has is his agnostic expertise. He is persona non grata and at constant loggerheads with the Vatican.”
That also describes the relationship between Howard and the Vatican. As with “The Da Vinci Code,” the Vatican once again refused to allow the crew in because the subject matter didn’t conform to the Catholic church’s views. Howard went even further and said that the Vatican tried to prevent them from filming anywhere in Rome by pressuring the authorities to deny them film permits. As a result, the team had to indulge in guerrilla filmmaking. Members of the production crew, posing as tourists, casually filmed frescoes, floor mosaics and paintings in the Sistine Chapel. “Outside, we didn’t break any laws. When we couldn’t get permission, we had several units out at the same time doing very short takes. It was like an indie film at times,” Howard said.
Thanks to movie magic, audiences will feel they are on the streets of Rome and in St Peter’s Basilica with Hanks and Zurer. “It was a fantastic experience, one which I will take with me to my grave,” Zurer said. “I wasn’t really aware of the controversy. There was just so much going on.”
Hanks said the controversy sometimes tends to overshadow the story, which he thinks is unfortunate. “If a controversy is just salacious, then it is not worth making the movie. It is only worth making if the controversy is an adjunct to the story. These films and the books are all about how some people interpret the events of 2,000 years ago. ‘The Da Vinci Code’ was faith vs history; ‘Angels & Demons’ is about faith vs science. And the thing is, there are no answer to these questions, no physical evidence. There is room for both faith and science in the world.”
Howard concurs. “We should use the intellect that nature or God gave us to continue to question the world around us,” he said. “Whenever dogma -- whether it is from religions or governments -- becomes rigid, we shouldn’t accept it at face value. There are those who use religion to create violence and terror and the best way to oppose that is to use our intellect to challenge it and keep exploring mentally and physically.”
There is already talk of a third film in the series. Brown’s third Langdon adventure, “The Lost Symbol,” is due out in the fall. Howard said that first he wants to take a break, having worked nonstop on “Frost/Nixon” and “Angels & Demons” for the past few years. Hanks left no doubts, though. “I hope I get the chance to play Langdon five times,” he said, “but that is up to Mr Brown and Mr Howard.”
“Angels & Demons” opens in Japan on May 15.© Japan Today