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(2016) ** Pg-13
121 min. Columbia Pictures. Director: Ron Howard. Cast: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Irrfan Khan, Ben Foster, Sidse Babett Knudsen.

/content/films/5024/1.jpgPerhaps I've just gotten used to the game by now, but in watching Inferno—the third entry in Ron Howard and Tom Hanks' decidedly silly Robert Langdon franchise—I found myself surrendering to the nonsense and actually enjoying myself from time to time. Now, let's not get carried away: Inferno isn't a superior film, or even a superior action thriller. But it doesn't feel as aggressively dumb and dull as its predecessors, The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. Perhaps that's because Howard and Hanks have likewise gotten so used to the game by now. A little relaxation in the approach goes—well, not a long way, but a little way toward making this entry a palatable potboiler.

It probably doesn't hurt that David Koepp—who shared screenwriting credit on previous installment Angels & Demons—gets sole screenwriting credit this time out. Koepp has a knack for giving Hollywood blockbusters functional action rhythms and dialogue that doesn't inspire retching but even occasionally earns a smile. Inferno begins with a prime grabber for an adventure, and one that's actually playable for Hanks in what's tended to be a bland role: Harvard professor Robert Langdon (expert in religious iconography and symbology) comes to in a Florence hospital to discover he's suffering from partial amnesia and concussive symptoms that include painful apocalyptic visions. He's promptly swept into a chase sequence made doubly exciting by his compromised physical and mental state.

Joined by sympathetic doctor Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones of Rogue One and A Monster Calls), Langdon soon begins doing what he does best: putting together the pieces of the puzzle in front of him. The theme of Langdon's latest mystery plays on Dante's Inferno in its trail of clues, which traces back to zealous population-control advocate Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster). Zobrist believes so strongly in the looming devastation of overpopulation that he has laid plans to unleash a killer virus he's dubbed "Inferno." Swiftly, then, we're back in the ludicrous, pretentious territory of the preceding two Langdon films: running from impressive location to impressive location, silly clue to silly clue, vast conspiracy to vast conspiracy.

That said, this "paperback movie" (airplane movie?) makes the best of its source material by adapting the character of Langdon's old friend Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen) into a romantic interest for Langdon. The choice injects senses of character and warmth to the runaround, knockabout story, and Knudsen offers a fresh presence to American audiences; likewise adding weight (in a preposterous role, yes, but that's where weight's most needed) is the ever-welcome Irrfan Khan, who even gets a fight scene. You won't ever find me calling Inferno a good movie, but I won't deny that, in dribs and drabs, it gets closer to the marks of fun and quality than I thought possible from this picturesque but dopey franchise.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 1/24/2017

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Sony's outstanding A/V treatment of Inferno on hi-def Blu-ray features a crack digital-to-digital transfer that looks razor-sharp in detail and texture and rich and true when it comes to color representation. Perfect contrast and black level anchor the image, which never yields any compression artifacts. As is so often the case with Sony, Blu-ray patrons couldn't ask for more from this transfer.

The Blu-ray release offers an excellent lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix (although audiophiles will note that the Blu-ray disc needlessly excludes the top-of-the-line Dolby Atmos mix included in the 4K Blu-ray edition). In every department, the DTS-HD Master Audio mix impresses with its potency and precision. Effects are well-placed within the soundscape for total immersion of the listener, and discrete separation of the elements makes for a lifelike and exciting experience. Music gets a robust treatment, dialogue sits clearly and centrally above it all, and LFE gives the action impressive kick as vehicles rumble and fire rages.

Bonus features begin with seven "Extended & Deleted Scenes" (27:19 with "Play All" option, HD): "Extended Opening - Langdon's Visions of Hell," "Langdon and Sienna Flee the Hospital," "Zobrist's Full Length Overpopulation Speech," "No Police," "Chase Through Boboli Gardens," "Sims Races to Florence," and "Extended Ending - Life Pulls Us Apart Again."

The promo-style featurette "Visions of Hell" (5:35, HD) crams a fair amount into its short running time, including B-roll, film clips, and interview clips of director/producer Ron Howard, author/executive producer Dan Brown, Tom Hanks, and visual effects supervisor Jody Johnson as they give an overview of the film and especially its realization of hellacious Dante-inspired imagery.

"Inferno Around the World" (13:34, HD) takes a similar tack to focus on the film's international cast and locations. Interviewees include Howard, Brown, producer Brian Grazer, Hanks, Felicity Jones, screenwriter David Koepp, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Ana Ularu, Ben Foster, Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan.

In "A Look at Langdon" (6:21, HD), Hanks, Howard, Brown, Koepp and Koepp analyze their hero, while "This Is Sienna Brooks" (5:48, HD) finds Jones, Koepp, Howard, Brown and Hanks commenting on Langdon's principal foil in Inferno, and "The Billionaire Villain: Bertrand Zobrist" (5:13, HD) allows Brown, Foster, Howard, and Koepp to profile Zobrist.

Lastly, "Ron Howard, a Director's Journal" (10:02, HD) gives Howard the spotlight to talk Twitter and Instagram, shooting on location, specific sequences of note, and working with the cast, among other topics.


Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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