Bob and the Old Professor and I saw The Da Vinci Code Thursday night. My reactions:
The book was better than the movie, and the book was crap. There’s two and a half hours and $8.75 I’ll never get back.
I suppose with all movies that delve into mythology, like Troy or The Lord of the Rings, it helps to know the backstory so that there is, on the part of the filmmaker, a certain assumption of knowledge that the audience will have when they see the movie. With this story, there’s the presumption that the audience will have either read the book and therefore be able to keep up with the sometimes unfathomable twists and turns the story takes that sometimes seem to be based on nothing much more than the figurative lightbulb that goes on over Harvard professor and noted symbologist Robert Langdon’s head (played by Tom Hanks, who seems to have the same hair stylist as Christopher Walken), or they will just go along for the ride, not pay attention to the story, and wait for the car crashes (one good one) and violence (a couple of people get whacked and there’s some action with flagelation that would be classified anywhere else as kinky leather). There’s also an assumption that the audience is familiar on at least a cursory level with the inner workings of the Roman Catholic church and a Sunday-school knowledge of the history of Christianity. Without that, they would be completely lost or bored to tears.
Well, having read the book just recently and being a person who, while no theologian, is pretty familiar with the New Testament and the early days of the Christian faith, I was still finding myself wondering what the hell the story was talking about at certain points. (The one advantage of reading the book is being able to go back a few pages to re-read something you might have lost in the turgid text.) After a while I gave up and waited for the chapter-ending perils-of-Pauline moments that I remembered from the book, but even those were less than exciting; not because I remembered them and anticipated them, but because here they just got in the way.
I have a lot of respect for the talents of Ron Howard. He’s made some of my favorite films, including Parenthood. But this time he seemed to be letting the story — and perhaps the controversy around it — taint the work. I had hoped that he would flesh out the characters more than the book did, but the only actor who seemed to really enjoy his role was Ian McKellen. Audrey Tautuo was able to put a little juice in the image I’d conjured up of Sophie from the book, but not too much. As for Tom Hanks, I think I like him best when he’s able to tinge even his most serious roles with humor. Here it was like he phoned it in.
I also think Ron Howard pulled his punches on the storyline and the alternative views of Christian history that have made the book such a rabble-rouser. If you’re going to spend all this time and move all this air around to make a big blockbuster out of a controversial book, show some guts and don’t leave the idea that Jesus had a child and the bloodline still survives to the ravings of an eccentric historian. All we’re left with are platitudes like “faith is what you make it,” and “all that matters is what you believe.” That’s hardly enough to rally a boycott; it’s not much more controversial than Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz learning that “there’s no place like home” …which is where I wanted to be about an hour into the movie.