Admittedly, it’s been quite some time since I read Dante Alighieri’s epic poem, The Divine Comedy, but, even though my memory of it is somewhat foggy, I’m pretty sure that if it was remotely as violent and gory as Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic, I’d have done a hell of a lot better in high school English class. This 80 minute feature serves as a tie-in to Electronic Arts upcoming Dante’s Inferno video game, so it’s obvious that much of Alighieri’s tale has been doctored up for maximum carnage, but, at the same time, this wonderfully animated and extremely imaginative adaptation is surprisingly faithful to its source. Well, thematically, at least.
Most of us know the story by now, and, even if you’ve never actually read it, so influential was Alighieri’s poem that you’re bound to notice the bits and pieces that have seeped their way into other literary works. This timeless tale of love, loss, and redemption sees our hero, Dante, venturing into the very bowels of Hell to free the soul of his beloved Beatrice. Guided by the Roman poet, Virgil, Dante must venture down through each of the nine circles of hell, whereupon he must face his own sins and repent before moving on to the next. In typical videogame fashion, Dante must defeat a “boss” in each of the circles, ranging from a twisted vision of Cerberus to his own father, before finally facing off against Lucifer, himself. What’s really neat about this particular experiment is the way in which the film is animated, with a different animation team handling each of the nine circles (as well as the prologue). This gives each circle of hell (as well as Dante, Virgil, and Beatrice) a unique look and feel, and keeps things visually interesting. The style of animation ranges from that of a classic Disney film to the somewhat de rigueur anime aesthete we’ve grown accustomed to, but, as a whole, the quality is remarkably consistent.
As stated, many liberties are taken with Alighieri’s poem, but the at the crux of it is still the allegory we know and love. These are universal themes at play, here, and, while I’m pretty sure Lucifer didn’t shoot lasers from his wings and Dante didn’t wield a telescoping scythe, one could very well use this film as a sort of “Cliff’s Notes” version of the actual poem and still get the general idea of what Alighieri was getting at. I have to admit that I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Dante’s Inferno as EA, Starz!, and Film Roman’s previous collaboration for the Dead Space videogame wasn’t nearly as polished or well-realized. I went into this expecting a half-assed, cheaply made “cartoon” showcasing the video games’ boss fights and special moves, and, instead, discovered a wonderfully rich and entertaining horror/fantasy epic with a visual style on par with some of the best anime offerings out there!
Starz!/AB present Dante’s Inferno on Blu-ray with a gorgeous 1.78:1 1080p transfer that boasts clean lines, vibrant colors, and an almost three-dimensional level of depth. This stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the finest animated films I’ve seen on the medium, with exceptional detail throughout. While the opening sequence has something of a “gauzy” look, once the action moves to Hell (and, subsequently, the animation style changes to something a bit more bold), the image sharpens up dramatically, with rich, velvety blacks contrasting with vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows.
The DTS HD 5.1 soundtrack is superb, with rumbling bass, crisp dialogue, and an impressive array of directional effects that offer a deeply immersive viewing experience. The clang of swords, weapons piercing flesh, the crackle of fire and the distant moans of the tortured dead are all presented in amazing fidelity, and compliments the film’s engaging visuals nicely.
Extras are limited to a selection of animatics as well as a preview for the game, itself. I’m a bit surprised that EA didn’t include a PS3 demo for the game, here, as it would seem a logical choice seeing as how many Blu-ray owners (myself included) watch their films on the gaming platform! The lack of extras are a bit of a downer, but seeing how inexpensive the title is on Amazon and at the Big Box stores, it’s certainly not a dealbreaker.
Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic is an engrossing, visually appealing, and very entertaining take on a classic tale that never goes out of style. The use of multiple animation styles is reminiscent of Warner’s Animatrix and Batman offerings, but, in my opinion, the story, here, is of much higher quality than any of the shorts in those collections. Despite a lack of compelling extras, Starz!/AB’s Blu-ray presentation is superb, and, while anime fans will definitely want to add this title to their HD collection, non-fans (like myself) may want to give this one a look, as it’s a cut above the usual anime stuff, with a genuinely compelling (and decidedly adult) story. Highly recommended!