Dan Brown's new novel 'Origin' pits artificial intelligence against religion

The American author, whose stories swirl with conspiracy theories, symbolism and secrets, has published his latest novel. In "Origin," Brown's protagonist Robert Langdon once again embarks on a perilous adventure.

Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon barely survived his previous adventures. An unfolding series of events always led him into suspenseful, hair-raising situations.

Lifestyle | 12.10.2016

He has survived a fall from a helicopter, an antimatter explosion and countless other potential death traps. He has had to confront free masons, Templar knights, and secret brotherhoods, and has crisscrossed Europe on his hunt to solve mysteries. He has cracked hidden codes in famous Renaissance paintings and even temporarily lost his memory. Langdon's faced all this, just because of his expertise in ancient symbolism and iconography.

Now Robert Langdon faces the future in Dan Brown's new novel, "Origin," the latest book to feature the scholarly, tweed-sporting professor as its main protagonist.

The unanswered questions of human life

Langdon's former student and hyper-intelligent billionaire, Edmond Kirsch, impressively presents a vision of the future when he invites his friend and once-professor, along with other guests, to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Kirsch, a convinced atheist, wants to demonstrate that no god is needed for creation. He also seeks to prove that god's help is not necessary to answer the remaining questions about humanity, namely, where we come from and where we go after death.

World religions are alarmed. And (Spoiler alert!) Kirsch does not survive his lecture. But he leaves behind a digital adviser in the form of "Winston," an artificial intelligence (AI) device that fits in one's ear. Langdon has this AI tool at his side, as well as the requisite beautiful woman — in this case the head of the Guggenheim Museum, Ambra Vidal.

Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

"Origin" kicks off at the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao in Spain's Basque country

Adventure amid famous Spanish architecture

Langdon now has to discover Edmond Kirsch's secret by, once again, cracking a code. But this time it's a computer code. Despite this technological twist, the code's clues and building blocks are hidden in the works of the old artistic masters, just as in past adventures.

Madrid Spanien Königlicher Sitz Sankt Laurentius von El Escorial

El Escorial, built by Spanish King Phillip II, is another location for the twisting plot of "Origin"

Langdon's search for the answer to the question of human origin takes him and Vidal to Spain's architectural treasures. Along with the Guggenheim Museum, Barcelona's Sagrada Familia cathedral and the residential Casa Mila, both designed by Antoni Gaudi, as well as Madrid's Royal Palace and the former royal residence of El Escorial provide the setting for the story.

Just like Brown's other novels, such as "The Da Vinci Code" (2003) and "Inferno" (2013), "Origin" is perfect film material, even if solely due to its settings. A film production of the new novel could certainly be worth it. The previous three Robert Langdon Hollywood films featuring Tom Hanks in the title role were all box-office hits.

Read more: On location with the Dan Brown movie 'Inferno'

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Langdon keeps running

The film adaptations of Dan Brown's stories offer exciting scavenger hunts through catacombs, libraries, crypts and churches - along with pretty young women accompanying Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks). In the latest blockbuster, "Inferno," Felicity Jones depicts the smart doctor Sienna Brooks. The two of them have to prevent a deadly plague from decimating humanity.

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Second story, first film

The first film featuring Robert Langdon, "Sacrilege - The Da Vinci Code" (2006), was the adaptation of Dan Brown's second novel of the series. The Harvard professor of symbology heads to the Louvre in Paris, where the curator of the museum is found dead. Hidden clues suggest that the murder has something to do with the works of Leonardo da Vinci and a dark conspiracy.

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Paris - London - Paris

In the "Da Vinci Code" case, Langdon is accompanied by the granddaughter of the murdered curator. Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) is a cryptologist. In Paris and London, they try to solve the "cryptex," the key to the Holy Grail, and are prosecuted and threatened not only by a traitor, but also by members of the Opus Dei order.

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The Church condemns Dan Brown's novels

Dan Brown's novels didn't make him popular with Church authorities. Catholics did not want to hear that Jesus Christ had a child with Mary Magdalene or that the "Holy Grail" could be the most precious relic of Catholicism. Brown's claims that the sect-like order Opus Dei was an elitist branch of the Vatican were also deemed unacceptable.

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Antimatter in the Vatican?

Langdon's second case, "Illuminati": In the Swiss particle accelerator CERN, physicists have managed to produce antimatter for the first time. The container is then stolen as the election of the new Pope is taking place in the Vatican. Meanwhile, the Illuminati, a secret and forbidden order, has kidnapped four cardinals, threatening the destruction of Vatican.

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Where will the next Cardinal be killed?

Together with the CERN physicist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), Langdon is on the trail of the Illuminati. The two of them race through secret corridors under the Vatican and run through Rome to save the Cardinals and decipher coded messages, while the antimatter container hides under St. Peter's Basilica - a ticking time bomb.

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No filming at the Vatican

"Illuminati" was released in 2009 in theaters. The Church was portrayed more positively in this second film. Yet the Vatican didn't want to be associated in any way with Dan Brown's name, and prohibited all filming in the entire Roman diocese. The locations of the book all had to be reproduced in studio.

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Third film: 'Inferno'

This time the key to the case is in the Boticelli painting "Dante's Inferno," which depicts the various stages of hell. This is where a mad billionaire wants to send humanity. The Inferno is said to be a deadly virus. Langdon and his partner only have 48 hours to prevent the plague. But Langdon has a problem: he suffers from memory loss.

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Drone hunts in enchanting gardens

Here too, the two main characters spend most of their time running away from the bad guys, trying to prevent a catastrophe before it's too late. This time, the production team had less problems obtaining permits for film locations: All scenes were shot in Venice, Florence, Istanbul and Budapest. This drone hunt takes place in the Boboli Gardens in Florence.

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