Following up on the worldwide successes of The Da Vinci Code (2006) and Angels & Demons (2009) is Inferno, the third highly anticipated adaptation in Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series of novels. Inferno, the latest addition in the $1.2 billion film franchise, was the best-selling adult book of 2013, proving that readers around the world can’t get enough of Robert Langdon.
Academy Award® winner Ron Howard returns to direct Inferno, which finds the famous symbologist (again played by Tom Hanks) on a trail of clues tied to the great Dante himself. When Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital with amnesia, he teams up with Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), a doctor he hopes will help him recover his memories. Together, they race across Europe and against the clock to stop a madman from unleashing a global virus that would wipe out half of the world’s population.
The film re-teams director Ron Howard, who most recently directed the acclaimed Beatles documentary Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years, with Tom Hanks, who returns in one of his signature roles playing the quick-thinking and resourceful Langdon. Hanks explains the enduring attraction of the franchise. “There is something Dan Brown has figured out – everybody likes a good puzzle, especially one you can actually figure out the clues to one at a time and solve,” he says. “These movies give that to the audience – it is almost an interactive film, and it has been like that since The Da Vinci Code.”
Borrowing its title from Dante’s masterwork, the Latin word for Hell, Inferno has the added component of a psychological thriller. In the film, Dr. Robert Langdon wakes up to face his biggest challenge yet – he has lost his memory. Haunted by feverish visions and intense headaches, he must find out what has happened to him, and why.
Hanks explains, “Hell for Langdon in the movie is both a state of mind and a very physical experience because he is wracked with pain in his head and he is tortured by the fact he is ignorant of the reasons why.”
“Without a doubt, Robert Langdon goes through his own personal hell at the opening of this movie,” says Dan Brown. ”He wakes up in a hospital room in possession of a mysterious artifact for which people are trying to kill him. He must decipher the artifact and follow a trail of clues to find out who wants him dead and why. At the end of the day, he realizes the stakes are far greater than his own personal drama – the future of the planet is at stake.”
Inferno is the most visually stylistic film in the series so far, with a series of cryptic dream sequences that take audiences inside Langdon’s head and lend an entirely different feel than previous installments. That is precisely what draws director Ron Howard to this series – out of 23 feature films made over more than three decades as a director, the only sequels he has chosen to helm are Angels & Demons and now Inferno. “There have been characters that I love as much as I love Robert Langdon, but I always want to push myself to do something different. It’s more interesting than repeating yourself,” Howard explains. “But that’s what’s so great about the movies based on Dan Brown’s books – each of them is so different, and he explores such different themes in each adventure. Inferno is the most stylistically different yet. With this series, I get to go back and revisit a character I love while continuing to push myself in new directions.”
In the film, Langdon must make sense of clues relating to Dante’s epic poem. Howard explains, “Langdon’s hallucinating mind is tormented by a man obsessed with Dante. He’s forced to pick up the pieces and make sense of this clue path that’s been laid before him.”
“Dante invented our modern conception of Hell,” says producer Brian Grazer. “In the book, Dante witnesses sinners on Earth punished by poetic justice. That becomes the basis of the puzzles Langdon has to solve in this movie. Dante described Hell; the painter Boticelli visualized Hell; but only Robert Langdon, the symbologist, can prevent Hell on Earth by stopping the release of a deadly virus.”
One of the reasons Brown’s books strike a chord is his genius at translating the real mysteries of history into pulse-pounding thrillers for modern audiences. In Inferno, the underlying source for Brown’s inspiration is Dante’s Inferno. Dante, the great Italian poet of the 14th century, sought to describe the journey of the soul toward God, with the first step being the rejection of sin. In the epic poem, Dante himself is led through nine circles of Hell, where he sees unrepentant sinners punished by poetic justice: fortune tellers have their heads on backwards, unable to see what lies ahead; corrupt politicians with “sticky fingers” are submerged in boiling tar. The greatest punishments are reserved for Dante’s greatest villains, all traitors: in Satan’s three mouths, to be chewed throughout eternity, are Cassius and Brutus, who murdered Julius Caesar, and Judas Iscariot.
