Can you say controversy? Can you say $77,073,388 in one weekend? If so, you’ve probably seen or heard about Sony’s release of The Da Vinci Code starring Audrey Tautou, Tom Hanks, and Ian McKellen. While based on Dan Brown’s best selling novel, the film is much more palatable and less controversial than the book. However, it definitely has the fast-paced, hanging-off-the-edge-of-your-seat thrills of the original.
Both versions involve a murder of the curator of the Louvre who reaches out to his estranged granddaughter and an American Professor on the day of his death. He leaves a cryptic message for the two to solve which leads to a quest to find the Holy Grail. Most of the way, the pair are chased by Parisian police and the French version of the FBI. An unknown enemy called the Teacher also makes a play to find the Grail, sending a ruthless albino monk after them.
Stunning locations are brought to life in this film from the Louvre to Temple Church to the hold of an armored truck as Professor Robert Langdon (Hanks) and Agent Sophie Neveaux (Tautou) dash around Paris and London in search of a mysterious keystone which will unlock the secrets of the Priory of Scion, a society protecting information pertaining to the Holy Grail.
While the characters are a bit livelier in the novel than in the film, McKellen does a superb job of convincing us that he’s an obsessed, eccentric, semi-reclusive scholar who will use any means necessary to obtain the Holy Grail. Though the portrayal is slightly melodramatic, McKellen alone is a great reason to watch this film. It is interesting and highly amusing to watch the actor go from the all powerful Magneto-or the brilliant wizard Gandalf-to an aging scholar with polio hobbling about trying to solve the greatest mystery of the last two millennia.
Paul Bettany does a convincing job as the villain Silas who will kill anyone in the name of Jesus, including a fellow clergy woman. His black robe and cilice (a metal devise that cuts into the skin) are at once haunting and disturbing. Horrifying scenes show the self-flagellation that Silas repeatedly inflicts on himself to atone for the sins he commits in God’s name.
While the book goes into great detail of the supposed cover up of the true nature of the Holy Grail and Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene, the movie takes a softer approach. In the novel, Professor Langdon is a staunch supporter of the theories surrounding Mary Magdalene, but in the film, he is the “devil’s advocate” who balances every conspiratorial argument with common sense.
The effect of this shift between the film and the book is sure to satisfy many viewers who may not watch the movie because of the religious controversy. In the film, the conspiracy and the villainy are linked to individuals rather than the Church as a whole and even at the end of the film when the mystery is “solved,” the ending is so open that you are free to believe exactly what you believed before the movie began.
The main problem with this film compared to the book is that the principle characters (Sophie Neveaux and Robert Langdon) are much smarter in the novel than in the movie. In the visit to Teabing’s house, for example, the film presents Teabing as holding all of the information whereas in the book each character has vital information to present in order to solve the mystery. In other scenes, Langdon is shown as all knowing and Sophie as an innocent by-stander with little or nothing to contribute.
Dan Brown’s Sophie, however, is highly intelligent and it is no accident that she works for the cryptology department of the French version of the FBI. It is she who has to explain to everyone the nature of the cryptex (which is the key to finding the location of the Holy Grail) and she who is a master of anagrams and riddles.
Fans should be aware that the ending diverges from the novel. The relationship between Sauniere and his granddaughter is changed, the Priory still exists in a new form, and there is no hint of a romance between Langdon and Sophie. There is also a silly scene at the end with Sophie and Langdon in the basement of the Rosslyn chapel which tries to neatly tidy up the story rather than using Dan Brown’s ending.
All in all, The Da Vinci Code deserves 4 out of 5 stars. The visual images are brilliantly blended into the film; the movie is able to condense a 450+ page novel into a couple of hours without loosing too much of the effect or the fast pace. There are is also a wonderful melding of past and present throughout the film which helps the audience to process the extensive information covered in the novel.