Tuesday, November 04, 2008

dante's inferno (2007)

Thanks to IMAGE Update for word about DANTE'S INFERNO: THE MOVIE, which toured small festivals through the first half of 2007 then went to DVD in August this year.
Yes, folks, you read that right. And no, it's not a special effects extravaganza starring Jack Nicholson, directed by George Lucas, and produced by Steven Spielberg. It's actually done in the manner of a Victorian puppet theater, and it's been updated with a cast of oh-so-very contemporary characters. The amazing thing is that it works. The stylization of the cleverly drawn characters and backgrounds, the over the top dialogue and soundtrack, the visual gags and "updating"--all these elements combine to keep viewers on their toes. There are, in fact, great actors involved: Dermot Mulroney as the voice of Dante the Pilgrim (you know, he's the slacker who's frequently hung over and not doing too well with a job or the girls), and James Cromwell as the wise but unsentimental Virgil. The curtain rises on some shady urban streets when Dante the slacker says: "About halfway through the course of my pathetic life, I woke up and found myself in a stupor in some dark, unfamiliar place. I'm not sure how I ended up there; I guess I'd taken a few wrong turns." The updating comes in a variety of forms, from simple changes of setting--Francesca and Paolo in a seedy no-tell motel--to the more broadly satirical, as when they encounter the late Senator Strom Thurmond dressed as a bottle of Mrs. Butterworth's maple syrup. The satire gets political, of course, and occasionally predictably so: Dick Cheney is the damned soul whose body continues to operate up "above," though inhabited by a demon. The whole thing is risky and inevitably some jokes fall flat, but there's also a lot of love for the original here, and creativity to burn. In the midst of all the playfulness there's even a hint that there are, indeed, high stakes in this mortal life of ours. "I was totally expecting to see demons and bondage stuff," Dante the pilgrim says at one point, but Virgil counters: "This is hell, Dante, not your personal fantasy."
Here's how they describe it at the film's official website...
DANTE’S INFERNO has been kicking around the cultural playground for over 700 years. But it has never before been interpreted with exquisitely hand-drawn paper puppets, brought to life using purely hand-made special effects. Until now. Rediscover this literary classic, retold in a kind of apocalyptic graphic novel meets Victorian-era toy theater. Dante’s Hell is brought to lurid 3-dimensional, high-definition life in a darkly comedic travelogue of the underworld — set against an all-too-familiar urban backdrop of used car lots, gated communities, strip malls, and the U.S. Capitol. And populated with a contemporary cast of reprobates, including famous — and infamous — politicians, presidents, popes, pimps. And the Prince of Darkness himself.

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