In book publishing circles, the “Da Vinci Code” is nothing short of a miracle. It was and is one of the most widely read novels of its time. And I haven’t checked my facts on this, but I suspect only the bible itself has sold more copies.
So director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer had a formidable task before them. Produce a film that will find a new audience, without offending the legions of fans that have made this book a legend in itself. Having read the novel, I can tell you they have succeeded in their ambitions to be faithful to Dan Brown’s work. However, that doesn’t automatically translate into a great movie. And it was that translation that was the real challenge here.
Did they succeed? Partially, is the best answer I can give, only because it is very difficult to be impartial. The film has received some very harsh reviews, and my suspicion is that the reviewer’s were handicapped by not having read the novel. I have, and found the movie to be equally involving, but not nearly as ambitious.
Let me explain - Simply put, the ambition was in the creation itself. And this movie is in my mind, more of a re-enactment of that ambition. Now add the already well-known controversy that the book has generated, and you begin to see just how risky a code this was to break.
The film, like the book takes place in a very tightly wound eighteen hour time frame that finds Harvard symbologist, Robert Langdon (Played effectively by Tom Hanks) thrust into a mystery that he was born to solve. The curator of the Lourve museum has been murdered, but he has left clues behind. Clues that he knows only Robert Langdon can unravel. But the French police don’t need any clues, they believe their killer is Langdon, and this is nothing more than a rouse by his own design.
Enter Sophie Neveu, a cryptologist with the French police, but also the curator’s granddaughter. She received a message from her estranged grandfather to warn Langdon - it’s a matter of life and death. Now it’s up to Langdon and Sophie to evade the police, while trying to unravel the clues her grandfather has left behind. But they can’t do it alone, and have to turn to Leigh Teabing, an expert on “Grail Lore,” who joins them in their quest. But what that search leads to and what the “Grail” really is, provides the mystery, and the reason why the book and movie have been so controversial.
So now a word about that controversy, no a phrase would be better: “For the love of God, it’s just a movie!”
That felt good. This is a work of fiction, brought to vivid life by a talented author, who researched his subject well, and involved his audience in a wild and fascinating journey. And isn’t that the point of great fiction? You have to laugh a little at all these protests, because at the end of the day, they did more to help the movie than the best Manhattan advertising agency ever could.
The film was already pre-ordained to be a mega-hit, but the controversy that was stirred up probably added another five to seven million to their already huge weekend grosses. I would say they went a little higher than just shooting themselves in the foot.
Director Ron Howard does a fine job of bringing author Dan Brown’s words to life. And the film is a visual feast, from start to finish. I particularly enjoyed the flashbacks, and the decoding sequences that were very reminiscent of what I visualized from the book. The script adapted by Akiva Goldsman, moves along at a crackling pace. As did his previous work with Howard on “A Beautiful Mind.”
The movie is a little long, but it’s a journey well worth taking. Despite what some of my colleagues might argue. And the supporting players were stellar, particularly Ian McKellan as Teabing, and Paul Bettany as the villainous Silas. And Newcomer Audrey Tautou fares well next to Hanks, in the vital role of Sophie. Her casting was another big risk, but I found her convincing to say the least.
I can’t imagine anyone coming out of this movie truly offended by what they’ve seen; there is after all so many much more worthy films to be offended by than this one. But don’t get me started on that.