Directed By: Sean Merideth
Starring: James Cromwell, Dermot Mulroney, Tony Hale, Dana Snyder
Dante Alighieri wakes up in an alley not entirely sure how he got there or what his next move should be. He soon bumps into a man in a robe who introduces himself as Virgil. Dante proves he’s not a total loser by recognizing Virgil as the classical author of The Aeneid. Virgil informs Dante that Beatrice a late acquaintance of Dante’s has persuaded him to give Dante a tour of Hell in the hope that he will change his ways, kind of the ultimate Scared Straight. Vigil guides Dante through all nine levels of Hell. Through the outer levels starting out with the apathetic, unbaptized, lustful and gluttonous to the innermost levels reserved for hypocrites, traitors, and mass murderers.
The story of course is based on Dante’s Divine Comedy. Which was split into three portions, one traversing Hell, one traversing Purgatory and one traversing Paradise. Inferno as you might guess covers the trip through Hell. I’ve never read Dante and to be truthful I’m not any more likely to now, it’s not really my cup of tea. It’s literally the ultimate morality tale and I don’t like morality tales, but it makes for some wonderful animation.
The story is presented as a play in a nineteenth century toy theater, you can learn a lot from listening to commentaries. It starts out with a shot of a toy theater stage with the paper cutout audience applauding the stage as the curtains begin to rise. The camera starts to pan over the audience and you see the paper cutout orchestra as the last curtain rises on our protagonist, Dante, as he wakes up disorientated in the alley. The toy theater stages make perfect little movie sets. The three dimensional sets are enhanced by the artists creative use of forced perspective and wonderful lighting. They have an amazing depth. All of the artwork is beautiful with subtle hints and visual jokes scattered around in every scene. Instead of trying to hide the artifice of the puppetry and sets the filmmakers just let it enhance the feeling that Hell is a manufactured place. Constructed for the sole intent to torment it’s inhabitants.
The voice work is great. Dermot Mulroney and James Cromwell are perfect as the leads. The rest of the cast which includes, Tony Hale and Dana Snyder is wonderful as well. All of the voice work is spot on.
This is a rather bold adaptation of Dante’s original work. Dante mixed classical elements and elements of contemporary fourteenth century Italian culture to populate and flesh out Hell. The screenwriters take these elements and blend in modern personalities, themes and politics to modernize the story but still stay true to Dante’s original themes, again you can learn a lot listening to commentaries. Like I said before it’s not really my kind of story, but I really respect how they managed to modernize the material without watering it down. Unbaptized? Your going to Hell. Apathetic? Your going to Hell. Gay? Your going to Hell. Follow your horoscope? Your going to Hell. See you there.
The video is presented in wide screen format. There is very little aliasing, I never noticed any moire or other defects for that matter. The lines between the puppets and the different set elements are always sharp and clear except for when the filmmakers purposefully blur the image. The colors are crisp and balanced. The video looks lovely and really enhances the puppets and sets.
The audio is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital. There are no subtitles. The use of surround sound is subtle but effective. The mix is excellent keeping the dialog nice clear and crisp, no distortion, never overshadowed by the score or foley. The score by Mark McAdam is great, perfectly complementing the action on the screen. There are even a few musical jokes thrown in.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The DVD is packaged in a clear Amaray case. The artwork plays on the horrific elements a little heavily, but after all whats more horrific than a tour through Hell. There are a lot quality extras. There are two excellent commentaries. One by the director, Sean Merideth, Art Director, Sandow Birk, and Head Puppeteer, Paul Zaloom. The other commentary is by puppet historian John Bell and Dante scholar Peter Hawkins. There is also a making of featurette that made me want to pull out the scissors, Elmer’s Glue, and video camera. There is a photo gallery an even some bonus music tracks.
I didn’t quite know what to expect from this film. Dante’s Inferno as literature never really interested me and as I mentioned earlier it still doesn’t, but I’m glad I had an opportunity to see this. It’s worth watching just for the animation but I also enjoyed how the filmmakers were able to update a seven year old story with out watering it down or losing the themes of the original.
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10
The Movie 7/10
The Video 8/10
The Audio 6/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 8/10
Overall (Not an Average) 8/10