The Da Vinci Code (2006)

The Da Vinci Code is apparently a phenomenal book. Not necessarily a good book, but it sold about seven gazillion copies, in forty three thousand languages, made Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon) the richest man alive, and now we’re taking book orders from Mars and Jupiter. Everyone wants to read the book, everyone has read it. Now is time for a tiny, slightly embarrassing confession: I have not read the book. My wife, my younger cat both did – and both encouraged me to delve into this masterpiece, but somehow (maybe due to the entire world breathing down my neck) I decided not to. Just didn’t care for it. So when the movie was finally teased on the big screen – I believe it was June 2005, almost a year before the big premiere – I got curious. Nope, I still didn’t read the book, watching as the whole world once again plunged into Dan Brown’s fiction novel, convincing itself (and possibly others) that this is a groundbreaking discovery, I stayed away. Knew some details, was familiar with the historical parallels, but still didn’t see anything to go ga-ga over.

Earlier this year the movie was released – for some reason the producers decided it was a film worthy of Cannes (Sahara and National Treasure weren’t presented at Cannes, even though they are pretty much the same films – National Treasure being a superior one), the human world and the rest of the universe went over it ga-ga again, and a few weeks later I finally saw it in an empty theater, without a Catholic protestors outside, without the media frenzy, without the geeks dressed in Klingon clothes … nevermind, a different fad. And what do you think I concluded from the film? You won’t be surprised to hear: “not much”. This review should really end here – I got nothing to criticize or admire about it – but let’s drag this self-indulgence for a little longer. After all, Dan Brown, his publisher and ultimately, the movie studio have been milking this dead cow for so long – I figure people around the world are stupid enough to keep reading about The Da Vinci Code. So keep reading, morons. I get paid by the words (not really).

The film is a pretty good thriller, except for a few things: a lead that’s America’s sweetest doughboy Tom Hanks. The damsel in distress who has a terrible accent for prolonged, terminology-heavy expositions Audrey Tautou; and ambiguously charming bad guy Jean Reno. So as a result, I just couldn’t feel for a moment that Hanks and Tautou were ever in any real danger, and I couldn’t believe that Reno is remotely capable of anything evil. So there goes the thrilling part. The plot demanded intensity, but when the characters are not in danger, simply because the actors who play them are out of their elements, why should I care? Hanks couldn’t sell me his despair and loneliness in Cast Away, do you think that now he could sell a historian on the run from the Vatican? You know who sold their roles perfectly – Alfred Molina and Ian McKellen. That was good casting, the actors obviously enjoyed it, overplayed it accordingly, and it was entertaining. Pulp, but with a lot of fun in it.

Now about the plot. It’s fiction, somewhat based in reality. Makes a great adventure film (see National Treasure, Indiana Jones), but nothing beyond that. Any more facts, and I would be snoring, any less, and I would be demanding chases and explosions. That’s all I’m going to say about the plot – you know the details, and to me – it was just Indy in 21st century, and Catholics instead of Nazis. Same mindless drivel about religious secrets passed from generation to generation. Something like that.

And finally, the locations – the one thing that I couldn’t get enough of. Museums, castles, tunnels, dark European streets, and ancient town squares. That was fun – I guess it was a lot of work finding good looking locations around Europe and capturing their age, beauty and defiance. Almost nobody can point a camera and shoot.

As you can tell, I’m a little bitter. You bet. After avoiding this book, and the movie – simply because everyone else was crazy about it – I thought I was avoiding something really special. Apparently, the only outstanding thing about The Da Vinci Code is its marketing – for the book, and especially for the movie. Convincing so many people that this is a must-read (and a must-see) was an amazing task, maybe even a small miracle. The movie is far from it – too slow for an action, too mindless for a serious analysis of a major religion (I think Dogma captures true and passionate discussion of Catholicism better than this crap) – and it was too long to be typical popcorn idiot entertainment. It has many good elements, and if you haven’t read the book, a few twists. But it never gels, because of over-casting, over-explaining, and over-scoring. The music – which should be minimal in a movie like this – swells at every dialogue, let alone monologue. I can see a miniseries in there, 6-8 hours of compelling storytelling. But I guess A&E and Discovery channels have dozens of series like that. Plus, in a theater, you do not have the ability to pause or rewind. So whose decision was it to make the film so educational, so preachy?

Secret societies, blood of Christ, threat to major religions, Bible quoting… Gimme a break – where I live this theater is shown regularly. The locals call it Sunday. It’s on every frikkin’ channel. Right before football. A few chases and Hollywood elite cannot make a worn subject more interesting, especially, if they’re forced to announce that it’s fiction on every corner – just to avoid the scorn of “believers”. Seriously, if you’re still reading this, just go rent National Treasure. A superior movie, and you will actually learn something from history. In the end, I still won’t read the book, knowing just how many people were taken by it. But I do love history, and do admire organized religions – it’s fascinating. And I love when both are misinterpreted. By the way, I think Tom Hanks should really lose some weight.

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