'Angels & Demons' lands in Rome

Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor attend world premiere

ROME -- The world premiere of Ron Howard's "Angels & Demons" took place here Monday amid enthusiastic crowds and almost no evidence of the controversy that has surrounded the project since filming started in the Italian capital 11 months ago.

Howard, author Dan Brown, and stars Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor and Ayelet Zurer were among those on hand for the elaborate premiere at the Auditorium Parco della Musica, known in international film circles as the home of the Rome International Film Festival each October.

The venue is only about a mile from Vatican City, which attracted attention last year when it refused to grant filmmakers access to its sites. "Demons" has been Italian headline fodder ever since, and some church figures criticized the project, which features a controversial portrayal of the church. But there was no sign of protest Monday, and the only mention of the issue came from Howard.

"Despite all the supposed controversies, despite all that's been said, remember that it's just a film," Howard said in remarks before the screening began.

The helmer also elicited laughter from the mostly Italian crowd by discussing the process of making a major film in a city as chaotic as Rome. "There has been a lot of discussion in the press about the difficulties in making a big film like 'Angels & Demons' in Rome, but I have only one thing to say about that," Howard said. "It's all true."

Hanks also drew laughs, pretending he was a pitchman for Sony in tough economic times, calling attention to the faux sale of high-tech Sony home projectors in the lobby for "just" €96,000 ($128,000).

"A bargain at any price," Hanks said, pausing. "I said, at any price."

The screening started some 90 minutes later than scheduled, leaving the packed crowd inside fidgeting in their seats and watching a mind-numbing loop of the film's previews punctuated by interviews with young fans lined up along the red carpet outside. Sony might have anticipated the delays as each seat featured a small bag with the "Angels & Demons" logo on it and a few light snacks.

One unanticipated result of the delay was that the action-packed film's climax -- which happens at the Vatican at midnight -- ended up taking place almost exactly at midnight Rome time.

The elaborate setting Sony created at Auditorium Parco della Musica left no hint of economic hardship. The 30-foot-wide red carpet was lined with at least two dozen actors portraying the Renaissance-uniformed Swiss Guard that guard the Vatican and replicas of some of the statues that appear in the film, while the buildings were hung with oversized promotional posters.