After a night of debauchery, Dante (voiced by Dermot Mulroney) awakens in an unfamiliar part of town, where he encounters the Roman poet Virgil (James Cromwell) … who promptly leads the errant urbanite on a journey through a 21st-century version of hell. Director Sean Meredith interprets Dante Alighieri’s classic text with an intriguing blend of paper puppets and hand-drawn backdrops, resulting in a unique take on the centuries-old morality tale.
Dante’s Inferno released by Ricochet / TLA Releasing is a remarkable film indeed. For those who know the story of the “Divine Comedy”, Dante’s inferno is the first of 3 can’ticas under the poem. Directed by Sean Meredith you won’t find the usual type of presentation interpretation of the great story as you are used to. DI is in fact a living graphic novel. Each scene incorporates cutouts and hand drawing paper puppets manipulated by wires, strings and puppetry sticks. As scenes change the animation props change as well.
Often figures are moved per wires but also to keep from monotony they are presented in 3rd dimension with figures in the background twirling, flying down or pushed back for depth. We even get a degree of depth of field with the carefully planned camera work. As a line changes expression the drawings are flipped around to reveal a whole new expression …pretty clever I think. Now at first start you may get that …”oh this is another south park kind of feeling”, though it really is much different and manages to keep you entertained. The usage of close ups, angles, and framing makes for a nice transition of acts and scenes. This also shows the dedication of a meticulous film team.
The story follows the book of Dante Inferno, Though in this interpretation the monsters and demons mentioned in the original book are replaced with city folks, historial figures and politicians. Its a very urban kind of setting with all the trimmings. Even in hell they pass by Sub shops, delis, corporate building and urban decay. Though all the stories elements are included just in a more “today” kind of setting. Now of course the dialog is really top notch as the lines of Dante and Virgil are read by James Cromwell and Dermot Mulroney. The familair voices gives the roles alot of credibility in theirperformance.
Dante is taken though the 9 levels of hell like with Virgil as his tour guide. Tortures are explained as they cross different thresholds with the emphasis being of repetition as the ultimate hell. For instance Gluttons get to eat whatever they like , but must keep eating for eternity becoming fat gluttonous slobs. Sexual deviates get to have sex all the time, but must do so non stop. Heretics spend there time in Hot tubs, that increase temperature all day long but can never leave. Its not the demons and pitchfork kind of hell we imagined but it still serves its purpose in a more present day kind of way. I found it funny as Dante continually questioned the punishments as “hey that’s not so bad”…but in the scheme of things even an eternity of eating pizza can grow old real quick, so the train of thought was directed at that kind of analogy.
The puppetering in DI is a wonder to watch. Each shot is meticulously planned, shot, lit and orchestrated. To accent certain scenes, the paper dolls were articulated with joints for movement. This is especially fun to watch when provide comical dance routines. A further viewing into the DVD extras demonstrate the work involved with is reported as taking 7 months to reach completion. It also manages to add the element of today’s political figures making it a more modern adaptation of the original. I especially enjoyed the humor such as guessing what sins being shown to Dante were. Examples such as “insider trading” where sinners are damned to exchange body parts was a great play on words on punishments deserved.
I enjoyed this film very much, it truly is a slick original piece of work that shouldn’t be missed. You might find yourself at first put off by he cheap drawing sort of look but the film is actually really engaging as it moves forward. It’s not a kid movie with explicit sex scenes even though they are hand drawn with colored pencils. I loved the way the animator used pieces of drawings to accent emotions. It was cleverly and effective even on a low budget animation style. Crowds moved as blocks of pieces of paper, Virgil and Dante continually change drawings as they walk thru hell and are represented at different scenes. It’s alot of fun. and you’ll really enjoy the humor of this urban decay Hell interpretation. Don’t let the paper sketch’s fool ya on this one, it really delivers a nice piece of work strengthend by the actors voiceover’s.
Available from TLA Releasing