Da Vinci Code : Extended Edition, The (UK - BD)
Our Marcus takes a long ol' look at a movie that is essentially a grail quest
Based on the cultural phenomenon that is The Da Vinci Code, this 2006 adaptation of the Dan Brown book from director Ron Howard tells the story of Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) as he‘s caught up in the shady goings on of the church and the greatest conspiracy mankind has ever known.
After the murder of a man in the Louvre by a killer albino (Darth Maul-esq) monk (Paul Bettany), Robert Langdon, a world renowned symbologist, is asked to take a look at the bizarre murder scene, as the victim has seemingly left a message in his own blood. Langdon draws a blank, until French police specialist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tatou), fills Langdon in on the parts that the police had hidden from him and so begins a series of events that may very well lead to the Holy Grail.
When the movie arrived on our cinema screens in 2006, I felt as if I was the only person on the planet who hadn‘t read The Da Vinci Code. Seriously, it was everywhere; friends and family members were engrossed, TV specials spent many an hour discussing the theories and it was no surprise that Hollywood wasn't too far behind the global buzz. When the news of Ron Howard‘s involvement came and Tom Hanks got attached, this all got quite exciting. I rolled into the cinema expecting great things. The great things didn‘t come.
After three years of pretty much vowing I’d never watch the movie again, I took on the daunting task of reviewing the all new Blu-ray edition—an almost three hour cut of the movie and a whole second disc of features to boot. So was there a change of heart following the second viewing? Well no, not really.
At this point I will say, that however bad this movie is (and it can be very bad), it has tucked within it, one of the strongest and compelling storylines out there of late. The theory and main driver of the movie about the ongoing lineage of Jesus Christ is one that is enough to watch the movie for, at least once. Unfortunately this batch of theories is probably better suited for a book or a documentary because how all of this is presented and handled in this movie is close to a disaster.
For starters, pretty much ninety percent of the dialogue in The Da Vinci Code comes stamped with the giant letters PLOT POINT. For the first hour or so it's almost embarrassing to watch. Tom Hanks does his best to run the fumes of this drivel, handing out lines that feel flaccid and forced. The opening murder is also extraordinarily weak, especially on second viewing when you know its importance in the grand scheme of things and just how many weird and wonderful clues this guy left before he died makes you wonder if he might have survived if he got himself to a hospital rather than spending a few hours moving paintings about, drawing on walls and sketching symbols on himself.
The badness just keeps on coming though. The guess-work in some of the clues that unsurprisingly lead Langdon and Sophie down the right paths and the constant dissection of codes and historical significance just begins to wash over you with little importance. The running around Paris or worst still the Smart car chase, all in reverse I might add, is just so badly cobbled together and uneventful, that the spark of life Ron Howard is trying to get into the proceedings, just hinders rather than helps things.
It's not until about an hour in, when Langdon and Sophie get to Leigh Teabing's (Sir Ian McKellen) home, that we begin to get some genuine insight into where this is all going and the movie begins to move away from its near un-watchable state. However, even then it can be tough going. Teabing's wild theories about Jesus' offspring, all presented within an argument/discussion between the three characters is a long drawn out affair that is going to make or break the audience, who up to this point may have been toying with the idea of walking away. For all of its bad points (the unnatural way in which the discussion comes about, Teabing's pre-set 'this is my theory' multimedia centre, McKellen's over the top and attention-grabbing performance) the information that's packed into the scene is really what sets you off for the remainder of the movie, which thankfully, despite all its continuing flaws, is far better than the first half was.
I can't go much further without hinting at the big ol' plot reveal that is satisfying enough but I will say this entire movie feels aimed a little too much at the masses. Treading carefully not to leave anyone feeling confused and spelling out every little thing multiple times, never trusting its audience to draw their own conclusions and generally just feeling a little unfocused and sloppy. The plot is packed with too many moments of convenience to be truly believed (like how are Langdon and Sophie merely let go when the police do finally catch up with them?). They may have been cleared of the murder charge, but they've still skipped countries with no passports and there's a whole lot more they could be questioned about. Oh and isn't it lucky some random kid on a bus knows so much about how Google searches work and there's one too many moments where the two avoid being shot via some whimsical save. Seriously, a bullet shell stopping a door opening I can take, but when all that‘s left on the umpteenth threatened execution is birds coming down from a belfry, you can‘t help but roll your eyes.
