Go to Hell.
Such a powerful damnation those three words are, that they cannot even be used in a positive manner, like most curses are thrown around casually. Say these words, and you mean it. Funnily enough, Electronic Arts (EA, as in EA Sports) has found the phrase to be a fitting tag line to their latest endeavor, a video game adaptation of the first section of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy, entitled Dante's Inferno.
Just as with the movie prequel adaptation of 'Dead Space' that preceded this project, EA partnered up with Starz/Anchor Bay to create an animated version of the tale. Told in the same fashion as 'The Animatrix' and 'Batman: Gotham Knight,' this iteration of 'Dante's Inferno' blends the worlds of button mashing hack and slash gaming and early fourteenth century poetry.
Beatrice, the love of Dante's life, has been viciously murdered. Dante can do nothing but witness as her soul is captured by demons as it begins its ascent to heaven, only to be dragged to the pit below. The story would end there for most, but not Dante, a knight returned from the Crusades. With nothing but a sword, a cross on his chest sewn in with memories of his sins, and the guidance of Virgil, Dante must journey through the nine levels of hell to rescue Beatrice's soul. The path is perilous, and not only due to the vicious demons, monsters, and Lucifer himself, as Dante's own past is his greatest foe, reminding him of his shortcomings, failures, and tremendous sins.
To be honest, I wasn't all too keen on the idea of adapting the work of Dante in any fashion, whatsoever, let alone one so commercial that it needs a movie tie-in (ahem, cash-in). I tend to believe that classic works should be left alone (and yes, the constant remake fad in cinema today drives me utterly mad). That said, few stories have the power, depth, and brilliance of The Divine Comedy, and the story hasn't been utilized all that much in cinema. This animated translation/iteration/bastardization certainly doesn't do the classic tale any justice, but considering it was made solely to promote a video game, it's not that bad. Not that great, either.
The fusion in crafting numerous tales from varying animation houses and directors worked wonders during previous attempts, but those tales were drastically different that that of 'Dante's Inferno,' and that's where things get messy. With 'The Animatrix' and 'Batman: Gotham Knight,' each new animation style brought on an entirely new story, whereas each chapter of 'Inferno' is a continuance of the previous, a further descent down the rings of Hades. Character animations change drastically throughout the film, as Dante's build changed more than Barry Bonds,' going from anorexic to ridiculously burly, and back again, with hair that finds itself being chopped short in one segment, and long in the others. Virgil is a virtual chameleon, with his varying skin tones, hair colors and styles, and attire, he may as well be Madonna. The character and animation changes get distracting, since the story tries to go in one direction, but the art is all over the place.
The story itself is not without flaw, but it's certainly captivating, if even only a tenth of what the original was. The traps and challenges along Dante's path are entertaining, with varying demons (who absolutely have the presence and demeanor of video game boss villains) putting up obstacles along the way. The damned themselves are another fun element, as they constantly complicate matters, be it strangers who have no bearing on Dante, or those he knew, as he is shocked to see them in such a wretched land. The most effective inhabitants of hell have to be those seen the least, a legion of deceased unbaptized babies, with spikes replacing their arms. Just as we see Dante lamenting over the death of a child of his own he never knew existed, he is forced to hack, slash, and smash the bodies of infants. They form like zombies, creating mass tension (though I couldn't help but laugh at a throng of hurtling babies hitting a wall and falling into an abyss, call me sick if you must), far more drastic and imminent than any other villainous figure, even Lucifer himself.
Not every layer of Hell is given proper representation, as some layers are briefly visited, as Dante gets to see the damned, shrug his shoulders, and move on, making the film feel rushed. But rushed, it is not, as 'Dante's Inferno' has to be the longest 88 minute film I've seen in my life. The pacing is just too slow, but not methodical or deliberate, it's just a mess.
Religion (obviously) plays a crucial role in this film, and the religious themes found within are likely to offend many, particularly the comments and views on the church. I personally greatly enjoyed the twist on absolution found in 'Dante's Inferno,' as those who misuse the word of God to get their bidding done have long been a fascination of mine, false prophets, if you would. Still, it is only a film, a menial work of "art" that isn't worth the amount of effort it takes to get one's knickers in a twist over. I personally don't even believe a place like hell exists (Editor's Note: I sure do!), but I do enjoy seeing the works of those who believe so thoroughly in such a destination that they flesh out an entire world around it.
Experience Hell with an AVC MPEG-4 encode at 1080p in the 1.78:1 ratio. It's somewhat hard to judge 'Dante's Inferno' on a visual basis due to the constantly changing visual stylings, as it is a constant mind fuck, to say the least. That said, the strengths and weaknesses of the transfer are apparent in every segment. Hell, indeed.
Colors are bold, with glowing reds that pop right off the screen. Heat waves in hell create warped lines and backgrounds without a single inch of jaggedness. Backgrounds are fantastic, and detail is strong, to the tiniest degree.
That said, lines appear and disappear from time to time, color banding is thick like it were its own layer of hell, and the animation can be jarring due to how rough it is at times (while not the fault of the transfer, it is still worth noting). Some animations have a hazy appearance, while others have blocking in backgrounds, while distanced characters all seem to find a way to block. The opening aesthetic has an extreme contrast that leads to the appearance of color bleeding. Another problem brought to the forefront of this film is the awkward balance between CG and traditional animation, particularly when prisoners, with their hand drawn limbs, grip the computer generated bars. There's no explaining how ugly it looks, as it comes off as two toned and unnatural, like digitally inserting Cheech Marin, in color, in 'Citizen Kane.'
There is only one audio option for 'Dante's Inferno,' and that is a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English track (though English SDH and Spanish subs are available). This mix is intriguing, though off balanced at times. Dialogue is comprehendible, but is often way, way too quiet for the scenes it is in, as atmosphere and score easily overpower it, as even yells register at the same volume as normal speaking tones. Lip movements match dialogue in the sense that lips move when words are heard, but they are nowhere even close to matching movement and pronunciation, while there is the occasional moment that feels like a bad Japanese to English dub, with lips moving a hair too long for the words that came out. All that said, I enjoyed the deep grisly tones that came from Dante's center, as his voice had a nice low roar beneath it. Movement through speakers is solid, as demons pass through the room, and better yet, dialogue often finds itself localizing throughout the entire room, moving sometimes between speakers as a scene moves. This track is passable, and had potential, but it has too many problems that are beyond ignoring.
While the DVD release of 'Dante's Inferno' featured a series of six different covers, the Blu-ray release is only reported to have one.
'Dante's Inferno,' much like 'Dead Space: Downfall' before it, is all style, no substance, little more than a opportune cash-in on an upcoming EA video game. The tale is legendary, but the legend is done little justice here, as the walk through hell seems less laborious than the journey through this film. The Blu-ray release of 'Dante's Inferno' has good (but slightly troubled)) video and audio, but a pile of extras that amount to virtually nothing. Give it a spin if you adore the classic tale, but abandon all hope, and lower thine expectations, and ye may enjoy the trip.