Angels and Demons

Last night, we went to see Angels and Demons. It was very glossy, very well made, and ultimately a huge pile of horse manure.

I took a dislike to the film within the first few minutes - a few minor spoilers follow, there is another warning before major spoilers.

The pope dies, and the film moves to CERN where they're firing up the LHC (which already has the badly wrong publicity about it destroying the world by creating mini-black holes). They show nervous people firing up the machine, with beautiful graphical displays showing the collisions as they happen... which given the rate of collisions is not on. That's minor though.

What really annoyed is that within seconds three containers filled with significant amounts of antimatter. One of these containers is promptly stolen, and is used as the macguffin in the rest of the film.

This is ridiculous. The amount of energy needed to create the antimatter in these quantities is mindblowing. The LHC will create antimatter, but in microscopic quantities. The storage ring used to contain the antimatter whilst enough is made is huge, and certainly not the size of a can of coke. To use a magnetic bottle in this way, it'd have to be ionic antimatter, and electrical effects would be seen if in those quantities. Think electrostatic jumper and scale that by orders of magnitude. Anti-atoms would be neutral not be held in a magnetic bottle. At one point the rent-a-physicist (who is also an expert in toxins) proclaims that the biggest worry at CERN was that their work would be co-opted by the energy companies. Anti-matter would be a compact store of energy, but it wouldn't be a source of energy, and making antimatter is vastly inefficient.

The LHC at CERN isn't about generating and storing antimatter in little bottles - it's about smashing particles together at high velocity to try and work out how the universe works at a fundamental level. Though the energy involved is high for the particles involved in each collision, the absolute amount of energy involved in each collision is negligible (most of the energy put into CERN goes to heat, rather than into the collision).

Okay, with the "science" part over, let's look at the actual plot. I'll put a break in here for those reading the RSS feed. The church, at its weakest point is under threat. Let's save a lot of time, it's Ewan McGregor who did it. He loves the Church so much he arranges for anti-matter to be placed under the Vatican (yes, the quantity used would do a lot of damage - but CERN generates nowhere near that much).

Excuse me? He's going to destroy the Vatican? To save it?

The plot is only foiled at the last minute by the intervention of the Tom Hanks character who breathlessly takes us on a tour of Rome, saves the day, Ewan McGregor's priest puts his life on the line.... and then we find he was behind it all.

It's beautifully shot, but built upon such a pile of dodgy premise and 'odd' choices that the whole thing doesn't hang together.

What makes it worse is that I saw people coming out saying how they enjoyed the film? Had they removed all critical faculty? Does plot not matter?

I can overlook bad science, if it is required for the plot - for example, when Kirk engages Warp drive, fair enough (but not when polarity is reversed to the thingamibob, which reverses it's effect). I can accept time travel (as long as you're not cavalier about causality), I can accept all sorts provided that it's essential to the premise. Here, it wasn't.

Bad science really does annoy me when it is totally unnecessary, when good science could have achieved the same function. Essentially the same threat to the Vatican could have been arranged with an infiltration of a military base instead of CERN and the planting of a small nuclear device. Unlikely, yes, but now the danger is plausible.

A speech from Ewan McGregor at the time of branding saying 'the buildings may be destroyed, but the church will grow stronger' wouldn't have gone amiss either. It'd help to justify his actions.

Oh, and the explosion at the end? Roughly the right size for the amount of antimatter - but remember that the energy for this was supplied in a few seconds at CERN over the electrical power grid, further giving the lie to the generation of antimatter in these quantities (not forgetting the inefficiencies).

Many people will like this film, not worrying about (or noticing) the problems. For me, I found it a total pile of, breathlessly edited and beautifully shot, tosh.