As for the extra footage in this extended cut, I honestly can't be sure what's new. There's nothing that struck me as drastically different and the only thing that felt in any way extended was the funky historical flashbacks we have dancing around the screen when Langdon tells or indeed thinks of the historical events revolving around the Holy Grail.
For an HD transfer for a high profile movie, The Da Vinci Code spends much of its earlier scenes looking a bit murky. In its defence, many of these early scenes are spent in a dark gallery with a high amount of shadow but still, the image just didn‘t feel quite sharp enough. The only scene where things do start looking up is Langdon's first trip in the elevator. To show his fear of enclosed places we get plenty of close ups on his face and it really shows off the textures of Hank's skin under the harsh light of an elevator.
Moving through, much of the Paris elements of the story do very little in proving this 1080p transfers worth but as soon as we get to sunny London, everything turns around for the better. Colours begin to pop with green grass, London bus reds. Even the blue and yellow interiors of the good ol' London bus look great (ah the illusion of HD). Church interiors begin to look wondrous, with the CGI beams of light showing off their ancient art work and statues well and the second half of the movie generally looks much better, even if only brief segments of it actually push the HD to its limits.
All in all this is a pretty drab, uneventful TrueHD track. It has some nice atmospherics now and again, and the almost heartbeat musical sounds that tells us to listen up because this bit is important are quite effective, but outside of a few flutters of well placed bass, there’s just nothing really to write about here.
The Hans Zimmer score is subtle, forgettable and underwhelming even at its most rousing, the dynamic sound effects are few and far between and outside of the strong dialogue, in what is primarily a wordy movie, the surround system merely does it job and never steps out of its comfort zone.
‘This is essentially a grail quest’. Get used to this phrase, because when watching these special features, you’re gonna hear people say it countless times, especially Ron Howard.
The features here are almost the polar opposite of the movie. Whilst the movie struggles at the beginning and slowly becomes watchable, the special features, of which there are many, begin quite light-hearted and informative but soon become repetitive and frankly heavy going.
Starting with disc one, which in all honesty covers the majority of the good stuff across the two discs, we are given a sneak peak at the next ‘Langdon Thriller’ (another phrase you’ll hear a lot in these features) Angels and Demons. Firstly we’re presented with an intro from Ron Howard (01:05 HD) and then we move onto a preview scene and the movie's trailer (0 7:26 HD). I’ll reserve judgement on this one for now but other than it feeling a little slicker, it looks to be more of the same.
Moving on, we get BD Live and CineChat. A new Blu-ray feature that enables you to text chat to friends, or ’buddies’ as they like to call them in the demo, while watching the movie. It’s a pretty good idea, but maybe using a Bluetooth headset for PS3 owners might be a nice addition.
‘Unlocking the Code Interactive Picture in Picture’ is a great little feature (even more so if it was for a film I liked more). Essentially it gives you a themed menu bar at the top and bottom of the screen with a number of selectable options to watch along with the movie. These are split into Interviews, Storyboards, Prop Talk, B-Roll, Photos, Symbols and Code, Langdon’s Journey and Location Trivia. These selections come at a nice pace and often in multiples and bring up lots of little details from interview snippets to trivia tracks or mini history lessons. It’s a pretty great additional thing to run alongside a movie and I found it far more satisfying than a lot of the other attempts at this sort of thing. It’s just a shame the movie pauses for a few seconds between selections as it puts a dampener on the overall feel of the experience.
Next up is Commentary by Ron Howard on selected scenes. It’s about thirty eight minutes worth and even though I’m lukewarm on Ron Howard’s body of work as a director, I always find him talking about his art both enjoyable and insightful. Or it could be that it makes feel like I’m watching an episode of Arrested Development. Either way it’s a good little mini commentary, even if it is only about specific things within the movie rather than the movie as a whole.
Moving onto disc two of the movie ‘that is essentially a grail quest’, it all starts getting a little more conventional. ‘First Day on the Set With Ron Howard’ (02:13 HD), which introduces us to the production and the wow factor of being able to film in the Louvre (and element that you will hear no end of on this disc), Ron’s history with the book (again something that comes up too much) and generally the challenges ahead.
‘A Discussion with Dan Brown’ (0 4:52 HD) is a fairly brief interview with the author of the book, telling us how his life has changed and when he knew the book had become a hit. For all you Langdon fans he teases about his next book as well. The next ‘Langdon Thriller’, which makes all this sound a little Miss Marple really.
