Saturday, May 16, 2009

Real Archaeologist Digs Up Fact, Fiction of 'Angels & Demons'

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I love this stuff!

May 15th 2009
By Kristin Romey

Like we've said before, taking potshots at the scientific inaccuracies of Hollywood blockbusters is as easy as poking fun at the ShamWow guy. But there are some truly scary realities in "Angels & Demons," the sequel to "The Da Vinci Code." And, of course, some scarily obvious falsehoods.

Early on in the movie a potentially catastrophic vial of antimatter is stolen from CERN setting the plot in motion. Antimatter sounds like a fantasy sci-fi movie product, but it has been created -- at the cost of about $1,772 trillion per ounce. Why? Because it takes enormous energy to create in particle accelerators like CERN. (Remember CERN is the European Organization for Nuclear Research. They've got the huge underground particle accelerator that was supposed to create a black hole and swallow the earth last fall, until an accident took everything offline. Cross your fingers for this fall, when they start the accelerator up again.)

The only reassuring news about antimatter besides its prohibitive cost? The fact that, at this point, there's no way to store it, much less broadcast it on the Internet.

The Vatican Leadership
Oh Vatican, oh Vatican, who's the most murderous of them all? Yep, probably because of the lousy press from the Catholic Church that followed "The Da Vinci Code," this film played nice with Catholicism's major domos. But in real life, popes and cardinals haven't been innocent when it comes to murder, bribery, rape, incest, etc. Around the time that so many of the fantastic churches in the film were built, for instance, there was Pope Alexander VI (d. 1503). Known as the "STD Pope," Alex allegedly committed his first murder at 12, slept with his daughter, and died drinking poison intended for a potential cardinal.

The Illuminati
OK, here's the problem with the secret society chronology in this movie: most of the groups we're familiar with today, like the Freemasons and the Illuminati, were founded during the Age of Enlightenment, which began in the 1700s. In fact, the Illuminati were founded in 1776 -- a good 100-150 years after the characters (Galileo, Bernini) mentioned in "Angels & Demons" existed. (By the way, the original Illuminati preferred to call themselves the "Perfectibilists," and "The Order of the Bees," neither of which is nearly as sexy or intimidating.)

Other, earlier "secret societies" known to pose a threat to the Church, like the Knights Templar, were ruthlessly stamped out by popes in the 1300s. So poor A&D author Dan Brown was essentially left with a secret society "dead zone" from 1400 to 1700 -- the time of Galileo.

The Swiss Guard
Let's talk about how badass the Swiss Guard is. Would you mess with a Chechen, a Colombian, or an Afghani? Multiply that by 10 and we have the Swiss. Crazy-ass, take-no-hostages mountain people -- these are the men who have ruthlessly guarded the Vatican for 500 years. And those nasty-looking halberds they carry? Renowned since the 16th century for efficiently piercing human skulls. They also carry assault rifles. So don't make fun of their striped pajamas and funny hats the next time you find yourself in Rome.

... is a load of crap. I'd love to teach it at Harvard too, but what our esteemed professor Dr. Robert Langdon does is actually some weird combo of western art history and anthropology.

Why is it impossible to teach "symbology"? Because those two crossed keys that mean "Vatican" in the West may mean something entirely different in say, Vietnam. And the whole elements-of-the-earth spiel that works for Langdon in Rome may mean nothing in the Peruvian desert. To be a symbologist, he'd have to have in-depth knowledge of all of the world's cultures in order to properly interpret symbols, which is impossible unless you're Stephen Hawking. Our dear Harvard professor doesn't even know Italian, for Pete's sake.

Kristin Romey is an anthropologist, explorer, former executive editor of Archeology Magazine and, most prestigiously, Asylum's scientific adviser.
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