What a Difference a Decade Makes

by AKNickerson / May 20, 2009 / 0 comments

the movie poster

For most authors, writing and publishing a book takes years of effort and angst. The process doesn’t just end with the written manuscript.  An agent has to represent the work and find a publisher.  There’s editing.  And waiting.  And editing.  And lots of waiting.  Before the DaVinci Code sensation, that was certainly true for author Dan Brown.  In 2000 his book Angels & Demons debuted without much fanfare and even less controversy.  The book has been in print for nearly a decade – and the manuscript is probably older. So, consider this…

A decade ago:


  • Bill Clinton was president.
  • Most of us had no idea who Osama bin Laden was.
  • The Euro was a brand new currency.
  • The iBook looked like a clamshell.
  • Lance Armstrong won his first Tour de’France.
  • Napster debuted.

Much has changed since then.  Dan Brown’s books enormously popular, and the film adaptation of The DaVinci Code was very successful.   Unlike the debut of the book, the launch of the film adaptation of Angels & Demons was certainly a splashy affair.  Purists who love the book are upset that the screenwriters, Akiva Goldsman and David Koepp, have not been completely faithful to the book.  But the changes they have made are largely a product of the intervening decade. 

Most of the first 33 chapters of Angels & Demons take place at CERN – a physics laboratory in Switzerland.  The film condenses those chapters into a few minutes featuring CERN’s Large Hadron Collider which went online less than a year ago and entered the public’s lexicon.  In the last decade physics has become sexy again, and CERN is on the popular map.


the cardinals headed to the Sistine Chapel

Similarly, one of the book’s subplots got the axe.  Brown’s book contends that few people would pay attention to the election of a pope.  In the novel Gunther Glick, a last-string reporter for the BBC complains about his short-straw assignment covering the conclave.

“Glick couldn’t believe the BBC still sent reporter into the field to cover this schlock.  You don’t see the American networks here tonight.  Hell no! That was because the big boys did it right.  They watched CNN, synopsized it, and then filmed their ‘live’ report in front of a blue screen, superimposing stock video for a realistic backdrop.  MSNBC even used in-studio wind and rain machines to give that on-the-screen authenticity” (Chapter 48). 

The last papal conclave had been held in 1978.  Brown looked back on history, gambled, and lost.  When Pope John Paul II died in April, 2005, the entire media circus descended on Rome.  Billions watched the beloved pope’s funeral around the world.  And the media covered the conclave very carefully, waiting for the white smoke. 

So, Glick doesn’t appear in the film.  After the media frenzy of the last papal election, who would believe that one lone reporter was sent to Rome for religion’s biggest story?
Characters McKenna and Strauss as seen in the film

And in a pre-September 11 world, it was easy to make the villain a Muslim assassin.  The book’s Hassassin is bloodthirsty and out for revenge.  But post-September 11, the villain is played by a Dane and is referred to as “Mr. Gray/Assassin.” Gone are all references to Muslims.  Instead, the assassin receives large transfers of funds to his remote bank accounts and implies that he is hired by holy men of all stripes.  He is a gun for hire with no tangible investment in the Illuminati. As English-speaking armed forces continue their missions in the Middle East, perhaps it would be too complicated for the villain to picture “the thousands of Muslims slaughtered during the Crusades” as he fondles a half-naked Vittoria with a view of the Vatican out his window.

Indeed, even Vittoria Vetra, the indomitable physicist, has changed over the last decade.  She conducts herself on screen with great dignity in her smart and professional black dress. But I missed the jokes about her attire, for in the book she makes her way through Rome wearing the ever-offending pair of shorts.  In making her a more serious character, the screenwriters have also removed her kidnapping and Brown’s ill-conceived attempt at sexual tension between Vittoria and Langdon.  Both are changes for the better. 

Langdon and Vittoria

And ultimately, the screenwriters must write a different ending for the Assassin and for the movie.  Learning to write and to control your characters and plot takes time.  The success of The DaVinci Code is due in large part to the fact that Dan Brown had learned to do just that.  His timing and pacing in The DaVinci Code are impeccable, and the plot is so believable that it has inspired years of debate and controversy generating millions of dollars in book sales for Brown. 

Not so with Angels & Demons.  With Angels & Demons Brown tried to write a blockbuster – and the effort is too visible.  Now ten years later, the screenwriters strip away the faults of an immature plot and naïve character development, and they polish the blockbuster Brown formed in the raw.  Gone is the supersonic jet.  Tom Hanks’ Langdon doesn’t kill the assassin.  He can’t.  He’s too nice.  Vittoria Vetra is sidelined and simplified into a secondary character because the real romance is with the city of Rome.  And the Langdon who can’t kill the assassin does save one of the Cardinals ensuring a more believable conclave. 

After all, in the last ten years Brown’s readers have changed.  They have embraced him as one of the best-selling authors ever, and the movies based on his books are destined to place Langdon in the pantheon of reluctant crime-fighters with the likes of Bourne and Ryan.  But the world has changed in the last decade.  And to remain relevant and credible, so must Angels & Demons.

Don't forget to download Rome's Angels & Demons: the Insider's Guide!  It's a free ebook with information about the places in the book and the film.