Friday, June 09, 2006

The Da Vinci Code -- The Little Movie That Could

Just about a month ago, a film called “The Da Vinci Code” entered theaters. I can’t recall there being any fanfare. That’s why I like to call it The Little Movie That Could.

After doing some research, I discovered that “The Da Vinci Code,” is actually based on this book that was popular in certain circles. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? It actually has the same name as the film.

Ah, but seriously. As most people know, the globally celebrated $425 million phenomenon that was “The Da Vinci Code” in novel form hasn’t exactly translated to big screen success. If a gross of $171 million (as of June 6) can ever be called a disappointment, that is. Amid worldwide protests and, even worse, really bad reviews, “The Da Vinci Code”: the movie hasn’t hit the unequivocal home run many people might have expected.

They make these same expressions for like two hours.

Speaking of the reviews, did I mention they’ve been bad? Have they ever. And the negative sentiment seems to have built on itself. In the wake of the movie, it seems to have become quite fashionable to bash the book. Retroactive critics are always amusing. Nevertheless, while the book was not the most well-written piece of literature the world has ever seen, it does read very much like a movie. So coming in, I wasn’t sure why the majority of people would dislike the film if, non-retroactive critics aside, most people liked the book. Just set the pages to live action. How could they possibly go wrong?

And to an extent, that is true. The critics who panned the movie, I think, were a little off. Much of the time, critics seem to have different scales of what makes something good or bad depending on their expectations for that particular project. For instance, since critics presumably had a higher ceiling of expectation for “The Da Vinci Code” than they did for, say, “X-Men,” there was more room for the former to fail. But when taking the absolute value of the movie itself, it really wasn’t a bad little ride, this Little Movie That Could.

There is no lack of fun actors. Tom Hanks is main character Robert Langdon, a famous Harvard symbology professor (I once waited in line for two hours to get a symbologist’s autograph. No, wait, that was a football player). Sir Ian McKellen (aka Gandalf to American philistines like myself) plays eccentric millionaire Sir Leigh Teabing, and Jean Reno is hardboiled detective Bézu Fache. Perhaps the best acting (and character) in the whole thing, though, is Paul Bettany as the brutal, troubled monk Silas. That’s the good news.

Now, the bad news. There is a lack of fun roles. There is such a premium on the story that the characters can’t keep up. Particularly in the case of Audrey Tatou, playing a block of wood, er, Parisian police symbologist Sophie Neveu. Her and Hanks have zero chemistry, and she brings nothing to the table other than asking a million inane questions that eventually just kind of make you want her to stop talking. Also, the story. It kicks along and keeps the viewer engaged, but it never builds up any real head of steam. It all feels mechanically predetermined (it is, of course, but we’re not supposed to feel that way), like some creaky amusement park ride. So while there is some drama to the story, there is never any real suspense. To exacerbate this feeling, the explanations of the symbols and history behind the story are so watered (and dumbed) down it feels like a youth group field trip. And when it you finally reaches the ending, they seem to accidentally jumble the film. It’s like finding out who shot J.R., then listening to the Patrick Duffy explain why he never had any friends growing up. Boring!

To draw an odd conclusion analogy, the movie feels a little like instant oatmeal. Take an astoundingly successful book, add Tom Hanks, and voila! It doesn’t leave you hungry, and it doesn’t taste so bad going down. But ultimately it is oddly unsatisfying, and as you consume it, you are aware that real oatmeal takes more effort than this. Hey, it’s okay and all. There’s just nothing organic or fresh about it.

Rotten Tomatoes
Da Vinci Code page
The Washington Post
Da Vinci Code review
The Washington Post
story on China banning The Da Vinci Code

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