Reviewby Zac Bertschy, Feb 7th 2010
Dante's Inferno: An Animated Epic
Based on the (rather loose) videogame adaptation of the famous 14th century poem, Dante's Inferno follows tortured Christian warrior Dante as he chases the soul of his beloved Beatrice through the 9 circles of Hell, guided by the spirit of Virgil the poet. In each circle Dante is confronted by his own sins committed during the Crusades, as well as a bevy of gruesome beasts and fallen rulers on his way to a final confrontation with Satan himself, who intends on making Beatrice his infernal bride.
One very important thing about Dante's Inferno: An Animated Epic that should probably be mentioned upfront is that it is not, per se, an adaptation of the classic medieval poem. No, this version is a retelling of EA's freshly-released videogame “re-imagining”, in which Dante is no longer simply an unredeemed soul seeking salvation, guided through the underworld by the poet Virgil. Sure, those elements are still there, but Dante is now a tortured soldier of the Crusades reliving the bloody sins of his violent past, killing everything in Hell to retrieve the soul of his slain beloved buxom Beatrice from the lusty clutches of Satan himself. The game features a boss fight wherein Dante has to fight off a horde of grotesque undead babies who are spewed forth from the enormous demonic nipples of Cleopatra.
So abandon all hope, ye who thought this might be a straight adaptation.
That said, if you know what you're getting into – and are a fan of bloody creature features like Hellsing or Berserk or the God of War games (which this particular adaptation seems to have borrowed a hell of a lot from!), there's plenty of fun to be had here and even some quality animation from time to time. While not billed as an anthology, the videogame's story has been handled by 6 different animation directors and 4 different animation studios, and the result – while wildly uneven at times – is really not half bad.
The whole gruesome mess starts out with what is, admittedly, the worst segment of the bunch. Film Roman, a C-list American animation studio that clearly farms out a lot of its work to some backwater Korean studio, handles the introduction and visually it's really clunky and amateurish. We're quickly introduced to the story's new plot, which involves the murder of Dante's wife, whose soul is quickly whisked away to the lower circles of Hell (always referred to as “Inferno” here, probably to further avoid any discomfort the obvious religious imagery and language might result in) by a smug Lucifer. Dante then meets Virgil, who offers to guide him through Hell. Then Dante kills a whole bunch of demons and even wrecks the boat that ferries lost souls across the river Styx (in fact, Dante spends a whole lot of time pretty much ruining Hell's infrastructure in this movie). As over-the-top as it all is, you're pretty much left waiting around for the animation studio to change because Film Roman's lazy, crappy animation is a pain to watch.
Thankfully, it's then that Dante enters Limbo, and we get the first studio transition, this time with Samurai Champloo artists Manglobe handling production, and the result is pretty brilliant, like you're suddenly watching a completely different and totally kick-ass anime version of Dante's Inferno. Film Roman should be kinda pissed off that their segment has to open for this one, because it's like putting a crayon drawing next to an oil painting. Manglobe's installment was directed by Shuko Murase, who is no stranger to gothic visuals thanks to his previous efforts like Ergo Proxy and Witch Hunter Robin, and you can definitely see his dark thumbprint here. The animation is very fluid and the fresh character designs (which change depending on the animation studio producing the segment) are a joy to watch in motion. After a brief battle with the aforementioned demonic unbaptized babies who are stranded in limbo (although Cleopatra is nowhere to be seen), Dante confronts Minos, the corrupted king whose job it is to sort out the damned and place them in their particular circle of Hell. It's a fun battle, really well-animated and over way too fast; after a bit more Limbo, we're off to the second circle of Hell (and, unfortunately, a new animation studio that is not Manglobe).
