REVIEW: The Da Vinci Code [2006]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 149 minutes | Release Date: May 19th, 2006 (USA)
Studio: Sony Pictures Releasing / Columbia Pictures
Director(s): Ron Howard
Writer(s): Akiva Goldsman / Dan Brown (novel)

“O’ Draconian Devil”

Finally I can cross The Da Vinci Code off my list of movies to see. While I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, I was on the fence when the prospect of going to the theater came up. In the end I realized it needed to be seen on the big screen and I’m glad that was my decision. It of course paled in comparison to the book, but all in all was still a successful adaptation that stayed true for its entirety. Unfortunately, because it stayed so true is why it wasn’t a masterpiece.

I give full credit to the actors as each did his/her role justice—even Tom Hanks as our hero Robert Langdon, the one character I went in not thinking was perfectly cast. Jean Reno and Ian McKellen were brilliant as Captain Fache and Sir Teabing respectively, Audrey Tautou and Alfred Molina brought credibility to their parts, and Paul Bettany encompassed the albino Silas perfectly. Bettany truly stole the show and it’s a shame many of his scenes were cut in the adaptation process, leading him to just be a villain with only small shades of the misguided, lost soul he is. I am thankful, however, that the filmmakers made the Hanks/Tautou dynamic more of a friendship then budding love affair as it was in the book. The age gap of the actors was just too much for it to work and thinning that relationship made the characters more believable in the scope of things. Ron Howard made a good directorial choice in guiding his cast this way; it’s too bad he didn’t alter anything else.

Howard fell into the Chris Columbus rut with The Da Vinci Code. As Columbus showed with his first two installments in the Harry Potter saga, staying word for word to the source material does not a great movie make. Text and film are two separate mediums that must be molded unto themselves for complete success. Howard seems to have been so preoccupied with pleasing the Dan Brown fanatics with a faithful adaptation that he forgot this movie was his baby to do with as he pleased. Yes the direction has some very nice visual flair—evidenced with the fading of current action to past happenings, beautifully done on the crossing of the street towards the end where buses are going through swarms of walking pedestrians—but overall the text from the book has been lifted to the screen more as a book on film then a piece of cinema. What this movie needed was a shot in the arm like the resurrection Alfonso Cuarón created with his Potter rendition. While still true to the Prisoner of Azkaban’s essence, Cuarón was able to put his stamp on the film by adding atmosphere and a sense of foreboding visually rather than falling back to what worked on the page.

Critics complained upon release that The Da Vinci Code preached rather than revealed and I must agree with them in part. It’s not that there’s more exposition in the movie than the novel, though—in fact there’s less. Because of the need to shorten the text to allow for a two-hour movie, scenes must be sacrificed. Too afraid to do any cutting, the filmmakers condensed instead. Whereas we are brought into the hunt while reading to listen to each character’s ruminations spanning chapters as they slowly crack the newest puzzle, onscreen we are given solutions practically in the next breath as the question itself. This lack of methodical pacing makes it seem as though we are being taught because we don’t get to be a part of the unraveling. So this isn’t a bad adaptation at all, it is actually near perfect. The real truth ends up being that the novel just was not a good candidate for the cinematic conversion. Sometimes engrossing prose works because of its medium and unless a director comes in to capture the essence and create a film out of it—rather than of it—we are left unsatisfied with a result that never truly takes form to stand by itself as a movie.

[1] Audrey Tautou (Sophie Neveu) and Tom Hanks (Robert Langdon) in Columbia Pictures’ suspense thriller The Da Vinci Code.
[2] Paul Bettany plays Silas the albino in Ron Howard’s suspense thriller The Da Vinci Code

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