Hollywood pays us a visit

25 February 2009

Tom Hanks, Ayelet Zurer, and Ron Howard pose in front of the Globe (courtesy of Claudia Marcelloni)

ATLAS got a little taste of Tinseltown on February 12th, as director Ron Howard, and actors Tom Hanks and Ayelet Zurer rolled into town to promote their new film – an adaption of Dan Brown’s bestseller Angels and Demons.

“It’s not usual for CERN to be colliding with Hollywood,” joked CERN’s Director of Research, Sergio Bertolucci, addressing a crowd of 170 entertainment journalists from all over the world who were packed into the Globe for an exclusive screening of 8.5 minutes of the new film.

At the press conference that followed, Director Ron Howard, who was sporting a CERN cap, took a photograph of himself as he stepped onstage in the Globe so that he could “remember [the] moment forever”.

The stars of his film clearly shared his excitement. “I love seeing science fiction becoming science fact – and I can tell you, it looks like a bunch of nuts and bolts and pipes,” said Hanks, who had toured the ATLAS cavern earlier in the day. “It’s incredibly exciting,” he added. “Magic isn’t happening here, magic is being explained here.”

Hanks admitted to scoring a D in physics in school but said that the explanations of CERN antimatter expert, Rolf Landua, who acted as a scientific adviser on the film, had made it seem much easier to digest. He and co-star Zurer told of how they had passed a copy of popular particle physics book The God Particle between them in preparation for their roles. Zurer described visiting ATLAS as “like seeing the first spaceship before it was launched … the first steps of man into the unknown.”

Angels and Demons follows Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Hanks) as he uncovers a plan to annihilate the Vatican in an explosion of light, using 0.25 grams of antimatter stolen from CERN. Landua confirmed the basic premise that when matter and antimatter meet, their mass is transformed into pure energy. But he allayed fears that the film could ever play out in real life – annihilating all the antimatter that has ever been manufactured at CERN would barely be enough to power a single light bulb for more than a few minutes.

Landua also addressed the film’s fundamental subtext – that science and religion, like angels and demons, or matter and antimatter – are polar opposites that cannot exist side-by-side. “Physicists at CERN are very tolerant of religion, and many of them are believers themselves,” he began, adding, “The mystery [of our existence] is the grand unifying theory of all mankind – and science and religion are both trying to find answers in different ways.”

Hanks, who is rumoured to have shown an interest in returning to CERN to switch on the LHC in October, echoed these sentiments: “[CERN] is a great observatory where you can go and see the unseen. A wonderful combination of school, church, museum, and time machine.”

Angels and Demons is due to be released in May 2009. For an in-depth look at how the physics portrayed in the film compares to reality at here, CERN's public pages break down the fact and fiction.




Ceri Perkins

ATLAS e-News