Directed by Ron Howard, the Hollywood veteran behind such memorable films as A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man, this adaptation of Dan Brown's religious thriller is 149 minutes of monotonous exposition and tedious European spy thriller cliches. What makes Brown's novels so popular is the narrative background on such subjects as cryptography, secret societies, religious orders, and alternative history. But it is difficult to translate such ideas to the big screen, and it's here that The Da Vinci Code fails as a commercial thriller.
'The Da Vinci Code': a bestseller that failed to become a blockbuster
The Da Vinci Code as a novel is an international bestselling phenomenon, but The Da Vinci Code as a movie is bound to be long forgotten.
The scenes are composed of lectures on the history of Christianity and the life of Leonardo Da Vinci. Michael Crichton has a similar style of writing that focuses on scientific breakthroughs and cutting-edge technology, but his novels adapt better to the big screen. Whereas Jurassic Park briefly lectured audiences on the inner workings of DNA, then quickly jumped to two hours of dinosaurs terrorizing people. The Da Vinci Code keeps explaining, hypothesizing, and lecturing only to leave its audience hanging. The ideas are intriguing, but they make for a far better novel than a silver screen blockbuster. Minus the interesting conjecture, the film is nothing more than a poorly written 1970s drugstore spy thriller.
Tom Hanks plays the lead role of Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor of religious symbology lecturing in Paris. When Jacques Sauniere (Jean-Pierre Marielle), curator of the Louvre, is found murdered and strangely positioned in his famous museum, local authorities initially consult Langdon for his expertise. But the professor soon learns from Saunieres granddaughter, government cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), that he and the prime suspect are the same.
Creating a diversion for the police, the two discover a hidden trail of clues created by Sauniere in the moments before his death, clues that just might lead them to the most elusive treasure in human history, the Holy Grail. With Interpol hot on their trail and the true murderer still at large, Langdon and Neveu enlist the help of Grail historian Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen) to teach them the history of the Grails protectors, The Priory of Scion, and to help them uncover the endless clues that promise to unravel a 2,000-year mystery.
Despite the remarks of most critics, Hanks's performance is not atrocious. Although his character is bland at best, he wasn't given much with which to work. Robert Langdon's lack of development is more attributable to poorly written dialogue and poor choices in direction. Ron Howard tries to cover up some of the excessive dialogue with visual images, but the narrative is still narrative even with flashback sequences. Audrey Tautou delivers her lines well but suffers from the same constraints as her Academy Award-winning screen partner. The only shining performance is provided by Ian McKellen as the eccentric and charming Grail expert, Leigh Teabing. Some of his one-liners add a bit of comic relief, but they are only band-aids on the gushing head wound that is this film.
In the end, The Da Vinci Code is a lesson on the distinction between two different mediums. Movies haven't replaced books, or vice-versa, for a reason. Sometimes, it is just better to read the book. In the case of The Da Vinci Code, this is one of those moments.
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