DVD Review: The Da Vinci Code
By Patrick Luce Nov 12, 2006, 14:35 GMT
Despite some pacing issues, The Da Vinci Code manages to catch the entertaining elements of Dan Brown’s international bestseller, and holds your attention from start to finish. The film does take a few liberties with the book, but fans of the novel should still see enough of the original material to be happy.
Bringing such a hugely successful book to film was no easy matter, but director Ron Howard handles the chore well, and assembled an extremely talented cast to fill the roles that so many people had imagined in their heads while reading the book.
The film stars Tom Hanks - who steps into the main role of Brown’s hero Harvard Professor of Symbology Robert Langdon; Audrey Tautou - who embodies the mysterious Sophie Neveu; Sir Ian McKellen - who helps save the film as Sir Leigh Teabing; Jean Reno - who is solid in the role of Captain Bezu Fache; Paul Bettany - who manages to achieve the coldness of the Silas character; and Alfred Molina - who is wasted in the role of Bishop Manuel Aringarosa.
Adapting Brown’s famous novel fell to Akiva Goldsman – who handled writing duties on other Howard films like Cinderella Man and A Beautiful Mind as well as had a hand in penning sci-fi hits like I, Robot. Goldsman’s script works closely with the novel, and doesn’t stray too far from what Brown did in the book. There are some changes made (some for the better), but nothing groundbreaking that ruins the film or the book.
Since the book is so well known, I won’t spend much time going into the details of the plot. The film (which was a worldwide box-office hit with an estimated $750 million and cost an estimated $125 million to make) follows Professor Langdon as he is in Paris for a lecture on his new book. Langdon is then thrust into a mystery and conspiracy that could shake the foundations of Christianity.
Accused of murdering the Louvre chief curator, Langdon spends much of the movie on the run from the French police and following clues left to him that are centuries old and supposedly hold the answer to the location of The Holy Grail. These clues are in symbols and riddles spread through works of art (including that of Da Vinci).
Langdon is aided by the dead curator’s “granddaughter” Sophie Neveu – who has a mysterious past of her own, and by an old friend Sir Leigh Teabing – who is obsessed with finding the Grail and revealing its truth to the world. This obsession brings a twist into the movie towards the ending, but I won’t give it away in the review.
As Langdon chases down the clues, he also has to deal with a killer named Silas – who is also an albino and a devout follower of the Opus Dei sect of the Catholic faith. Although Silas is a stone cold killer, he is truly a believer in his faith, and also believes that he is doing God’s work in trying to discover the location of the Grail before Langdon and the others. He is following the orders of Bishop Manuel Aringarosa – who also believes he is doing the right thing for his faith. Both will learn the truth of their actions before the film is finished.
While I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code, I had some problems with the film – mostly in its pacing. The film starts off fast, and it is almost like Howard and company automatically assumed everyone has already read the book. Certain early clues are explained, but if you blink you might miss that explanation. If you haven’t read the book (which I have for the record), you could be lost in the first 20 minutes of the film, and be finished watching it before it has a chance to get going.
Howard then slows the film’s pace to a crawl towards the middle where Langdon and Teabing literally spoon feed the audience everything that is going on in the movie and all the “controversial” aspects of the book and the Grail. While this history lesson is interesting, it completely kills the suspense that had been building to this point.
The lesson gets so boring that you almost forget you are supposed to be watching a thriller. With that said, it does give the audience not familiar with the book a chance to catch up on what is going on and see all the nifty codes that Brown put in his novel – such as the V (the symbol for sacred feminine) in Da Vinci’s The Last Supper painting. Howard then cranks the pace back up to full speed as we are off to England to solve the Da Vinci code and discover the truth about the Holy Grail.
So what works in the film? Well, the casting is extremely good. I will admit that I had my doubts when Hanks was cast as Langdon, but once again the Oscar-winning actor proved he can take on any role. Hanks (weird hair and all) does a solid job in the role, balancing the character between a scholar and a quasi action hero. He isn’t Indiana Jones, but he does know how to throw a punch and save the girl. The actor handled the character and hope to see more of him in the role (there was a preview that said Brown’s other Langdon novel Angels and Demons is in development).
Despite a questionable accent, Bettany does an excellent job in the Silas role. He is brutal and deadly. Yet, we also feel sad for him due to his background and the way he is being used. Tautou also does a great job in her role and brings a “grace” to the character that didn’t seem to be in Brown’s novel. I really enjoyed her performance, and some of the subtle changes made to her character. Any time you have Sir Ian McKellen in a film, you can expect a good performance. The Da Vinci Code is no exception. The actor is perfect as Teabing, and sucks you into believing in him – even if you have already read the novel.
The two-disc special edition comes loaded with features that take you inside the movie. Most of the features are more promotional oriented, and it would have been nice to include some historical looks at the Grail story. Maybe that will be in a double dip re-release down the road.
What we do get is some fairly typical looks at behind-the-scenes making of the movie (including Howard’s first day on set); a short conversation with writer Dan Brown; a look at how Hanks transformed himself into the Langdon character; a discussion on the Mona Lisa; and a look at some of the film’s characters. The Codes of “The Da Vinci Code” is probably the most interesting of the features and gives you a look at all the little codes that Howard and company spread throughout the film as a nod to the book.
Even with its faults, The Da Vinci Code is an entertaining movie that captures the spirit of the novel. The debate will continue as to which is better, and to the overall subject matter of the film. I would highly recommend taking the time to watch the movie. It might be better to read the book first, but Howard does make sure you know what is happening either way.