The Da Vinci Code

A competently put together film (as you’d expect from Ron Howard), with adequate performances (as you’d expect from Tom Hanks). Not exactly an acting masterclass, except in adequately ambling through a mediocre film. My fellow viewers reckoned that the dialogue was hideously creaky (though I didn’t notice so much). The story is very daft, but… I quite enjoyed the whole experience.

Really it’s a pretty faithful adaptation of a book which had lots of interesting ideas, and a brilliant hook of a story, and was told in barely adequate prose (with hideously creaky dialogue).

As it is so faithful, and also because it condenses a novel-sized story into a 2 hour film, the film really lays bare the shortcomings of the plot. It is such blatent tosh when one sees it being played out with real live people on the big screen, and apparently with a straight face. The story is revealed for what it is: a crossword-puzzler’s secret wank fantasy, where the future of Western Civilization hinges on the hero’s ability to do anagrams. It just doesn’t hold up very well.

For example, one of the main plot points is the existance of a secret society (the Priory of Sion) which has managed to stay secret despite that it a) has been around since the dawn of forever, b) seems to include just about every famous person from the last 1000 years, c) guards a secret which could Rock Christianity to Its Very Foundations™ and d) protects that secret with the equivalent of a treasure hunt with some bad poetry (in English, conveniently) and cryptic clues. Yes, yes, yes, I hear you: it’s only a story, but my point is that the film points up the unlikelyness of the story more than does the book.

Oh, and the bit where they borrow some guy’s 3G mobile phone on the bus in order to conduct some scholarly research en route to the next car chase—was just awful.

There were a couple of cinematic motifs which I quite liked, though unfortunately they become almost affectations as they are used so much:

Flashbacks. This film is loaded with them. There is some relevant and attractive use of flashback for the historical sequences. Also, I rather like the way that ‘ghosts’ of the past appear in the streets of London as the characters walk towards a cathedral, to show what the place looked like way back when. Pretty. However, the film also uses flashbacks to describe what just happened in the story, and at this point they become a lazy substitute for proper storytelling.

Visually highlighting things. Starts off with Teabing* and his animated description of The Last Supper. (Yes, clever. Gets point across. It’s not completely believable that he has a big powerpoint presentation ready for when unexpected guests drop in and want to have Jesus’ domestic arrangements explained to them, but it moves the plot along.) The Highlighting of Things continues when Langdon is doing anagrams (the letters light up as Langdon looks at them, which makes him seem like Robocop); and then again when Ron Howard wants to show us how a pentacle can be composed of two mirrored, superimposed triangles (which makes him seem like a patronising bastard).

*Teabing. I always thought that it was a stupid name. Turns out that Dan Brown made it up. It’s an anagram of the name of one author of a book he used heavily for reference—and I think that tells you a lot. Also, he obviously assumed that since English people like tea, naming an aristocratic Englishman with the word ‘tea’ hidden in the name was very witty. And I think that that tells you a lot too.

The ending is quite noteworthy: Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) discovers that the bones of Mary Magdalene have been burried beneath the pyramid outside the Louvre. He kneels down (do you get it?! Like a chivalric Templar Knight! Gosh, that’s clever!), as the camera moves down through the pyramid to show Mary Magdalene’s sarcophagus in a cellar beneath (just in case you were too thick to have picked up the heavy hints from earlier in the film). Now apparently you can see the reflection of the film crew in the glass pyramid as the camera passes it, but what I was looking at was how embarrassed Tom Hanks looked at that point and, I think, deservedly so.

It’s a nice shot, actually. Presumably all CGI as it passes down through the glass and the floor, but I thought that it (and the film) would have been vastly improved had the statue on Mary Magdalene’s sarcophagus lid opened its eyes, and beams of light shot into the air to illumine Paris at the very end. It would have paved the way for an exciting supernatural sequel.

The film does not feel over long, though it does run to 149 minutes. It passes the time quite acceptably. It is not going to win any awards (I hope). Gets bonus points for introducing quite heretical ideas (Jesus being married, Magdalene being important in early Christianity, and, even, mundanely, the fact that there were multiple ‘edited out’ gospels from before the Council of Nicea edited The New Testament into a canonical version) to a mainstream audience. And you have to applaud any film which gets America’s Bible Belt up in arms. Plus the story locates Jesus’ great great great great great great great great etcetera grandchildren squarely in Midlothian, which has to be applauded. (Personally I think that the remake should shift it to Glasgow, but at least they acknowledged Scotland as God’s own country.)

So not a complete waste of time, but a bit up its own arse.

P.S. How bad is the photo on the poster? From the expression on their faces, you’d think that Audrey Tautou was giving Tom Hanks an emergency protate exam whilst fearing discovery by armed police and both their mothers. Still at least it crops out the worst of Hanks’s infamous Da Vinci Code mullet.

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