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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "The Da Vinci Code" (2006)

There is a group of people who believe that if you go see “The Da Vinci Code,” you will go to Hell. I think they got it backwards. I think that if you go to Hell, you will likely see “The Da Vinci Code” while you’re there…over and over and over again. The people who protest this movie should have to sit through it like the rest of us before they give themselves—and the movie and the book and the board game and the trivia game and the endless History Channel documentaries—more press. After all, people have believed crazier things than that which are brought up in Dan Brown’s trifle of a novel, such as flying a plane into a building, which will guarantee them an afterlife where they will be given an endless supply of virgins (why anybody would want to subject themselves to an eternity of really awkward sex is beyond me, but I digress).

Let’s just say Ron Howard’s screen adaptation is not a pleasure to sit through. It meanders, stumbles, stammers and when it’s not doing that, it gives us flashbacks upon flashbacks meant to enrich our involvement with the characters and the “history” they are exploring. I have read Brown’s book and found it to be an entertaining little thriller with some interesting theories about Christianity and Pagan religions. Nothing more, nothing less. When I heard that Ron Howard would direct it, I guessed that he would tone down some of the rhetoric and just concentrate on the “thriller” aspect of the story, so as not to offend people. Howard is not one to rock the boat.

It turns out I was wrong, but not in a good way. Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman stay so true to the text that the movie actually suffers greatly as a result. On one level I have to admire the approach, because what novelist wants to see their work torn to shreds and simplified via Hollywood (as has been the tradition since the early 20th century)? On the other hand, it’s almost a gutless cop-out. What works on the page doesn’t necessarily work on film. In fact, by sticking so closely to Dan Brown’s story structure, it actually exposes (even further) what a silly book it is and the fans will likely leave the theater embarrassed that they liked it at all. I know I did.

With a novel, the writer has the freedom to fully explain certain leaps of logic. I knew as I read “The Da Vinci Code that it was absurd, but I enjoyed it anyway because I wanted to know what would happen next and how the story would come together. Every chapter ended with me wanting to read the next chapter. When I finished it, I couldn’t decide whether or not it would make a good movie. It is densely packed with theory, exposition, backstories upon backstories and long stretches of dialogue meant to push the story forward. It’s odd to me that a movie that feels so slow can also be in such a hurry to squeeze in as many of Brown’s theories as possible.

Aside from the idea Brown states that we all have a vision of God when we have an orgasm, I don’t think Howard or Goldsman have left anything out. As a result, the movie makes great leaps of logic that cannot possibly be taken seriously by a non-initiated audience. Like, how is it that symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) knows that a phrase MUST be an anagram that must be decoded in order to retrieve the next clue? And how is it that he’s able to do it successfully in less than 30 seconds? And how come when Langdon and his cohort Sohpie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) foil investigator Captain Fache (Jean Reno) and his crew (which causes them to leave the museum and chase after them) that no one stays at the museum to keep an eye on the dead body? And why does Langdon feel the need to tell a guy he just met what the two triangles mean? Does he say this to everyone every time he looks at a triangle? Because that’s just weird.

The problems don’t end there. Hanks seems to be at a loss for how to play this. He can’t make it work and his performance is actually laughable. It’s probably not his fault, but Hanks has made failing movies work in the past. He doesn’t seem to believe a single word he’s saying here. Toutau is no help. She’s mainly there to follow him around and listen to him and Ian McKellen (the Grail expert, Sir Leigh Teabing) expound upon the whereabouts of Jesus’ bloodline and Mary Magdelene’s tomb. McKellen seems to be the only one who suits his role well. At least someone is enjoying themselves.

I’ve decided to bypass the story explanation in this review, because you probably already know it and are therefore only interested in how it compares to the book. If you’ve read the book, you probably already saw a better movie in your head. If you haven’t read the book and are curious about the movie, I strongly recommend waiting for a rental. It’s not worth paying your hard-earned money just because “everyone’s talking about it!” Next week, they’ll be talking about something else. The next time this will be a big deal will probably be when WalMart has to answer back to a bunch of pesky church people about carrying DVDs of this movie in their store. Pretty soon, this whole phenomenon will fade into the history books. It will simply be remembered as a silly little book turned into an even sillier movie and Hell will have its hands full with far greater, more relevant evil-doings.

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