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Angels, Demons, Hadrons…

Angels & Demons might just be the sleeper hit of 2009. The momentum is building and the sequel to The Da Vinci Code seems to be escaping the shadow of its critically distained forebear.

In the books, this is actually the prequel (and by far the better of the two in my opinion). I had a chance to look into all these details when I was invited to chat to director Ron Howard and Tom Hanks at CERN in Geneva – the European super-lab designed to recreate the beginning of the universe by smashing particles (hadrons) together in a gigantic underground tunnel.

It’s a key set in the film – lending a near-supernatural element to the action. And I was fine with that. But teaching a film journo particle physics was always going to be tough. I was keeping an open mind and looking to learn.


Obviously, The Da Vinci Code was littered with dubious readings of history – just one of the reasons it didn’t go down so well. Angels & Demons continues to make historical assumptions, centred around an ancient anti-religious sect called “The Illuminati” (I actually have the T-shirt now). But Dan Brown has also tinkled with the science in this one, imagining that the brain boxes at CERN are capable of producing a briefcase of “anti-matter” that could blow up Rome.

Needless to say – this is all pretty much impossible. Physicist Markus Nordburg is explaining just how unlikely much of the material in the book is here as some Japanese journalists and I dive past the eye-scanner and into the gigantic CERN tunnel (excuse my shoddy camerawork).


Someone commented that it felt a lot like visiting the set of moonraker…

Angels & Demons is evidently not afraid to take liberties with the truth. But Ron Howard sees it as fiction in both senses: “The movie doesn’t go to great lengths to explain the science or the history. In fact the rhythm of this movie doesn’t allow for that. It’s a ticking bomb story.” In fact, during my interview, he referred to Angels & Demons as “science fiction”.

Ron Howard: MSN Interview

So what we are seeing in Angels & Demons is an alternate reality. The rewards will be there if we’re able to overlook the occasional scientific and historical liberty. As Tom Hanks said to me, “Don’t discount how cool a movie can make something mundane look.” And he’s quite right – though perhaps the particle physicists among you should watch something else…

Tom Hanks: MSN Interview



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