The Da Vinci Code
Written By: Akiva Goldsman
Directed By: Ron Howard
US Theatrical Release: May 19, 2006 (Sony Pictures/ Columbia Pictures)
US DVD Release: November 14, 2006
Running Time: approx. 2:28 (24 chapter stops)
Rating: PG-13 (For Disturbing Images, Violence, Some Nudity, Thematic Material, Brief Drug References and Sexual Content)
Video: 2.40:1 anamorphic (Extra Features: 1.78:1 anamorphic)
Audio: English DD5.1, French DD5.1, Spanish DD5.1, English DD2.0 (Extra Features: English DD2.0)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish (Extra Features: Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai)
TV-Generated Closed Captions: English (Extra Features: None)
Packaging: Standard 2-disc keepcase with cardboard slipcover (one or the other apparently reveals secret codes under a black light, some of which may require a magnifying glass to see); three inserts: a catalogue of Da Vinci Code-related tchotchkes you can order, a Blu-Ray promotional brochure, and a coupon for $3 off one of 18 different Sony DVDs.
THE WAY I FEEL ABOUT IT: 2.5/5
Was there ever any doubt that a bestseller of the magnitude of The Da Vinci Code would find its way to the Silver Screen eventually? Never mind its actual suitability for a film treatment -- that's a lot of guaranteed ticket sales. To its credit, the film does about as well as likely is possible with the material, but the exposition-heavy novel, despite its focus on symbols, isn't visual enough to provide the basis for a truly successful movie. The strength of the book is not its wooden characters, nor its pedestrian chase sequences; it's the conversations that bring to life its unique mixture of history, faith and fiction. The film makes an effort to explore the backstories of the book's ideas with grainy, washed-out flashbacks, but they simply don't get enough screen time to develop enough to make them interesting. Having read the book is a bit of a catch-22 -- knowing what's going on spoils the suspense and plot twists, but it also means that the details glossed over in the film are not lost.
The story opens with Harvard Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) in Paris on a speaking tour to promote his new book, Symbols Of The Sacred Feminine. Unbeknownst to him, events have been set in motion that will turn his trip into a whirlwind of intrigue and violence. In the middle of a book signing, the police show up and summon Langdon to the Louvre for questioning. Jacques Saunière (Jean-Pierre Marielle), a curator, has been murdered in what appears at first to be a bizarre ritual killing. But there is a lot more to the gruesome spectacle than meets the eye. The pentagram and bloody message that surround Saunière's naked body on the floor of the museum turn out to be a message that perhaps only Langdon can decipher. But why would Saunière leave a coded message for him? They've never even met. Langdon is as puzzled as the police.
Enter Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), a police expert on cryptology. She is there ostensibly to help solve the mystery, but instead adds another layer to it. Almost immediately, she and Langdon are on the run in the first of a series of chase sequences that occasionally break up the talky plot. After that brief action interlude, a key given to her by Saunière leads them to the next piece of the puzzle.
At the same time that Robert and Sophie are trying to figure out what Saunière was trying to tell them, a bizarre character is working in parallel on the same quest. A rather psychotic monk named Silas (an albinically pasty Paul Bettany) is following a different set of clues that will eventually cross their path. In the novel, Silas' backstory is explained in enough detail to create at least a modicum of sympathy for this pathetic creature, but the 10-second flashback provided in the film is too vague to add much to the character. As far as the movie goes, Silas has only two sides: sinister and threatening. His benefactor, Bishop Aringarosa (Alfred Molina), a member of a secretive Catholic sect known as Opus Dei, has his own reasons for being involved, but, like Silas, is short-changed of the elements that make him more than just a heavy in the book.
In fact, when it comes to the major characters, only one clearly stands out as passionate, interesting and complex among a sea of arcless cardboard cutouts. That is Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen), a wealthy history buff and former colleague of Langdon. When Robert and Sophie go to him for sanctuary and help, he shows true enthusiasm and personality. While Hanks and Tautou are charismatic actors, their characters' job is mainly to be present to decipher clues. They don't really do very much other than figure things out and occasionally run away from pursuers. Even relentless police inspector Bezu Fache (the always reliable Jean Reno) seems to exist mainly so they'll have more than one antagonist from which to escape. There is in fact almost no conflict at all during the final 20 minutes of the film. Langdon especially is an excruciatingly passive hero. It's a rare sight indeed to see any part of him moving other than his mouth. His physical action consists only of a few seconds of obligatory fisticuffs. Sophie at least gets to drive during the car chase.
Author Dan Brown did a ton of research before writing the novel, and his sharing of that research is easily the highlight of the book. What survives in the filmic adaptation only scratches the surface. Some of the expository dialogue is enhanced with recreations of medieval crusades and ancient betrayals, but even these sequences are too brief to provide a very clear picture. In addition, the ancient running conflict between secret societies isn't quite as believable with so much of their back stories on the cutting-room floor -- then again, there's only so much screen time that can really be devoted to didactic conversation without putting the audience to sleep.
If you enjoyed the novel, then you may get a kick out of the movie's mostly faithful rendition, with spectacular production design that involves a lot of real-life locations. If you thought that the movie touched on some interesting ideas, but didn't necessarily work as a Hollywood thriller, then give the book a try -- it delves much more deeply into history, religion, and ancient conspiraces. (It isn't much better as a suspense thriller, though.) With the exception of McKellen's Teabing and a handful of tiny other roles, the A-list cast is mostly wasted on characters who don't have much to do other than think and talk. There are probably a number of fantastic stories waiting to be told based on the ideas that Dan Brown researched, but The Da Vinci Code unfortunately isn't much more than a vehicle for fictional characters to discuss them.
