Judge Paul Pritchard once took a trip through the nine circles of Hell. He preferred Disneyland.
Abandon All Hope On Entry Here.
Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy, written between 1300 and 1321, is considered one of the world's greatest literary works and is certainly one of the most enduring. Split into three sections: Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise, it is Dante's journey through the nine circles of Hell (Inferno) that has arguably ingrained itself most into the collective consciousness.
Facts of the Case
Happily living a life of immorality, Dante awakens to find himself lost in a desolate city. It's not long before a lone figure, the poet Virgil, emerges and offers to help Dante. But Virgil's help isn't just a case of guiding Dante home; Virgil plans to guide Dante back to the straight and narrow.
Forced to follow his guide, Dante journeys into the underworld and through Hell itself. Traversing the nine circles of Hell, Virgil offers Dante a stark warning of where he is headed, if he does mend his ways.
Even some of the more hardcore film buffs amongst you might not have seen anything quite like Dante's Inferno. While the story—an adaptation of the book Dante's Inferno by Sandow Birk, itself an update of Alighieri's original work—never strays too far from the famous source material, the film's presentation sets it apart from anything you're likely to have seen.
Rather than using actual actors (with one notable exception), the makers of Dante's Inferno even go so far as to eschew traditional animation, be it hand-drawn or CGI, and instead adopt paper puppets to tell their tale. Celebrating its low-tech roots, rather than betraying them by taking every opportunity to hide them, the characters in Dante's Inferno are animated by the use of hundreds of different variations on each puppet, which allow for different facial expressions and movements. It's a bold move, but one that ends up paying off handsomely and adds to the film's uniqueness.
Structurally the film follows the original tale fairly closely, which proves to be both a blessing and a curse. The original story's inflexible views on sinning clash sharply with the film's modern setting; it's an interesting juxtaposition that will alienate some, while providing food-for-thought for others. At numerous points during his journey Dante comes across familiar faces, ranging from Cleopatra to JFK. Although the reasons given for some of these souls dwelling in Hell are a little harsh, the film's humorous approach to the subject helps lighten the proceedings. After all, who wouldn't chuckle at the sight of Fatty Arbuckle being endlessly felated, while Dante, the possessor a cool slacker wit, comments that, "Fatty's got a fatty"?
Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend's Wedding) and James Cromwell (Babe) provide the voices for Dante and Virgil, respectively. It's as much a testament to their work, as it is the vision of the artists, that Dante's Inferno is so successful. Mulroney lends a suitably sarcastic tone to Dante's musings, while Cromwell instills an assured note of authority to the wiser Virgil.
Dante's Inferno comes to DVD courtesy of Ricochet. The 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is clean, with good detail and a decent level of depth. Colors are strong, and the image remains sharp throughout. Although the 5.1 Dolby Digital track lacks any notable flaws, the front heavy mix isn't particularly impressive. Still, it does its job, with dialogue remaining clear throughout.
The 15-minute "Filming the Inferno" featurette offers a decent, but all too brief, insight into the making of Dante's Inferno. Considering the film is quite unlike anything else out there, right now, it would have been nice to get a more detailed look at the work involved. Countering this somewhat, however, are the two commentaries. With each commentary offering a different perspective on the film, one being from the filmmakers and one featuring a Dante expert, there's plenty of information to be garnered.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Being different often limits a film's audience and, thanks to its presentation, Dante's Inferno is very different. It's difficult to slight a film for trying something new, and I certainly won't do that, but it's easy to see Dante's Inferno being ignored and viewers being put off, simply because of its rather unique visuals.
As stated earlier in the review: the film maintains Dante's original stance on what constitutes a sin. Since the 1300s, views on the subject have relaxed somewhat, at least with the majority of people, meaning the film's hardcore approach may rub some people the wrong way.
Dante's Inferno is original, smart, and though provoking. I'd wager dollars to donuts it remains an overlooked gem.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: TLA Releasing
• Commentary with Director Sean Meredith, Art Director Sandow Birk, and Head Puppeteer Paul Zaloom
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