The next four levels of the Inferno are handled by the same folks. Stepping up to the plate production-wise is Korean studio Dongwoo Animation, responsible for stuff like Bastof Syndrome, which could be a good thing if you're the one person who actually enjoyed Bastof Syndrome. It's not quite back to the poor quality of the Film Roman segment, but it even further highlights the level at which Manglobe was operating and really only makes you wish they'd have just produced the entire film. Still, it's not half bad – we get a pale, somewhat scrawny Dante and a Virgil who kinda looks like a Tolkien Elf by way of a Troll doll, and we're whisked through Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, and a whole bunch of Dante's tortured past animated with passable competency. Dante winds up fighting Cerberus (or at least what they call Cerberus in this thing; I was under the impression Cerberus was a three-headed dog who guarded the gates of hell, not this weird three-mouthed worm thing that eats the cursed bodies of fat people all day) and then, in the fourth circle, his own greedy father who Satan has bribed into trying to kill his own son. The backstory they've added in here simply isn't all that interesting. It's obvious they're trying to bring some character into this story and make it more than just a travelogue of Hell, but it all feels a bit tacked on and certainly doesn't have any real dramatic weight to it. It's here we learn Lucifer is planning to take Beatrice as his bride, who's next in line after famous historical hotties like Helen of Troy, but we're never really told why other than it would really screw with Dante's head. Dante's showdown with his big gross daddy is ultimately kinda silly (“Lucifer offered me a thousand years without torture and endless gold if I'd kill my own son!”) and at this point we're just waiting for the character designs to change again.
Once Dante and Virgil reach the City of Dis, the hellish metropolis that provides entry to the lower circles of the Inferno, Korean studio JM Animation takes over. The production is pretty strong and very stylized; the character designs have a heavy shonen anime feel to them, with Dante suddenly becoming a bulky action hero and Virgil looking more than a little bit like Obi-Wan Kenobi. The action scenes are animated with a certain relish, although lipflap is really inconsistent here and barely matches the dialogue. It's certainly the strongest effort from a Korean studio in the film. After a battle with a really odd-looking minotaur, JM animation switches up directors and changes the designs again for Fraud, the eighth circle of hell, and the look is pretty weak and doesn't stand out next to all the other designs, but it's over relatively quickly and then we're off to Treachery, the final circle, and the final animation studio.
Production IG is up next to finish this thing off and while the animation quality shoots through the roof, their character designs aren't exactly inspired. This is Dante's final confrontation with Lucifer, and he must travel through the frozen-solid circle of Treachery (the one place in Hell a snowball might actually have a chance!) to confront Satan in his lair and retrieve his beloved. Things don't really go as planned – Dante hacks through the icy chains that keep the fallen angel bound, and in his quest to retrieve Beatrice, he accidentally frees Satan (whoops!) and winds up having to fight his true form, which is a pretty cool battle sequence. Without spoiling too much, they manage to suggest that there will be a sequel to this thing. Which is just silly.
Really, “silly” kinda sums up this entire enterprise; the story just can't be taken seriously because it's so over-the-top and feels exactly like what you'd expect from an “edgy” videogame adaptation of Dante's Inferno, but visually there's enough going on here to make it worth a watch if you can treat this like a talent showcase that focuses on infernal imagery rather than a serious stab at adapting classic literature. It is kind of fascinating to see how each artist will handle the characters and their fantastical environments, and those shifts alone make it worth at least a rental. In those terms, this is more of a success than the thoroughly mediocre anthology film Batman: Gotham Knight (which had a few of the same folks working on it), if only because the artists had a lot more room to adapt. Frankly, the medieval idea of Hell is such a conceptually and aesthetically rich place for an artist to play around with that it's fun just to see where they go with the idea. So while Dante's Inferno: An Animated Epic is by no means “good” in the traditional sense and will absolutely offend those who are looking for something even remotely loyal to the source material, anyone with a taste for gruesome hellish fun who is willing to check their more sophisticated sensibilities at the door will probably have a good time with this.
Overall : B-
Story : C
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Manglobe segment alone worth checking out; fun for monster lovers and horror fans.
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