I have a love/hate relationship with Dan Brown. One one hand, I know his books are nothing more than potboiler tosh, poorly plotted, poorly paced, poor characterisation, etc., but on the other, he’s just so damned entertaining!
I’ve spent days and days analysing his novels – and I’ve read them all – trying to work out exactly what it is that make him so popular and I really can’t put my finger on it. These are books that should never have really got out of the slush pile.
But for some reason – known only to the Gods of Pointing and Smirking – I really, really like his books. Except The Digital Fortress which is as dull as a book about digital espionage could be; lots of people tapping away on keyboards and exclaiming shit… Okay, “The Lost Symbol” didn’t really have a plot as such, but it was still relatively engaging.
Such is my conflict, I once wrote a short story – based on a dream I’d had – where I hated his books so much that I invented time travel, travelled back in time and bought up all of the painting he mentions in “The Da Vinci Code” to prevent him from writing the book. I stored the paintings in the caves at Lascaux. That was a hell of a find. Dan Brown, meanwhile, was a mildly successful Art Historian focusing on Abstract Expressionism and feeling he’d missed out on something indefinable.
But as I say, I really enjoy his books. Not as an ironic statement. I really, really enjoy them. The interesting thing is, that rather like “Lord of the Rings” the movies – so far – have ironed out the impenetrable bit, taken out the dull bits and told the stories in a way that actually makes sense. Sure, “The Da Vinci Code” could have used a little edit for length, but it was a solid movie. “Angels and Demons” more so, although that suffered a bit from it’s episodic nature. Luckily, the ridiculous ending to the book was edited out and replaced by another ridiculous but more plausible ending.
But “Inferno” was a different matter altogether. Inferno, I think, is his greatest book so far . . . which may not say a great deal depending on your view point. However, it’s tale of trans-humanism, human destruction, overpopulation and man-made viruses made for an intriguing story. The twist at the end was devastating and left the world completely changed. The strange thing is, the movie has missed the point of the book completely and utterly. It’s removed any trace of trans-humanism and removed the apocalyptic ending in favour of little more than a bug hunt.
What angers me most is that the first fifteen minutes is so gobsmackingly magnificent. It’s bizarre, scary, hallucinogenic and frankly as mental as anything you get in David Lynches finest moments. Unfortunately, after that is over and done with it turns in the standard “Chase – Art History – Exposition -repeat” that we all know and ‘love’. I’m actually still baffled that the ending had been changed to something so bland and anodyne when the book presented such a challenging moral dilemma and such an extreme answer to that dilemma. It’s not only rendered the point of the book obsolete, but made the conceit of Dante’s imagery rather redundant.
What was particularly galling was the way in which characters were dicked around with in order to fit the new ending… I suppose this is an inevitability when you fuck up a story; it follows that you fuck up the characters, but part of what made the book so interesting were the two female characters, their motivations, the switching of allegiances. And the tragic consequences of those switches. Here you get one arbitrary switch, and someone doing a riff on Robert Patrick’s T-1000 instead.
But I am still reeling at excluding *that* ending! It’s like making a movie of “Lord of the Rings” and taking out all those tiresome bits about the big eye on top of a tower. It’s that big! And the replacement ending makes no sense whatsoever. In the book, the McGuffin is planted and does what it needs to do. In the movie, the McGuffin is planted and then someone else has to hide two bombs in the same place. If the first guy had managed to set up the McGuffin, it would have taken minutes to set the bombs himself and put them on a timer. It’s farcical and makes no sense. On an aesthetic level, I really wanted to see the ‘villain’ of he piece prancing about in the death masks as he did in the book, instead we got a shiny corporate video.
Seriously, you would have thought it impossible to dumb a Dan Brown novel down, but here it is. Utterly baffling.
The thing is, taken it is own right, the movie isn’t actually that bad. It swings between engaging and dull and is the kind of movie you can have on in the background while you are reading; looking up every now and again and seeing something interesting but not interesting enough to put your book down. Such a shame, Dan Brown’s best book deserved much better and in striving to make it very much a Tom Hanks/Robert Langdon movie, they’ve taken away everything that made the book so wonderful in favour of it being a ‘star vehicle’.