‘A Portrait of Langdon' (0 7:18 HD), 'Who’s Sophie Neveu?' (06:55 HD) and 'Unusual Suspects' (17: 58 HD) looks at the cast and more so the feelings on who these characters are. Input from the cast themselves as well as Ron Howard and Dan Brown pretty much tell us what we already know from watching the movie, which I know is the point, but it seems an awful lot of time to dedicate to rehashing the basics. Maybe it was just a personal thing, but by this stage the features were getting a little one note and tedious.
‘Magical Places’ (15:58 HD) focuses on the many locations of the movie and the freedom they had to film in many previously ‘un-filmable’ places. There’s talk about each of the countries governments stepping into help out and how certain churches and cathedrals were kitted out to look like the genuinely un-filmable real locations. It was genuinely quite a daunting task.
'Close Up on Mona Lisa' (06:37 HD) is some personal accounts from the cast and crew about the first time they saw the painting and ‘how small it was’ and ’Recreating Works of Art’ (0 6:03 HD) looks at the many, many, many classics works that had to be recreating for the sets and talks with the guys and gals who were involved in the process.
Getting really repetitive now, we move onto 'The Filmmakers Journey Part 1' (24:40 HD) and 'Part 2' (12:20 HD). The first half goes on yet again about how good the story is and the daunting task of turning the book into a movie and how many thought it was ‘impossible’ to do. That old chestnut comes up on many a book to screen adaptation. Part two delves into how to keep the movie moving at a pace to match the page turner that the book was and shows lots of B-Roll footage and has pretty much everyone patting Ron Howard and Dan Brown on the back for their work.
‘The Code of the Da Vinci Code’ (0 5:33 HD) is probably the most impressive feature for me, even if it slightly doubles up with part of the Picture in Picture feature. This featurettes is essentially a grail quest—just kidding—it’s a look at some subtexts, sub visuals and hints in the movie that are peppered about the sets and locations. Certain pieces of art or phrases that relate to characters back stories, symbols and statues that represent certain story moments. It’s not quite enough to persuade me to go back and watch the movie again but if I was a fan, this would be the sort of thing that I’d take great delight in.
‘The music of the Da Vinci Code’ (0 2:54 HD) and ‘Scoring the Da Vinci Code' (09:44 HD) looks at Hans Zimmer’s generic score which if I wasn’t underwhelmed with enough already, I certainly am after hearing no end of it on these features and menus.
'Book to Screen' (11:06 HD) (even the titles are getting repetitive now) is more of the same and has Dan Brown telling his story about how he never even had movies planned but then Ron Howard seemed interested and his feelings changed. Ron tells us that it’s ‘essentially a quest’.
‘The Da Vinci Props’ (0 9:43 HD) and ‘The Da Vinci Sets’ (9:10) give a slightly deeper look into this part of the production and ‘The Visual Effects World of The Da Vinci Code’ (15:03) shows us the many effects and effects-houses that did the work on the film. Showing off the heavily green-screened flashbacks within the movie and how they interact around Langdon as he tells the story, which is all very effective, despite coming off a little daytime TV in places. Oh, and no one explains the thinking behind the completely over the top Silus car camera shot which even at the time of watching feels like a big ol’ waste of CGI money.
Also on the disc are trailers for Close Encounters, Seven Pounds and Damages Season 1.
I’ll admit it, the second time out, The Da Vinci Code wasn’t quite as bad as I remember it being the first time, but that being said it’s still a pretty poor and I certainly haven't had a change of heart towards it.
The biggest shame of it all is that the core story centred on the bloodline of Christ and the conspiracy to hide the so-called-truth is very, very intriguing. All of the elements discussed are interesting and plausible (depending on your beliefs) and it’s just a strong story that brings something new to the table. It’s just a crying shame it’s presented to us in this weak, heavy handed and considering the calibre of talent involved, pretty amateur way.
As for the disc, it does enough to warrant the upgrade from standard definition, especially considering the fairly reasonable price. To add more of a temptation there are plenty of features to keep the Dan Brown flock, as well as fans of the movie (are there any?) entertained, even though you'll probably have to do it in multiple sittings to prevent the repetitive nature of it all driving you insane. After all, this is essentially a grail quest...
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 4th May 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Danish, English, Finnish, Hindi, Norwegian, Swedish
Extras: BD-Live Features, Cinechat, Exclusive First Look at Angels & Demons, introduced by Ron Howard, Unlocking the Code: Picture-in-Picture , New Commentary on Selected Scenes with Ron Howard, Featurettes, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tatu, Sir Ian McKellen
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Mystery and Thriller
Length: 174 minutes
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