Da Vinci Code, The



Main Cast: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou

Director: Ron Howard

malheur national wildlife refuge pelican PD

It looked so much more peaceful in pictures…

After a seemingly endless drive through high desert country, Normy and I finally pulled the Kimchi Kitchen food truck into the Malheur wildlife refuge.  We had taken a wrong turn off highway 97 and had come in by some back road that was full of mud.  The splatters on the truck made the name read ‘Kim Kitch’ and we were soon surrounded by overweight middle aged men with a lean and hungry look all wanting to know when Kimmie was going to come out to play.  I explained to them how I was on a mission of mercy to bring them snacks and wholesome entertainment, as they had so publicly requested.  There were cries for unwholesome entertainment that I declined to hear and a few other murmurs of discontent but I promised them all that I would deliver them a world class show in an hour.  It takes me at least that long to put my face on and stretch out following a prolonged road trip.

The boys out there were a bit restless so I decided to give them something with a little Ooh-la-la in it and told Normy to crank up the PA with my musical salute to La Traviata.  I quickly put on a pair of stretch jacquard violet tap pants and a garland of white camellia blossoms and climbed up to the roof where we had laid down a piece of spare Marley as a tap floor.  As Maria Callas’ recording of Sempre Libera filled the air, I began an absolutely delicious combination of buck and wings and triple time steps while Normy tossed bags of Funyons and Cheetos at the crowd, yelling Libiamo! every time someone caught one.  Their response was not what I hoped; rather than roars of applause, some prankster started lobbing some sort of flesh colored latex projectiles at me and I was forced to retreat back into the truck before someone got hurt.

The crowd was turning ugly and both Normy and I were afraid that their attempts to overturn the food truck might succeed, so we hightailed it out of there to the Klamath Falls Hampton Inn where we treated ourselves to an Applebee’s dinner and then retired early.  I sat there for a long time planning an even more opulent display for our next foray to Malheur and then decided to scan Netflix for a film.  I happened across Ron Howard’s 2006 film version of Dan Brown’s monumental best seller, The Da Vinci Code.  I vaguely remember having seen it when it was first released, but the majority of the details have escaped me over the years and I decided to spend my somewhat sleepless night revisiting it.

The film stars Tom Hanks in the world’s worst haircut as Robert Langdon, a professor of semiotics (the study of symbols) who is in France to give a series of lectures.  While he is there, an elderly man is murdered in one of the galleries of the Louvre museum, and while slowly dying of an abdominal wound, does what most people would do and arranges a series of highly cryptic clues including the numbers of the Fibonacci sequence and a bunch of anagrams. (I’m not making this up.)  The man’s granddaughter, Sophie (Audrey Tautou) is a cryptologist working for the French police and is called in on the case which is under the supervision of a detective with the improbable name of Bezu Fache (Jean Reno).  Soon Sophie and Robert find themselves implicated in the murder and on the run, a journey that takes them from France to Britain in company with an eccentric antiquarian (Ian McKellen) and finds our trio caught between the forces of good (The Priory of Sion – an ancient secret society which aims to protect the holy grail) and the forces of evil (Opus Dei – a conservative Catholic sect that desperately wants the truth to stay hidden as its revelation would shake church dogma to the core).  The chief Opus Dei villain is some sort of self-flagellating albino monk named Silas (Paul Bettany) who exists primarily to show up at the wrong time and casually murder minor characters.  There’s a lot of double crossing, discussion of Christianity and eventually we learn the nature of the mysteries along with Robert as he confronts eternal truths while standing in front of the I M Pei pyramid outside of the Louvre.

The novel, originally published in 2003, was a heck of a good read in that page turning what will happen next thriller sort of a way and remained on the best seller lists for some years.  It was inevitable that Hollywood would come calling and that a film would be produced.  I wish I could say it was a successful translation of page to screen but nearly everything about it seems wrong.  These sort of caper thrillers require a light touch and a feeling of constant motion (sort of like continuous step ball changes) in order to succeed.  Director Howard, however, elects a somber, turgid style.  The film doesn’t skip from place to place, it plods along under the weight of its self-importance.  It believes that because the plot revolves around the origins of Christianity, that it must be a serious film and does not recognize just what a farrago of nonsense it actually is.  If he had pretended the film was about the quest for the Ark of the Covenant or the Shankara Stones, maybe he would have gotten the tone right.   (Despite claims to the contrary, it appears that Dan Brown did not invent the central conceits.  He seems to have borrowed them from the book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail first published in 1982.  They even turn up in the third Gabriel Knight computer game from 1999.)

The only performer who comes out unscathed is Ian McKellen, who seems to have ignored Ron Howard’s lugubrious direction, full of long pauses and portentous visual effect symbolism, and the film flickers briefly to life when he is on screen.  Of course, his performance seems lifted from some other and better film when compared to that which surrounds him.  Paul Bettany, an actor I usually enjoy, is an eye-rolling caricature and both Hanks and Tautou, charming performers with the right material, show no chemistry and leave a charisma vortex at the film’s center. It’s also one of the visually darkest films in recent memory.  The details in scene after scene fade off into shadow making it difficult to understand what’s going on.  To make up for this, Howard is constantly highlighting pieces of artwork against the dark background as our intrepid heroes follow the clues.  This visual device becomes tired relatively early on.

If you’re a Dan Brown fan, it’s worth a look to see the locations described in his novel and it’s a bit of a history lesson on early Christianity including the Council of Nicaea and the fate of the Knights Templar.  Otherwise give it a skip.  If you want a good treasure hunt film, settle in with any of the original Indiana Jones trilogy.  Even Nicolas Cage’s National Treasure films are more fun and they aren’t exactly fine examples of the film maker’s art.

Madonna of the Rocks.  Fleur de Lis key.  Gratuitous car chase.  Tea questions.  Private jet.  Rampaging pagans.  Friday the 13th.  Rosewood box.  Nun murder.  Rose lines. Missing apple. 

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

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