Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Da Vinci Code (2006)

The Da Vinci CodeFriends who've read Dan Brown's bestseller tell me that it's a 'real page turner', but also that it's 'a very badly written' book, and since I'm not interested in reading badly written books I've managed to avoid the phenomenon that is The Da Vinci Code... until now.

You'd have to have been living on Mars for the last year not to know the broad brush strokes of the basic story (which is all about a modern day quest for 'The Holy Grail')... or to know that the critics hated it. To say the film received luke warm reviews would be putting it mildy (the 'Cream of the Crop' reviews are much lower than even the abysmally low 'overall' critics score of 24% summarised at Rotten Tomatoes). But the 'general public' reviews give it a much more generous 6.5 marks out of 10, so how good/bad/indifferent is it?

The bile aimed at the lead actors and director from many reviewers seems entirely misplaced. Yes, the film is long (too long!), but that's the fault of the source material, and when you're adapting something this 'complex' it's hard to see how you can reduce it down to something that narratively makes sense and also give the movie time to breathe. I thought Ron Howard's direction was fine, particularly in the early scenes where the self-flagellating priest scenes could so easily have just evoked howls of laughter, rather than a sense of genuine horror. Nor is there a problem with most of the acting. Tom Hanks, who I've never been a great fan of, if I'm honest, delivers a creditable performance that only felt like a 'Look! Tom Hanks playing Tom Hanks' performance in some early lecture scenes - if only the same could be said of most of the rest of his work! Ian McKellen more than delivers the goods, albeit in a performance that totally divided the critics who, if picked out at random, seemed to alternate between describing it as 'scene stealing' or 'hammy and totally unconvincing'. And Paul Bettany, who had arguably the most difficult role to play, never felt less than terrifying when he was on screen. Audrey Tatout on the other hand remained totally unconvincing, and whilst one can appreciate English is not her native language, for me her performance lacked any kind of sparkle or believability from the first minute she appeared on screen. Admittedly she wasn't given much to work with, but then again the same is true for most of the rest of the cast.

Unlike other critics I stayed with the film to the end, and, in truth, only the last half hour dragged because the story seemed to go on half an hour past its natural conclusion. So why the low 'red mark' rating for the film? Because I don't think I've ever seen such a load of poorly-written tosh presented on screen for a long time. For the first hour the film surprised me, and held my interest. But as each supposed twist and ridiculous 'puzzle' revealed itself as we moved into the second half of the film I became more and more distanced from the sorry mess of a story. Having succesfully avoided the book and any spoiler reviews I can't be the only one to have realised who/what 'The Holy Grail' was less than 30 minutes into the film, surely? And the machinations contrived at to make a very silly story appear complex just annoyed the hell out of me, so that I went from a summation of 'This is much better than people have given it credit for' mid-way in to a 'Pure and utter tosh - of the worst kind' by the end. If any friends or family are reading this please DON'T buy me the book for Christmas!

It's very hard to work out where the $125 million spent on this film went, because it certainly isn't visible on screen, if the DVD transfer is used as the judge. For a movie that made over $600 million profit before DVD sales are taken into account (Lord, have we become mindless drones for the marketing machine or what?!) the picture is annoyingly dark, murky, contrast-free, soft and, at times, impenetrable. The scenes look better on the footage shot for the extra's than they do for the main feature. This is not a film you're going to be using to show off your latest large high-definition screen.Thankfully the sound, (but no DTS sound track - why not?!), is far more impressive and at least shows where SOME of that high budget went in the production process.

The second disk of ten featurettes are, for the most part, glossy over-produced marketing fluff, which is to be expected, but I'd expected more depth given the profits made on the film and the interest in this release. Too many of the advertised featurettes turn out to be less than 5 minutes long and I question whether this release really needed two discs, other than as a marketing con to make people think they're getting more than the price on the box might indicate. That being said, if you are a fan of the book or film, you do get to hear most of the 'big names' involved sharing their (censored?) thoughts on the original book and the attempts to transfer it to film. The lack of any sort of commentary mark the release down too, although, frankly, maybe the producers realised that nobody was going to sit through the whole two and a half hour opus all over again, even if it would have been interesting to hear Ron Howard's thoughts given the critical mauling he received when the film was commercially released.

Definitely a rental, rather than a purchase, and even then only if you have a lot of time on your hands! There are a LOT of much better DVDs around, released over the last few weeks, that are far more worthy of your time. On the other hand there are also quite a few which are much worse. You pays your money and takes your choice, but given the huge profits this nonsense has already made I'd be happier if you looked elsewhere for your entertainment. Undernourished films like Wah-Wah are far more deserving of your rental coins!


Brian Sibley said...

I was, frankly, worried when I started reading this review, but it came out OK in the end!! ;-)

So, NOT the book of 'The Da Vinci Code' for Christmas --- then how about a book ABOUT the book of 'The Da Vinci Code'?

Just joking....

Ian said...

It's interesting how so many people who like the book and call it a "page turner" will admit that it's not very well written. I was confused at first but then I remember reading a couple of the "Harry Potter" books which I would admit are "page turners" but, I would argue, not very well written (because they're very simplistic and so very, very derivative of much better works).