Other than the theme exploring the inscrutable code about alleged heretical bloodline of Jesus, The Da Vinci Code is ironically conservative in presentation compared to what its detractors is condemning it for.
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The Da Vinci Code seems to be a rehash of worn out themes explored in writing and various forms of art. The book is creative and intellectually challenging under the genius of Dan Brown. With his fetish on art, codes, cryptology, symbols, anagrams, conspiracy theories, mysteries, and the like, the phenomenal success of his novel is naturally struck by worldwide protests.
The film overtly tries to balance things out. Apart from trying to clear itself by rendering no factual theological claims to alter historical chronicling (just pure combination of art, suspense, and imagination), it presents a fictional story about the blank supposition that Jesus and Mary Magdalene got actually got married. Supporting this claim is Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper with Mary Magdalene in the painting. This represents the Grail bloodline by dichotomizing Jesus and Mary Magdalene with a V-contour to manifest the Grail as a womb.
The Da Vinci Code clearly becomes too cautious of the religious groups’ breakout that the film suffers tremendously with it. The impressive special effects provides a creative presentation of the anagrams and codes as extension of Robert Langdon’s mind. The ingeniously placed flashbacks make the film seamless in terms of visuals; but the film still looks too contrived in terms of emotional space and execution.
The audience doesn’t get involved, unlike with the book where the reader becomes part of Langdon’s search and decoding. In the book, the reader is part of the quest, of the action, and of the emotion. In the film, the viewer is a mere spectator. The viewer mostly watches Langdon’s back, his reactions and the seamless extension of his mind where the moving planets and well-lit letters are seen. He interprets the clues. He decodes. The audience watches. Even the suspense and thrill of knowing what’s next is lost. Ron Howard carefully treats the visuals with tight and intimate shots, and yet the audience can’t dig deeper than the superficial.
The story from the book is no doubt engaging: While in Paris on business, famed Harvard symbologist Professor Robert Langdon is summoned to the Louvre by the French version of the FBI, led by Captain Bezu Fache (Reno). With his own survival at stake, Langdon, together with French police cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), solves the enigmatic riddle in reference to the mysterious death of the Louvre gallery’s elderly curator who is scarred by unfathomable symbols drawn around his anatomy. Behind the trails of symbols and anagrams, clues on a series of stunning secrets ingeniously disguised in the works of Da Vinci lead to a covert society guarding an ancient secret, that if unveiled shall shake the very foundations of the Catholic Church. All these set Langdon and Neveu in an adventure to unravel the greatest mystery of all time in a breathless race through the Parisian landscape and across England.
It is quite understandable that the full glory of the novel cannot fit the two-hour requirement of this film version. Yet, it is not an excuse to have poor layers and dimensions with its characterization and conflict. An issue as big as the unveiling of the truth behind the Holy Grail and stalking shadows of clues latent in the works of Da Vinci could have been an exciting, heart-pounding, creative, and intellectual journey for the viewers.
Acting-wise, Audrey Tautou (from the critically-acclaimed French film Amelie) validates her Sophie Neveu character. Sir Ian McKellen as Leigh Teabing provides effective layers for his character. Paul Bettany keeps a dose of sympathy for his emotional portrayal as Silas. Alfred Molina merely offers a bland portrayal for his role as Bishop Aringarosa. At the least, Jean Reno as the bishop’s fellow Opus Dei (a clandestine, Vatican-sanctioned Catholic organization believed to have long plotted to seize the Priory’s secret) member Captain Bezu Fache offers justifiable dimension and color to the story. Tom Hanks fits his role as Robert Langdon. On the surface, he exudes that Langdon presented in the book. However, the treatment for his character is substantially lacking in depth that the audience no longer becomes part of his mysterious quest.
For the followers of the book and those who want to feed their inquisitive and critical minds, and for the fans of Ron Howard or any of the cast, watching this famed novel is something to check out. However, higher expectations for the film may disappoint many.
The Da Vinci Code sparks fiery debates situated within the thin line of freedom of expression and religious sensitivity.