For Brown, the challenge was to take a work of genius that has inspired readers and artists for 800 years and find the elements that would springboard him into a Robert Langdon thriller. The answer came as Brown imagined what a modern idea of Hell would be, coming up with two concepts that fit neatly together: on the one hand, an overpopulated world, in which billions of people are unable to find sustenance, and on the other, a disease that takes out half the world’s population. And for this Hell on Earth, Brown borrows Dante’s idea of poetic justice: in order to punish mankind for overpopulating the world beyond the planet’s means, a villain will release a deadly disease that will kill billions.
“I wanted to create a villain who is deeply troubled by the issue of overpopulation on earth and decides to fix the problem himself,” says Dan Brown. “I’d read Dante as a kid, both in high school and college, but in order to write this novel, I had to re-read it many times in order to figure out how to create a palatable thriller out of a thirteenth century epic poem.”
Of course, Tom Hanks returns as the Harvard symbologist. Howard says the role fits the man like a glove. “Part of the reason everybody loves Tom in this role is that, in real life, he is Robert Langdon,” says Howard. “Both are driven by curiosity, share a dry sense of humor, and are men who, when faced with a puzzle, are like a dog with a bone – they are fascinated by the world around them and have the wonderful kind of mind that is able to decode it. And that’s all on top of the fact that he’s one of the best actors of our generation.”
Hanks enjoys returning time and again to the role of Robert Langdon because there’s nothing quite like unraveling a riddle. “Dan Brown created a character that can always be called into play: there’s always going to be a mystery worth analyzing,” he says. “These movies are fun and you learn something.”
Once again, the international setting of the tale Dan Brown has spun offered the filmmakers a chance to surround Hanks with a cast of global actors: the British Felicity Jones as Sienna Brooks; the French actor Omar Sy as Christoph Bouchard; Indian star Irrfan Khan as Harry Sims; and Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen as Dr. Elizabeth Sinskey. Ben Foster, an American, also stars, as the bioengineer Bertrand Zobrist. “One of the thrilling aspects of a Dan Brown story is that the international setting truly offers the opportunity to cast the best person for the role, regardless of their nationality,” says Brian Grazer. “It’s important and necessary, because one of the ways Ron is telling the story of Langdon’s global adventure is in surrounding him with a cast that looks and sounds like the entire world.”
Just as he did in The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, Dan Brown touches on topics in Inferno that are highly relevant to today’s world. In Brown’s novels and in the films, Hanks points out, “There is always some degree of a question.” In Inferno, the questions revolve around overpopulation. “Are there really too many people being born? Is there a way we may be able to solve our overpopulation? Or will our world become a new version of Dante’s Inferno?”
Like its predecessors, Inferno is also a truly worldwide adventure. “That is one of the great bonuses of being in one of these movies,” says Hanks. “We have always gone to fascinating places, real places. On Inferno, we were actually on the roof of Basilica of San Marco in Venice and that is production value par excellence!”
“It’s always great when you’re making any movie when you can be in the actual locations,” says Howard. “Set construction is great, CGI is fantastic, but there’s nothing like when you’re actually in the place, and the way it influences everybody involved in front of and behind the camera.”
In typical Dan Brown fashion, the audience is right there with Langdon as he unravels each mystery, creating an unforgettable experience that audiences have come to expect from these films.
“Inferno has every reason to be exciting to audiences, because it has drama, it has action, it’s a thriller, it has a human dimension,” explains Grazer. “It has all these sort of thriller components, a very big international cast, you travel throughout the world in a very kind of exotic and in some ways almost a fantasy way and it’s driven by Langdon played by Tom Hanks.”
The film, Grazer points out, works well as part of the franchise while also standing on its own. “If you haven’t seen The Da Vinci Code or Angels and Demons for that matter, you will still love it, because it works as a separate unit, as a film independent of any of that. But it’s a great introduction to this global franchise.”
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