by Jef Burnham
Now available on DVD from TLA Releasing.
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Dante’s Inferno is like nothing you have ever seen. The classical Virgil takes a modern-day Dante through a series of Hell-inspired American cityscapes. The gluttonous eat themselves to monstrous size in a landfill and the false prophets boil in Jacuzzis. We are preview to the fates of not only those doomed by Dante himself some 700 years ago, but L. Ron Hubbard, Richard Nixon, and SUV owners. Sinners are torn apart, eaten, and clubbed for eternity in airport terminals; but here’s the thing: the entire film is animated with puppets.
Don’t let the term “animated” dissuade you as it does so many Americans instantly. These puppets allow the filmmakers to do so much more than one would be able to in any live-action, R-rated film. With 43 sets and hundreds of puppets (50+ puppets of Dante alone) hand-crafted over the course of 7 months and filmed in 12 days with special lenses to give added depth to the miniature set pieces, this is one of the most impressive independent productions I’ve encountered.
Dermot Mulroney and James Cromwell lend their voices to Dante and Virgil, respectively. As Virgil, Cromwell gives the role its necessary air of timeless wisdom and superiority. But it is Mulroney who makes the thing. His melancholic gravelly reading is the springboard from which all those little puppets and pieces manage to achieve the grit and depravity required to make this or any Hell believable.
Dante’s Inferno is ambitious to say the least, and succeeds with ample parts humor and satire, taking many a crack at the current political situation of the world. I recommend you see this movie. If not for the show-stopping musical number about the inherent evil of lobbying, then to learn through what technicality Ronald Reagan and Adolf Hitler came to share the same eternal punishment in this version of Hell.
Jef Burnham is a writer and film critic in Chicago.
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