FEBRUARY 1, 2010
“Raaaaah! Violence! Damnation! Unborn babies! Raaaaah! Boobies! More Violence! Menacing vaginas!”
That was the tweet from my buddy Ryan over at Shock Til You Drop, prompting me to save my originally intended movie for the day until tomorrow and watch Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic today instead. Best as I could tell, the other movie did not offer “menacing vaginas”, nor did it take a classic piece of literature and turn it into a gorefest. Sold!
The film is based on the EA game that is hitting stores next week, and while I was initially intrigued by the concept, most of my interest wavered after I played the demo and saw what kind of game it was. I’m not a big fan of games where you run around and chain combos and pull off counter-attacks for hours on end and then fight a boss, and that’s exactly what Inferno seems to be. It looked amazing, and I’m sure the boss fights are fun, but it’s the type of game I’d probably rather just watch someone else play than do it myself and get a hand cramp from all the button-mashing. Personally, I think it would have been cool to have the game play out like Shadow of the Collussus, where each circle of hell (i.e. level) has one boss (that circle’s “guardian”) and you have to figure out how to best him in order to proceed. THAT I’d be excited to play. But hack n’ slashing just ain’t my thing.
At least, not for games. But for movies - hell yes! I’ll gladly watch 90 minutes of a dude running around Hell chopping up demons and monsters and such. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t QUITE offer that level of action and entertainment; the fights are plentiful, but they are also incredibly brief. Dante is rarely in any sort of danger, and all but two of the fights last less than 30 seconds. Most of the time, he just runs up to the monster or demon, jumps around, swings his scythe, and it’s over. Now, this would be OK if the guardians were just random thugs, but they’re the friggin’ guardians of Hell! Surely they have some skills of their own? If so, they don’t really use them - even the fight with Lucifer himself seems somewhat easy. Luckily, this allows for the film to have a pretty breakneck pace, as Dante races from fight to fight, traveling further into Hell. So while the action may lack the epic feel the subject matter should allow it, it’s never boring.
Also, there are some great touches in terms of how the story is depicted. The animation allows for such abstract concepts like “a sea of nothingness” or whatever to play out on screen, where a traditional background is gradually reduced to a void. And flashbacks are inserted with admirable ease - they don’t do a lot of the usual stuff (fades, pans up to the sky, or whatever), but you’ll always know when a flashback has begun due to the subtle change of animation.
Unfortunately, the constant changing of animation STYLES kills the flow of the movie, because just when you start getting sucked in, the hero changes his look considerably. He starts off like a typical soldier looking guy, then turns into more of a “hunter” with long hair, and then the hair disappears and he has a little helmet, and then the helmet changes... it’s so goddamn annoying (Dante’s ever present guide, Virgil, undergoes even more drastic changes, to the extent where I was sometimes confused as to who the character was). See, five different animation teams worked on the film, which I knew about beforehand. But I thought there would be one team in charge of the characters, one for the backgrounds, one for the monsters, etc. The change doesn’t matter much for the levels of hell (indeed, having different teams for each level is a phenomenal idea), but the main characters should remain constant, and even if different teams worked on the animation (swinging, running, etc), they should have at least stuck to the same design. It’s like taking one issue from each decade of "Batman" and presenting them all as a singular story. Basically, every 15 minutes or so, you are disoriented (“Who the hell is that? Oh, it’s Dante, just taller and with a helmet covering his head all of a sudden.”), and then there’s a bit of time to get re-acquainted with the story. None of the animation is bad (though I could do without the Dragonball Z-esque look of JM Animation’s segment), and I have enjoyed the multiple team approach to things like The Animatrix, but unlike that collection, Dante is one story, thus it’s a needlessly distracting approach.
It doesn’t help that Film Roman’s style is the best, and that’s the one that starts the film. They are also the best at lip-sync, which is another jarring issue that persists throughout the film. Some of the teams are good, others are terrible. I momentarily considered just turning on the Spanish dub track, because at least then there would be a reason for the way off voice-to-mouth presentation. That said, the vocal talent throughout the film is quite good, with Mark Hamill turning in another great vocal performance, and Rambo’s Graham McTavish makes an excellent hero (he also performs the voice for the game itself).
Now, unlike Anchor Bay’s Dead Space animated film, the movie seems to be telling the same story as the game (two scenes in the film are pretty identical to ones that I played in the demo), so I guess, story-wise, whatever you see first will spoil the other. There are some cool twists near the end, and (again, assuming) they might be more earth-shattering if presented in a story that (yikes, I ASSUME) is spread out and slightly more developed. I’m sure the cut-scenes and such in the game take up more time than the 80-odd minute film (a third of which is dialogue-less fighting), and also, with a game you take on a bit of a sense of ownership with the character and possibly care more about what is happening to him. The game might also give more weight to things in the film that seem out of nowhere and pointless, such as when Dante cheats on his beloved Beatrice at the drop of a hat.
Oh yeah: “Beatrice”. Do you like that name? I hope so, because you’re going to hear it some eight thousand times over the course of the film. He never substitutes “her”, or “my love”, or anything like that. Just “Beatrice!”, over and over. He also says “What IS this place....” a few times more than necessary (one). Come on Dante, after traveling through 5-6 circles of Hell, why are you STILL acting all surprised when you see something terrible?
The only extras beside a trailer for the game are a few “animatics”, which are mostly just storyboards being filmed and zoomed/shifted around, plus some dialogue and sound effects. I would have preferred a sort of “evolution of a scene” type approach, where we see the basic stick figures, then the finished storyboards, then the computer animatics, and then the finished animation, but still, animation buffs should enjoy seeing a few key scenes in their raw form. But the lack of supplements means even more space for the video transfer, which is, as always the case with Anchor Bay, amazing. The fantastic monster designs are crystal clear, and the high def presentation allows viewers to fully appreciate the level of detail visible in some of the backgrounds (which would be dulled by the standard def version).
So it’s sort of a mixed bag. The animation is great, but it keeps changing around, which distracted me from the story. The fights are cool, but they are often too short because there are so many story twists to reveal and so much exposition to deliver (the movie really should be 2 hrs long). But, then again, it exists primarily to help sell a game, and with that in mind, it’s the best commercial in ages.
What say you?