ROME (Reuters) - The movie sequel to "The Da Vinci Code" is being greeted as a faster-paced, more gripping film than the original and is respectful to Catholics, director Ron Howard said at its Rome premiere on Monday.
"Angels & Demons," a film adaptation of the novel by Dan Brown, sees symbologist Robert Langdon return to the big screen to try to help the Vatican rescue kidnapped cardinals who are being killed on the hour.
He also must stop a ticking time bomb by tracking down clues linked to a centuries-old secret society called the Illuminati.
"Everyone is telling me that they find this movie to be more entertaining, more exciting, more engrossing," Howard told Reuters on the red carpet.
Brown told a news conference ahead of the premiere that his novel "Angels & Demons" was an easier fit to cinema "and this difference really shows through in this movie."
Howard's adaptation of "The Da Vinci Code" was a commercial success, earning $750 million, but it was panned by critics and offended some Catholics. Trade publication Variety called it "stodgy" and "grim."
Tom Hanks told Reuters the pace of the new movie was "bang, bang. There's no time for anything."
"It really gallops at quite a pace," he said.
He joked that also meant no love scenes with the movie's leading woman, a physicist played by actress Ayelet Zurer, who accompanies Langdon on his search through Rome and the Vatican.
"We really don't have time to make out or go to bed when cardinals are being killed on the hour," Hanks said at the weekend news conference.
"We tried to work it into screenplay over and over again. Is there a hotel the cardinals can be held in? Isn't there a bigger car, with a bigger back seat?"
Zurer agreed, telling Reuters "you really can't sneak a love scene in the back of a car seat while you chase a murderer."
Howard has accused the Vatican of trying to hamper his filming in Rome of "Angels & Demons," which had to recreate scenes of the Vatican and some Rome churches in Los Angeles.
He has also blamed the Vatican for using its influence to get an event tied to the movie's Rome premiere canceled.
"They certainly didn't want to cooperate with (the movie)," Howard said.
"The Da Vinci Code" upset the Vatican and some Catholics because of its storyline, in which Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had children, creating a royal bloodline that Church officials kept secret for centuries.
Christianity teaches that Jesus never married, was crucified and rose from the dead.
But "Angels & Demons" does not raise questions about Jesus Christ. Howard said that was one possible reason why the Church has so far avoided the kind of open confrontation that characterized its reaction to "The Da Vinci Code."
"The hot-button issues of 'The Da Vinci Code' spoke to some of the really fundamental principles of the faith. I think it was much more provocative," Howard said.
Vatican observers say the Church also appeared eager to avoid giving publicity to the movie by reacting to it.
"I hope the movie is very respectful to people of faith and we went out of our way to make sure that there are characters that make very valid arguments for all the good that the Church also accomplishes," Howard said.
Editing by Charles Dick