Angels and Demons: Decrypting Dan Brown’s Formula


Underwhelming But Entertaining
I recently watched Angels and Demons, the film adaptation of Dan Brown’s novel. Like The Da Vinci Code, I was a bit underwhelmed, but only because I had thoroughly enjoyed the novels. And invariably, what your imagination invokes from words is a much more personally compelling endeavor than what someone else invokes from them.

However, I still enjoyed watching the movies. It’s thrilling to actually see the cathedrals, statuary, works of art, and cryptic objects that the author describes in the books.

Ron Howard provides his usual bland but workman directorial vision. He doesn’t have Spielberg’s ability to emotionally manipulate the audience. Nor does he have the ability to thrill the viewer like any number of action/thriller directors. Nowhere was I moved into any strong feeling about any character. But that’s alright. At least he entertains.

Tom Hanks kind of mails it in, but still manages to delivers a fine performance. The female lead was remarkably uncharismatic and had zero chemistry with Hanks, which was surreal. In the novel, there was a lot of romantic tension between these two characters. They should have casted Megan Fox and called it a day.

Narrative Patterns
Angels and Demons was billed as the sequel to The Da Vinci Code, but actually, the novels were written as the other way around. I’ve read all four of Dan Brown’s novels, including Digital Fortress and Deception Point.

By the time I read the third of these novels, I was able to predict the plot. All four have the following elements.

• Each novel has a young, smart, attractive women as a lead character. She is highly educated in some kind of science, has father (or grandfather) issues, and is involved with a…

Middle-aged academic who is obsessed with some obscure specialization. In Angels and DaVinci, he’s the main character. In Digital and Deception, he’s more of a supporting character.

• A tough cop appears to be a bad guy, but has been manipulated by some sinister shadow figure.

• This shadow figure is somehow involved in a secret society or cabal, whether it be religious, governmental or scientific. The shadow figure uses a…


• A cold-blooded assassin. He runs amok and tries to kill the protagonists. He kills a lot of other people during the proceedings. They have some element of freakishness or weirdness about them. There’s an albino assassin, a deaf assassin, a member of an ancient order of assassins, and there’s also a Delta force squad.
• There are many secrets and cryptographic mysteries to puzzle over.

• And finally, the shocking twist (but so very predictable) is that the most helpful benefactor of the protagonists is revealed to be the main bad guy.


Once I gleaned these patterns, I was able to predict the ending. Nevertheless, I still am a big fan of Dan Brown because the stories are well researched, the twists are meticulously plotted, and the guilty pleasure of reading low-brow pulp fiction is expertly painted over with quasi-scholarly conspiracy theories. How’s that for a left-handed compliment.