|The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellan, Paul Bettany, Jean Reno, Alfred Molina
Director: Ron Howard
When news broke that Dan Brown’s highly controversial best-selling novel, “The Da Vinci Code,” would be adapted for the big screen, the Christian community was sent into an uproar. The integrity of the church was to be contested yet again, and by the same “lies” that caused a tidal wave of worldwide protests the first time. It’s a good thing that Jack Bauer didn’t get involved (producer Brian Grazer originally presented the idea as a possible plot line for “24”), because though the film didn’t receive nearly as much backlash as was expected, several protests still transpired.
Fortunately for Sony Pictures, the most notorious of all the protests wasn’t even one regarding religion, but rather Tom Hanks’ ungodly hairdo. Then again, maybe that was the plan. Contract Hanks to grow out his hair in an effort to diminish the more fragile issues at hand? Possible, but highly unlikely, because no matter how long the debate over religion persists, only one thing is clear: people only see what they believe. It’s true, the author’s theories can seem a bit preposterous at times, but they’re nonetheless intriguing to anyone with an open mind. And if you weren’t convinced by Brown’s theories the first time, you probably never will be.
While in Paris to deliver a lecture on the importance of symbols in history, Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Hanks) is called on by the French police when the body of Jacque Sauniere (Jean-Pierre Marielle), curator at the famous Lourve museum, is found dead. The body, arranged in the style of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, also bears a self-deprecating cut on his chest in the shape of a pentagram, as well as a hidden message (written in invisible ink) on the floor. The riddle leads Langdon to a series of clues that all point to the Priory of Scion, a mythical secret society dating back to the days of Jesus Christ, and the supposed protectors of the Holy Grail. Unable to solve the riddle alone, Langdon enlists the help of a French cryptologist (Audrey Tautou) and a Grail expert (Sir Ian McKellen) on his way to uncovering an ancient historical secret so powerful it could destroy the very foundation of the Christian faith.
Adapted for the screen by Akiva Goldsman (best known for his work on “Cinderella Man” and “A Beautiful Mind”), the film version of “The Da Vinci Code” is about as close to the real thing as you could possibly get. It’s almost as if director Ron Howard used the novel as a shooting script, with a majority of the scenes remaining intact, and only a few minor changes made for pacing and dramatic effect. Even more surprising is Hanks’ commendable performance as Langdon, who embraces the role as his own without jeopardizing the character’s defining features. And while supporting turns by Tautou and McKellen are also praiseworthy, Paul Bettany steals the show as the villainous albino monk Silas.
The film itself has a few problems, namely with the verbose dialogue and painfully long runtime (149 minutes), but Howard keeps it chugging along at a respectable pace, thanks most in part to the novel’s short-and-sweet method of storytelling. The filmmakers’ decision not to shy away from the story’s atheistic undertones is also a wise one, and though the film is sure to cause some controversy because of it (particularly among the “The Passion of the Christ” crowd), it’s a sacrifice that would have been unacceptable to make. Even so, “The Da Vinci Code” is the kind of film that allows the audience to see only what they believe, and unless you’re an admirer of Brown’s thrilling novel, you’ll quickly find that there’s not much else to enjoy.
Warner Bros. has done it again. They’ve released yet another two-disc special edition that’s not entirely worthy of such a treatment. It’s not that the film isn’t good enough, but the included material just doesn’t require that much room to yield introducing a second disc into the mix. Regardless of my personal gripes, the DVD release of “The Da Vinci Code” is actually quite informative. Appearing exclusively on the second disc (the first is reserved for the film), the special features are highlighted by a two-part making-of (“Filmmaker’s Journey”) and three separate featurettes (“A Portrait of Langdon,” “Who is Sophie Neveu?” and “Unusual Suspects”) covering the respective casting of each character. Also included on the DVD is a short discussion with Dan Brown about the surprise success of the novel and his upcoming book, an in-depth look at location shoots (“Magical Places”), cast/crew experiences with the Mona Lisa and a music featurette.