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As soon as Dan Brown’s novel started topping best seller charts around the world, it was only a matter of time until a studio snapped up the rights and turned it into a multi-million dollar blockbuster. The Da Vinci Code is probably the closest thing to a sure thing you can get in Hollywood and as expected it earned a packet at the box office and this DVD is sure to sell by the bucket-load, but when the Sony Pictures board look past the great big piles of cash in front of them, is the film they produced actually any good?

Da Vinci Code, The

Feature


For those of you who haven’t seen The Da Vinci Code, read the book, sat in an office full of people who have read the book or bought the book so you could burn it, here’s the plot…

When the caretaker of the Louvre is killed and his body left surrounded by a series of cryptic messages, the police call on American symbology professor Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks avec mullet) to decode the clues. Enter Parisian police cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) who tells him that not everything is as it seems and the pair of them are quickly thrown into a race to discover the dark secrets of Da Vinci’s work, the mysterious Catholic sect Opus Dei and the Holy Grail.

With a cliff-hanger at the end of each three-page chapter, the source material is structured in a way that makes movie adaptation fairly simple. This is also one of the main reasons for the success of the novel-it’s easy to pick up and read just one more chapter, but the movie is partly a victim of the novel’s success. Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman and director Ron Howard knew that the fans wanted their movie to be as faithful an adaptation as possible and as a result the screenplay doesn’t take too many chances.

Da Vinci Code, The
It’s a commonly held opinion that in general, films based on books are never as good as the fans of the book expect. 400 pages into a 120-page screenplay is a tight fit and fans’ favourite bits nearly always get left out to keep the plot moving along to hit the two-hour target running time, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who thinks the book is significantly better than the film in the case of The Da Vinci Code. The fact of the matter is that there are no surprises and other than a few clever visual tricks to show how Langdon decodes the many clues along the way, the filmmakers have played it safe by leaving just about everything in. Maybe that’s the reason Ron Howard was given the microphone and director’s chair. Although he has made many successful and critically acclaimed films, Howard isn’t exactly Oliver Stone in the controversy or experimentation stakes.

The casting director wasn’t exactly working overtime either. Other than the possible appointment of Harrison Ford (who would have insisted on creative control) as Langdon, the other members of the all-star cast were shoo-ins for their roles. Nobody does an assertive Frenchman better than Jean Reno and Tautou has an innocent charm as Neveu, even though some of her lines were the corniest on offer. Paul Bettany’s performance is incredibly intense as albino monk Silas, which is particularly powerful in his flagellation scenes but it can grate a little when he shares scenes with characters that aren’t members of Opus Dei.

Unfortunately for Tom Hanks, he doesn’t have much to work with. The character of Robert Langdon is fairly thin and apart from a token phobia and learning the ‘truth’ about Jesus Christ he is pretty much the same person at the end that he was at the beginning. However, Ian McKellen’s effortless performance is incredibly enjoyable and he adds a much-needed dash of humour when everything is about to get a bit too serious.

Da Vinci Code, The
All the nit-picking in the world doesn’t really matter if you buy into the story. The Da Vinci Code is a thriller at heart and even though critics have complained that there’s a lot of talking and not much action for a summer blockbuster, this is a blockbuster for the part of your brain that enjoys a clever conspiracy theory. At the very least, I was happy just to go to the cinema this summer to watch something that wasn’t a sequel or featured computer-generated animals going on a journey.

That may sound like a back-handed compliment and I guess it is, but I enjoyed reading the book and I was looking forward to seeing the movie. Yes, the filmmakers have played it safe, yes it’s too long, especially in the last half hour and yes, there’s a lot of sitting around talking while the other summer movies were blowing things up left, right and centre, but I still enjoyed The Da Vinci Code for what it is—an intriguing thriller full of twists and turns played by some of the best actors around.

Video


Every frame in The Da Vinci Code is expertly crafted and the whole film, from the halls of the Louvre to the flashback sequences of the Crusades, look great. As expected, the picture quality is of a very high standard with smooth lines, sharp detail in long shots and just the right amount of intentional grain in the right places. With this release split across two discs and the exclusion of a DTS track that can be found on some other releases, there is room on the disc for a high quality picture and I did not notice any signs of compression.

