Dante’s Inferno (2007), or Hell Is A Ridiculous Concept, But It’s Good For A Laugh

15 03 2009
Dante and Virgil are funnier this time around, but the core message remains the same.

Dante and Virgil are funnier this time around, but the core message remains the same.

Who came up with the idea of Hell? The most garish, elaborate, and unfounded explanation for divine justice imaginable, Hell is a thought that no one man could have come up with, but rather a fearful collective of very imaginative Christians whose membership spanned race, gender, and time. The Christian idea that every criminal will be punished for eternity, and that all the righteous men and women will live apart from them in some weird, invisible utopia certainly isn’t unique or even that dastardly compared to some punishments other religions have concocted over the millennia. What makes it special are all the THOUSANDS of little details that Catholics devised for it over the years. Truly, the general idea of Hell could have been conceived by a single individual, but unique punishments for solitary sinners that fill up NINE DIFFERENT LEVELS? I mean, damn! Every dog has it’s day, I guess. It’s completely ludicrous idea, and I think that deep down we all know that Heaven and Hell are closed to all of us because they DO NOT EXIST, but it’s a harmless enough concept as long as you treat it with the intellectual supremacy you deserve to lord over it. Today’s picture, a hand-drawn paper doll/puppet movie, the first of it’s kind as far as a feature length movie goes, is based on the greatest attempt to accurately populate the whirling maelstrom of anger and hate that is Hell, Dante Alighieri’s Inferno. It sounds strange, but stick with me here.

This is really just a modern day retelling of Dante’s classic. A young schmuck named (what else?) Dante Alighieri, after some really raucous party, wakes up in an alleyway somewhere on the wrong side of town. As he tries to regain his bearings, he sees a strange man in a robe. He introduces himself as Virgil, ancient Roman author of the Aeneid. Grimly, he tells young Dante to follow him on a trip to the farthest reaches of the underworld. Unmoored, confused, and possibly still hung over, he accepts this proposition. Going down a seemingly normal tunnel that stretches for some time, deeper and darker into the abyss, they arrive on the other side in another world filled with sinners and blasphemers of all types. They have reached Hell, and this is where their journey begins. They follow the labyrinthine trails, roads, and tunnels through each circle examining each horror sinners have to endure for their indiscretions(Alighieri’s structure of Hell looked much like a bullseye, where the outer circles were reserved for the lesser but still punishable sinners, and the inner circles were reserved for the more serious sinners). Together, the ancient poet and the confounded young man discover the true depth of suffering in Hell, and just what it means to go against God’s ways and what effect that can have on your life. What terrors will they find as they travel deeper into the underworld? What will Dante gleam from all this he sees before him? Why doesn’t somebody stab God right in His neck for being such a jerk to human beings?

So, the first thing that I have to say is that this movie is really fun. The paper dolls, lovingly rendered with obvious care and attention to detail, are the biggest draw for me. The use of hand-drawn cut-out paper puppets is so refreshing, and the dynamics of such a concept are fantastic. When Dante has a lump in his throat, they stick out a rod with a drawing of a throat which has a lump in it, place it in front of his throat in the regular puppet, then move it up and down to create the “illusion” of him swallowing hard! Great stuff! The tortures are very well thought out and very in tune with the style. When a man’s skin is ripped off in real life, it is horrifying. When a paper puppet’s skin is ripped off, it crosses a threshold in your brain and you can’t help but laugh. And an awesome fact for you kids of the 90’s out there: the head puppeteer, producer, and writer of this movie is Paul Zaloom, aka Beakman from Beakman’s World! You can feel his style ooze out of Dante’s character, who is just as sarcastic and wry as he was on that show. Also keep an eye out for him as Satan!

This modern update of Dante’s Italian masterpiece is WAY funnier than the original, that’s for sure. Let’s just say you’ll meet a lot of the people you think are going to Hell here in this film; Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Fox News reporters and the like. Some people have the classic punishments for their sins (Those who commit suicide are turned into trees, the river of blood for those who committed violent acts), but there are some new twists on the classics. Men who were pimps in life are shown here not marching for eternity like in the original, but are actually pimped out for eternity by a badass woman named Celia (nice!). The city of Dis is here a planned community, complete with pushy salesmen. There is a lot to laugh at here, I was pleasantly surprised to find.

Oh, and did I mention the voice acting talent is great! The voice talent for this project is great! They booked James Cromwell to be Virgil! He is wonderful of course as the ancient elder, and his voice is just so damn commanding! Dermot Mulroney is Dante, and he gives the story a uniquely modern flare to it with his brisk sarcasm. Matt Walsh and Matt Besser from Upright Citizens Brigade are here, and the legendary Dana Snyder plays not only Ulysses but also Senator Strom Thurmond! Great performances all around.

I think it’s a fun little piece of work. While the idea of a Heaven or Hell is completely unbelievable, this little movie takes the bold step of acknowledging that fact. Not with words or dialog that would reveal their own heresy of disbelief, but with the happy-go-luck paper doll style they use to portray this “grave concern”. I think it’s great, and while it might be heresy, I obviously don’t care. And besides that, it’s just a well-made animated fantasy film about the mystery at the end of life and one man’s psychotic take on it. Check it out for the animation alone; it’s far from two-dimensional (HAHAHA!). I give Dante’s Inferno 8 heretical Condoleezza Rices out of 10!

Tomorrow is another surprise film! Get ready for it!