Angels & Demons (2009)

The Christians (1977)

In theaters, Roland Emmerich’s 2012 completes the job that Ron Howard’s Angels & Demons — new this week on DVD — began with an antimatter bomb: destroying St. Peter’s and the Vatican. It has been a rough year at the movies for the Holy See. Angels & Demons is a schizophrenic film, softened by Howard’s desire not to repeat the controversy of The Da Vinci Code, but ultimately unable to negate completely the anti-Catholic bones of Dan Brown’s story.

There’s a nice line about the Church feeding the hungry, a scurrilous back story is dropped, and Brown’s subversion of the conclave process is revised. Yet Brown’s lies about the Church’s war on science are retained, and even the assassin (no longer an Arab Muslim!) warns the heroes about the real villains: “These are men of God.” Bottom line: Create a world in which Jesus Christ is explicitly not God and Catholicism is a known fraud perpetuated by murderous cover-ups, and I can’t really care about any stories you might tell there.

Also new on DVD, The Christians is a 13-part, 11-hour documentary about the global impact of Christianity on the shape of history. Written and hosted by British author and game-show host Bamber Gascoigne, the documentary originally aired on the U.K.’s ITV in 1977.

Gascoigne looks at Christian history through the lens of culture and politics, conveying a sense of the diversity of Christian experience in different times and places, from Ethiopia’s ancient monasteries to the Polish church at Nova Huta, built in defiance of Soviet authorities.

Gascoigne isn’t a believer, and his reserve and wry grin suggest a level of irony, but he brings scholarly seriousness to his subject. His presentation of the historical data around Jesus, St. Paul and the early Christians is worthwhile, and some noteworthy figures, like Sts. Boniface and Francis, come off well, but contrasting figures and dark chapters — the Crusades, the Inquisition — are quite in evidence. Catholics may squirm through excesses of medieval devotion, but there are also welcome discoveries. Selection of material is uneven, but there’s enough here to reward critical viewing.

Content advisory: Angels & Demons: Some violent and gruesome imagery, including gory execution-style murders and a brief postmortem examination of a decomposing body; mixed treatment of religious themes. Mature viewing. The Christians: Mixed portrayal of Christian history requiring critical viewing.