Da Vinci Code, The

Audio


The Da Vinci Code is not one of the noisiest summer blockbusters in recent years but there is still a lot going on in the audio track and it is just as perfectly crafted as the picture. Music is playing throughout most of the film and Hans Zimmer’s impressive score is given the chance to impress without ever drowning out the dialogue, which is clean and crisp and changes appropriately to match the effects you would expect in the many different locations.

Extras


Sony Pictures have done it again and packed the empty space left on disc one with as many trailers as they could for upcoming DVD and cinema releases. The rest of the extras can be found on disc two, which houses ten featurettes, which are essentially one long documentary split into ten parts, some of more value than others.

‘First Day On Set With Ron Howard’ does exactly what it says on the tin, showing the director doing his first shots at the Louvre and also includes short interview clips with Howard, Tom Hanks, Dan Brown et al, which is a common theme for the rest of the featurettes.

‘Discussion with Dan Brown’ allows the novelist to talk about his creation and where he got his inspiration from. He also gives away a few details about the follow-up to The Da Vinci Code and comments on the overwhelming success of the novel and how it has changed his life.

Da Vinci Code, The
‘Portrait Of Langdon’ is a short piece about the character and Ron Howard’s view of how Tom Hanks is ideal for the role because his ‘everyman’ persona helps to draw the audience towards a character that had previously been established to the readers of Angels and Demons, which is scheduled for a cinema release in 2008.

‘Who Is Sohpie Neveu?’ does the same for the female lead as the previous part did for Tom Hanks’ character. Dan Brown makes a point of singling out Audrey Tautou for a personal thumbs-up and there are some comments from the producers about how they decided to cast a French actress. This is a good point because lazier producers would surely have gone for Julia Roberts or some other supposedly guaranteed box office draw rather than trying for a bit of realism. Akiva Goldsman also comments on his decision to make Sophie’s emotional journey the core thread of the story.

‘Unusual Suspects’ is where the documentary starts to lose its way a little, with a bit more waffling about the decisions to cast international actors. Dan Brown states that the only character in the novel he had an actor in mind during the writing process was Jean Reno as Bezu Fache and he personally thanked him for agreeing to the role on the first day on set. I think any filmophile would have thought of Reno in this role while they were reading The Da Vinci Code. I know I did.

‘Magical Places’ takes a look at some of the impressive locations used and the filmmakers discuss the implications of filming at places like the Louvre, where they were on a very tight overnight shooting schedule and were restricted to their lighting choices. However, they were given a lot of support from the French government, even having a meeting with French president Jacques Chirac to discuss their plans.

‘Close up on the Mona Lisa’ is a few minutes of the actors and crew talking about the painting. That’s about it really.

‘Filmmaker’s Journey’ is split into two parts and is your typical 'making of' documentary with behind the scenes footage, more interviews and comments on the characters and symbolism in the film.

Da Vinci Code, The
For me, ‘Codes of The Da Vinci Code’ was the most interesting part of the whole documentary. I was ready to sum up The Da Vinci Code as a film that doesn’t reward repeat viewings because of the problem-solving nature of the story. You have to take it all in because if you miss an action or line of dialogue, you might miss a link between one scene and the next, but Dan Brown and Ron Howard have added something else into the film for those who want to dig a bit deeper. Throughout the film there are images and symbols that relate to the story and the actions of the characters. We’re given the explanations of a few of them to start us off and a warning that some of them are quite difficult to decode but I have to say it’s made me want to watch it again.

‘Music of The Da Vinci Code’ looks at Hans Zimmer’s score and includes an interview with the composer himself where he talks about his inspiration and states that he put as much into this score as he had into any other in his career.

Overall


Though the film didn’t court the same controversy as the novel upon its release, it was still incredibly popular and made plenty of money for the producers. To do this, the filmmakers delivered exactly what the fans were waiting for and I’m sure that anyone who had read the novel could have predicted the tone and style of the final product. This DVD release presents the film with high quality video and audio but the extra features are a little lacking, with the notable exclusion of commentaries and deleted scenes which surely means we’ll get a second, more in-depth release before the release of Angels and Demons.


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