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‘The Da Vinci Code’

From the first scene, when Louvre curator Jacques Sauniere rumbles through his Grand Gallery to avoid a gun-wielding albino monk, you get the sense that this adaptation—if you’ve read the book—might be disappointing.

From the first scene, when Louvre curator Jacques Sauniere rumbles through his Grand Gallery to avoid a gun-wielding albino monk, you get the sense that this adaptation—if you’ve read the book—might be disappointing.

 

After all the hype about the movie version of Dan Brown’s hugely successful and divisive 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code, what’s on screen is left to speak for itself. And now the movie, which opens nationwide today to what will doubtless be huge box office, feels like it could have used a bit more decoding in the translation.

 

The book’s gist is probably by now familiar: Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) finds himself on the trail of the Holy Grail with French cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou). But the grail turns out to be not a literal cup, but instead a cache of secrets having to do with the “sacred feminine.” So volatile is this information that some sects of Christianity will kill to preserve the secret.

 

The book snapped right along and was widely regarded as being an easy sell for cinema. Characters zip around the Louvre, cathedrals, high-tech banks and chateaus. But what everyone missed in this equation was that the book’s real “appeal” was the ideas—controversy and all—and those ideas actually don’t need the cinema.

 

In fact, probably much to the pleasure of many in Christendom, any punch those ideas had in print didn’t make the leap to screen. Sure, when Langdon and Neveu seek the help of grail expert Sir Leigh Teabing (played spot-on by Sir Ian McKellen), audiences get a sturdy dose of what some consider heretical thought.

 

But significantly, the filmmakers—director Ron Howard, producer Brian Grazer and writer Akiva Goldsman—pulled some punches. In the novel, as Teabing shares the alternative mind-blowing account of the grail (i.e. that it might actually be the womb of Mary Magdalene, which carried the child of Jesus Christ), Langdon has no counterpoint to offer.

 

But in the movie, that’s virtually all Langdon does. What Teabing calls evidence, Langdon calls “theories.” When Teabing takes aim at Constantine and the Council of Nicea, Langdon is there to make sure we don’t jump to too quick a conclusion. When Teabing suggests early Christians may have had it in for pagans, Langdon reminds Neveu it could have been the other way around.

 

The Langdon of the movie is a significantly different Langdon of the book. Even before Langdon is allowed to disagree with Teabing, one gets hints that Columbia Pictures was working to make the picture a little less threatening.

 

When it falls to Langdon to explain to Neveu the Priory of Sion and the Knights Templar, he uses the term “myth” on more than one occasion. His brow even creases during the explanation, as if he can’t quite believe what he’s saying.

 

Ironically, the movie—especially the first half—feels slower than the book. This unfortunate pacing comes despite a good performance from Paul Bettany as the misdirected albino monk and Jean Reno as Capt. Bezu Fache, who is trying to bring the curator’s murderer to justice.

 

There are plenty of narrative changes, omissions and collapses—like Langdon trading a trip to King’s College Library in London for an Internet search via cell phone instead.

 

But perhaps the biggest problem with this “Code” is its melodrama—overly swelled music, too many extreme close-ups, dialogue that’s too straightforward. In fairness to everyone, if you’re making a movie in which Tom Hanks tells another character she’s a descendant of Jesus, it’s hard to imagine a style other than melodrama. What “worked” in the book just doesn’t on screen—at least not as it’s done here.

 

There’s maybe three laughs, two scares and one moral tacked onto the end: It’s what you believe that really matters. OK, maybe two morals, the other being: If a descendant of Jesus were to appear, would she destroy faith or renew it?

 

In the end, Howard and Company tried to adapt arguably the most scrutinized, controversial, read, debated, loved and hated novel of this young century. The attempt is noble. But perhaps theirs was an impossible quest …

 

Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.

 

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing images, violence, some nudity, thematic material, brief drug references and sexual content.

Director: Ron Howard

Writer: Akiva Goldsman (based on the novel by Dan Brown)

Cast: Robert Langdon: Tom Hanks; Sophie Neveu: Audrey Tautou; Leigh Teabing: Ian McKellen; Bezu Fache: Jean Reno; Bishop Aringarosa: Alfred Molina; Silas: Paul Bettany.

 

The movie’s official Web site is here.

 

Also read:

 

Upcoming ‘Da Vinci Code’ Movie Sparks Plentiful Resources (feature by Cliff Vaughn)

Fact, Fiction and Faith (column by Jim Evans)