THE WAY I SEE IT: 2.5/5
The grainy, dark picture is a bit of a disappointment. It’s generally rather soft. A number of scenes are very contrasty, with washed-out skin tones and featureless darks. Some of them are excusable, as the interiors shot inside places like the Louvre were extremely limited in terms of what lighting could be used, but others are daytime exteriors. Some edge enhancement is present, but it’s not constant. There is an occasional hint of digital artifacting, but that’s not very noticeable. This is not a terrible image, but I expected better from such a high-profile title.
THE WAY I HEAR IT: 4/5
The soundtrack is crisp – maybe a little too crisp, as the LFE isn’t quite as prominent as it often is on a major release such as this. But aside from that, things sound very nice. What few action scenes there are make good use of directional effects without overdoing it, while Hans Zimmer’s ethereal, sometimes rousing score fills every channel throughout. It’s a talky film, with a number of different accents, and most of the dialogue is easy to understand.
THE SWAG: 2/5 (rating combines quality and quantity)
The only extra features on disc 1 are the trailers. See the end of the Swag section for the list.
Eleven featurettes are included, running over 100 minutes in total, and they may be played individually or via a Play All button. In general, they are pretty good, mixing interviews with behind-the-scenes footage and a few film clips. The interviews mostly involve director Ron Howard, producer Brian Grazer, novelist/ exec producer Dan Brown, and the major members of the cast. Other crew members participate in the appropriate sections.
First Day On The Set With Ron Howard (2:08)
A quick intro about what drew Ron Howard to the project.
A Discussion With Dan Brown (4:46)
Brown talks about his career and how he came to write the novel.
A Portrait Of Langdon (7:12)
Various folks discuss the character of Robert Langdon and the casting of Tom Hanks in the role.
Who Is Sophie Neveu? (6:53)
Same idea as the last one, covering Audrey Tautou and her character.
Unusual Suspects (17:52)
More coverage of characters and casting, this time the supporting roles.
Magical Places (15:52)
Certainly one of the neatest pieces on the disc, this one deals with a few of the amazing international locations that were used, including the actual Louvre – that’s the real deal up there on the screen, including the Mona Lisa and other masterworks.
Close-Up On Mona Lisa (6:31)
Various cast and crew talk about their impressions of the famed painting. Mostly it’s gushy fluff, but leave it to Sir Ian to break the monotony with a little wit. Mostly worth watching for the extra footage of the inside of the Louvre and the Mona Lisa itself.
Filmmaker’s Journey: Part One (24:33)
This is the bread-and-butter making-of featurette, covering various aspects of the production. You know the drill. It’s solid.
Filmmaker’s Journey: Part Two (12:13)
Continuing the previous featurette, this saves the disc producers from having to pay the participants for a separate project that runs over 30 minutes.
The Codes Of The Da Vinci Code (5:27)
This fun little piece shows a selection of clips from the film enhanced with pop-up comments about the meanings behind symbols and background images that were intentionally inserted.
The Music Of The Da Vinci Code (2:54)
Composer Hans Zimmer discusses his work on the score.
DVD-ROM: The Da Vinci Code Puzzle Game PC Demo
I didn’t get a chance to try out the game, but took a look at the instructions in the setup program. It appears to combine puzzle-style play with an adventure-type game. To install it, run the setup executable on disc 2. You get 30 minutes to try the game, at the end of which you can buy an unlock code (online using a credit card) that will open up unlimited play.
The trailers for The Pursuit of Happyness, All The King’s Men, and Click play automatically when disc 1 is inserted. They may be skipped.
- Casino Royale (1:20) (DD5.1; 1.85:1 anamorphic)
- The Pursuit of Happyness (2:26) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 anamorphic)
- The Holiday (2:30) (DD5.1; 1.85:1 anamorphic)
- Ghost Rider (2:01) (DD5.1; 2.35:1 anamorphic)
- Spider-Man 3 (1:40) (DD2.0; 2.35:1 anamorphic)
- Curse of the Golden Flower (1:24) (DD2.0; 2.40:1 anamorphic)
- Gridiron Gang (2:32) (DD2.0; 2.35:1 anamorphic)
- Open Season (2:15) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 anamorphic)
- All The King’s Men (2:32) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 anamorphic)
- Click (2:05) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 anamorphic)
- Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby (2:17) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 anamorphic)
- Seinfeld Season 7 (2:43) (DD2.0; 1.33:1 non-anamorphic)
- ”Coming to Blu-Ray” (various titles) (1:14) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 anamorphic)
The Way I Feel About It: 2.5/5
The Way I See It: 2.5/5
The Way I Hear It: 4/5
The Swag: 2/5
All told, The Da Vinci Code is an OK movie faithfully adapted from an OK novel that features a lot of interesting ideas based on historical people and events. It has its moments, but ironically, the visual elements of this story about symbolism don’t quite add up to an exciting motion picture. The movie and book work to complement each other – if you enjoyed one, then the other may flesh out the experience. If you didn’t, then the other isn’t going to change your mind. As for the disc, the audio is fine but the image doesn’t live up to expectations. The feature-length making-of documentary makes for a nice second disc to enhance the package. Fans can probably buy with confidence, but for those who haven’t yet read the book or seen the film, it’s definitely one to rent first.
One final note: If anyone has a black light and magnifying glass and can describe the secret images that are supposed to be on the cover, please post your thoughts on them in this thread. Thanks!