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‘Angels and Demons’ bows in Italy

Vatican unprovoked by premiere's location

Three years after “The Da Vinci Code” raised ire among Catholics, Sony took its follow-up film “Angels and Demons” right up to the Vatican’s doorstep, bowing the film Monday at Rome’s Parco della Musica Auditorium — a mile away from St. Peter’s Basilica.

Director Ron Howard and stars Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer, Stellan Skarsgard and Pierfrancesco Favino, along with Sony chief Howard Stringer, Sony Pictures co-chairmen Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal, walked a red carpet lined with faux Vatican Swiss Guards and half-angel, half-demon statues.

But this time around, the Catholic Church opted for a low-key response, keeping a lid on the scathing polemics that Sony capitalized on in 2006 when high-ranking prelates urged a boycott of “The Da Vinci Code” just as the bigscreen version of Dan Brown’s bestseller opened at Cannes.

“I’ll comment only if the film production buys 1,000, 10-year subscriptions to our official newspaper,” joked the Pope’s press secretary, Father Federico Lombardi, to the local media.

The Sony marketing forces have been in high gear, with 260 international journos jetting in for the launch.

At a packed presser Sunday, Howard lamented how last year during production in Rome, Vatican officials used “back channels” to prevent him from shooting in areas and churches outside its jurisdiction, as reported at the time. The production used the Caserta Royal Palace in Southern Italy as a stand-in for the Vatican.

Meanwhile, the only local church official on record about “Angels and Demons,” in which Hanks reprises his role as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, who’s probing a secret society threatening to blow up the Vatican, is 102-year-old bishop Monsignor Antonio Rosario Mennona. On Saturday, he called the film “highly denigrating, defamatory and offensive” to the Catholic Church.

U.S. Catholic League president Bill Donohue on Monday issued a statement asking that a disclaimer be inserted in the “Angels and Demons” titles saying that the movie is a work of fiction. A similar demand was made by India’s censorship board.

“The Da Vinci Code” grossed $758 million worldwide, a tough take to match.

“Angels and Demons” opens in Italy on 800 screens and in some other European territories May 13 before bowing Stateside (on about 3,500 screens) and worldwide May 15.

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