The Da Vinci Code
When a film release results in controversy you might think that this would be devastating to the producers. Usually the opposite affect is obtained. There is nothing like banning a movie to make people who would otherwise not consider seeing to flock to the theaters. When I was a boy there was Catholic weekly paper, ‘The Tablet’ that had a list of movies with their ratings. All of my friends would conspire to see any film that was rated ‘C’ for condemned. There is nothing like making something forbidden to make people wan it more. Just look at how successful prohibition was in the thirties. Most recently this phenomenon occurred with the release of ‘The Da Vinci Code’ Based on the hugely successful book by Dan Brown the film was met with protests, bans and denouncement even before the official release. At the heart of this debate are the unorthodox religious themes of the story. What has to be remembered here is this is a thriller and a mystery. It is not a theological thesis nor is it intended as the basis for anyone’s faith. Repeat after me, ‘it is just a move, a made up story on film.’ This film has events and scripture inference that wrong but this is not the first film to take liberties with facts and I seriously doubt it will be the last. No one seems to question James Bond’s wristwatch turning into a laser gun even though that technology is implausible. While reviewing this film I tried to put the validity of the story aside and focus on the story telling. Unless the film is stated to be a documentary or a biography the facts should be taken with a huge grain of salt. This film is a work of fiction; it should be judged by the parameters of this genre and not something to change your life or affect how you express your faith.
As the film opens Jacques Saunière (Jean-Pierre Marielle) is being pursued by a cloaked man with a gun through the Main Gallery in the Louvre. Saunière is cornered by the man who reveals himself as an albino named Silas (Paul Bettany). Silas threatens Saunière with death unless he reveals the location of the keystone, Priory's clef de voûte. Frightened he tells the gaunt man that it is under the rose in the sacristy of Church of Saint-Sulpice. Silas politely thanks him before shooting him in the abdomen. While all of this is going on the focus shifts to an American symbologist, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) who is a guest lecturer in Paris. The professor is contacted by Capitan Bezu Fache (Jean Reno) of the Paris police. The Captain informs Langdon that he needs his help investigating a a crime scene. Langdon is taken to the Lourve where he sees the dying Saunière. Although mortally wounded the dying man managed to create a cryptic message using his own blood, ultraviolet ink and the position of his body. While most wounded men are fortunately if they get out a few words Saunière encrypted messages, mysterious numerical sequences and plea to his foster daughter Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) who just happens to be Paris policewoman. The message appears to implicate Langdon in the murder. When Sophie arrives at the scene she lets Langdon know that he is in mortal danger. The mystery starts to thicken as Langdon discovers that Fache has placed a tracking device on him. He tosses the device and Langdon and Spohie are off for a trek around the globe searching for clues. To make the plot even more complicated Sophie just may be Saunière’s granddaughter. The pair bounce from a bank vault in Paris to the French villa of Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen) and a church in London formerly belonging to the Knight’s Templar. As the mystery unfolds Langdon realizes that he is tracking the true location of the Holy Grail. This adds to the people hunting him by adding the forces of the Catholic Church and the Opus Dei society. As Langdon delves deeper into the symbols and their meanings he finds that Opus Dei has their own agenda and organization apart from the mainstream church. The secret behind all the violence and convert activities could result in a massive loss for the Catholic Church if it was to get out to the public.
This film may not work as a basis for faith but it does succeed as both a mystery and a thriller. As a mystery this is not a film to watch out of the corner of your eye while chatting with friends, it will require your complete attention to piece together the clues. Langdon has to use all his skills with symbology just to keep up with the secrets. He has to use Fibonacci numbers, a numeric sequence where the next number is the sum of the previous two to get into a safety deposit box. In that is a cryptex, a cylinder with movable wheels with letters on them. Getting the right sequence of letters will spell a word crucial to the next step. Just about the only thing Langdon doesn’t get to do is buy a box of cereal to get a Captain Video secret decoder ring. As a thriller it has everything you need for a good time. Langdon travels to exotic locations, chased by hit men, clerics and the police. Director Ron Howard is talented but is one flaw here is he does need some more experience in the action sequences. While the thrills are there he is not in the league of a John Woo. What makes the thriller aspect work is more in the mind than just a series of stunts. Like the rest of the film the thrills are in the head more than the eyes. Howard had to pace this film slower than many would have liked. It was necessary to allow the audience a chance to get the clues and put them together. While some may see this as plodding it is closer to a novel in flow. There are a lot of differences here from the novel. What has to be remembered is the book was very complicated and some adaptation was necessary to bring it to the screen. Perhaps in anticipation of a negative reaction the character of Langdon was toned down here. He is not as accepting of the ultimate secret as he was in the novel. There is one mystery never explained, who told Tom Hanks to get that haircut and why?
Most people became fans of Tom Hanks while he was best known for silly comedies and more romantic faire. I have to admire any successful actor who tries to take on new and unusual roles as Hanks has. Here he is believable as a modern Indiana Jones, professor one minute and man of action and daring the next. Hanks can combine the every man quality with someone capable of decoding the most complex secrets. This allows his performance to pull the audience in and keep us watching. Audrey Tautou is also well cast as the young woman along for the ride. There is a lack of real chemistry between her and Hanks but that make have worked out for the best. This was not intended as a romance movie, which would have been a fatal sidetrack considering how complex the plot is. As always Ian McKellen is fantastic. With his experience on stage and screen he commands ever scene he is in. He can play threatening in a quite fashion, far more foreboding than any more overt danger.
Sony Pictures’ DVD release of this film is well done. The technical specifications go beyond contemporary standards. The video is flawless. The colors jump off the screen with realism. There is no over saturation and the contrast is impeccable especially considering all the scenes set in dim light. The Dolby 5.1 audio is explosive. All six speakers will get a workout here. Each channel is distinct and well balanced. The sub woofer is used with discretion and always with great effect. There are both a standard widescreen version and pan & scan version available. Forget the full screen variation; you need to see every pixel just to keep up with the plot. There is also a special gift set available that has a little cryptex to call your own and the ‘journals of Langdon. Those that have been influenced by the controversy can now judge for themselves. Fans of the book will have to adjust to the differences but will still enjoy the work. If you want a good mystery/thriller than this is one for your collection.