Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

[Spoilers ahead]
I went to see The Da Vinci Code last night. To start with I have to say that I read the book and I didn't like it. I could forgive the fact that it is riddled with historical inaccuracies, it is after all a work of fiction. I could also forgive Dan Brown what he called a page of facts at the start of the book. They may be controversial but they worked perfectly as an advertising gimmick and that one page has done more for the sales of the book than the other 580.

However, what I couldn't forgive is that fact that despite all the hype and all the praise the plot of the book was weak and the characters annoying. The code and the adventure were more like one of those city treasure hunts that groups of people do around Dublin, and I presume most cities, with a list of questions and riddles to answer. In fact I've taken part in ones that were harder to solve than the Grail quest in this book. Dan Brown flatters the reader by presenting them with a riddle that they can figure out before the so called experts in the book.

The second weakness with the book was the characters it contained. Robert Langdon and Leigh Teabing spend too much time explaining every little fact to Sophie Neveu while drawing sweeping conclusions and wild assumptions that allow them to continue the Grail quest.

Unfortunately these weaknesses are all faithfully reproduced in the movie with the movie itself managing to add a couple more. By faithfully adapting the plot and script of the movie Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman have produced characters that are rather one dimensional, colorless and you can never figure out why they are doing what they are doing. On paper you can read a mans thoughts, on the silver screen best you can hope for is a pensive frown or a puzzled look. The situation is not helped by the cast.

Tom Hanks seems to not want to be in the movie at all, large parts of his dialog are delivered in flat uninterested way, especially his discussions with Teabing about the history of the Grail where you feel he is embarrassed to even be in the scene. His chemistry with Audrey Tautou reminds the viewer of a blind date gone bad where everyone is trying to be polite but get away as soon as possible.

Audrey Tautou plays Sophie perfectly, unfortunately thats not a good thing. The character of Sophie starts the story as a police cryptographer but one third of the way through the book she suddenly seems to have gotten a lobotomy and ended up with an IQ of 5. She spends the rest of the book being lectured to and led along by her male companions like a silly child instead of a clever intelligent police cryptographer. Audrey also spends most of the movie staring one eyed from behind her hair, it's a beautiful eye but it does begin to seem a little odd all on its own with its companion hidden away behind her fringe.

I was curious about how Ian McKellen would play Leigh Teabing. Would we get a Gandalf or a Saruman or a Magneto? Clever but with a hint of something menacing and a doubt as to which side he would really be on? Nope, in the end we get a physical impersonation of Gollum, the character may be crippled but the way he moves is just weird and really is like Gollum. Still he was vaguely more interesting than the two main characters, but only just.

The best performance comes from Paul Bettany playing Silas the albino monk. His character is the best explained in the whole movie and his motivations however bizarre are at least better explained and more believable than the others. His performance was the only one to get a reaction from the audience, be it his corporal mortification or his ability to jump out of the shadows.

The supporting cast of characters end up dragging the whole story in directions that worked on paper but just distract when put on screen. It appears that everyone in France, England and the Vatican knows about the Priory and are after their secrets. The Grail and the adventure turns into more of a Famous Five type adventure than a suspense triller with the heroes running from one dull set piece to another. The Priory of Scion ends up looking more like the cast from the Vicar of Dibly than the descendants of the Knights Templar.

The end of the movie also appears to have been hastily and badly revised with the ending from the book almost, but not quite, making it onto screen. The movie spends several flash back scenes setting up the whole background story ready for the final revelations and then just doesn't bother explaining what happened.

The one thing I did like was the last scene with Robert Langdon. Somehow that never worked for me when it was on paper but on the big screen it seemed to click. It may be daft, but it's the best scene in the movie. However that last couple of minutes are not enough to save this movie.

In the end I have to give this 2 out of 5. I wont say I hated it, and I expected to really hate it. It is passes the time but is still fatally flawed with the weaknesses of the original book magnified on the big screen.

No comments: