May 19, 2006
The Da Vinci Code Movie: Better Than the Book
Posted by Gordon Smith

My wife and I read The Da Vinci Code two years ago. Describing the book, I used "clumsy," "tedious," and "implausible" in one sentence. When I saw that the film was getting panned by the critics, I was not very excited about seeing it, but Friday is "date day" for my wife and me, and we decided to judge for ourselves. I thought the movie was better than the book. Much better.

Here are some quick impressions of where most of the critics went wrong:

McCarthy: "The irony in the film's inadequacy is that the novel was widely found to be so cinematic. Although pretty dismal as prose, the tome fairly rips along, courtesy of a strong story hook, very short chapters that seem like movie scenes, constant movement by the principal characters in a series of conveyances, periodic eruptions of violent action and a compressed 24-hour time frame."

Did you read the entire book? It rips along for the first few chapters, then melts down. The movie is much tighter and more compelling. I notice that a number of critcs refer to the book as a "page turner,"  "labaryntine thriller," or similar descriptions. I wonder if there will be an inverse correlation between liking the book and liking the movie?

Beifuss: "De-emphasizing the visually un-cinematic puzzles, anagrams and codes that are key to the plot-heavy book proves to be a mistake ... the movie doesn't give viewers much of a chance to participate in the problem-solving."

This is largely true. For example, if you read the book, you might guess the "apple" clue, but you would never get that from the movie alone. Still, it seems a small price to pay for disposing of some of Brown's hint-dropping.

Groucho: "Crammed into a 153-minute frame, the densely detailed The Da Vinci Code does begin to inspire heretical chuckles in the way it plays a connect-the-historical-dots game to reveal a sketch of a pregnant Mary Magdalene. Murder in the Louvre, Da Vinci-painted clues, Sir Isaac Newton, the Knights Templar, evil Swiss bankers, and Fibonacci numbers. Forget Holy Blood, Holy Grail—I think Dan Brown might've picked up his designs from a raving street-corner conspiracy theorist (not that there's anything wrong with that)."

Yes, the plot is ridiculous, but you should have known that going in. Roger Ebert rightly observes, "Yes, the plot is absurd, but then most movie plots are absurd. That's what we pay to see."

Bernard: "The movie is so nervous about offending anyone that it's hardly any fun. Hanks delivers a few solemn speeches meant to deflect criticism. Meanwhile, he and Tautou barely hit it off. At least Mr. and Mrs. Smith got hot while doing their jobs."

As far as I can tell, Jami Bernard is not in high school, so I am not sure how to explain her disappointment at the absence of romance between Hank and Tautou. Why lament the fact that the film doesn't turn to a cliche?

And as for the notion that the film plays down the religious controversy (a theme in several reviews), I am not sure what people were expecting. The film suggests that Jesus is not divine and blames the Catholic Church for most of the world's ills, including the murder of "free-thinking women" throughout the ages.

The critic who gets it right is Roger Ebert:

"While the book is a potboiler written with little grace and style, it does supply an intriguing plot. Luckily, Ron Howard is a better filmmaker than Dan Brown is a novelist; he follows Brown's formula (exotic location, startling revelation, desperate chase scene, repeat as needed) and elevates it into a superior entertainment, with Tom Hanks as a theo-intellectual Indiana Jones."

The rest of his review is spot on, too.

By the way, Ian McKellen is great in this movie.

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