Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Da Vinci Code Reviewed

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Daughter #3 took me to see "The Da Vinci Code" movie for my birthday this afternoon. I did not have much interest in seeing the movie for its own sake but felt that, as a church pastor, I should see it so as to respond to questions, etc. that might arise in my congregation.

My take on the movie?

The Good: This was clearly begun as a high-budget film. The cinematography, sound, etc. was excellent, especially in the dimly-lit scenes which, in so many movies, are so dark as to leave the viewer wondering what is actually going on. The scenery was enjoyable as well, especially for my daughter and I who visited the Louvre several years ago and could easily imagine the location. The acting of Ian McKlellen (as Sir Teabing) and Paul Bettany (as the albino assassin) provided most of the dramatic sparks . . . not exceptional performances, mind you, but at least believable and solid. Audrey Tautou (as Sophie Neveu) was pleasant to look at but added little else to the stories emotional tensions.

The Bad: The screenplay was dull, dreary, preachy, long-winded and, to put it bluntly, boring. So much (pseudo-) historical background had to be explained in order to understand the plot that it often seemed as though Tom Hanks (as symbologist Robert Langdon) was reading from the novel's Clift Notes. Most of the characters plodded through their lines as if they were going through a dress rehearsal rather than having arrived on the set completely in character. The "believability factor" for much of the plot was near zero. There was little motivation for Langdon to risk his life for such a bizarre and unexpected encounter with people he had never met or heard of before . . . and in a foreign country to boot. Didn't he have a real life somewhere that included family? work? commitments? The strange and irrational logic and behaviors of the supposed members of the Priory of Sion and the fanatical elements of Opus Dei who seek their extinction, seemed more like something out of an old B-Science Fiction film rather than a first-class suspense movie. The whole scenario played out as phony as a James Bond movie plot.

The Ugly: Where the movie fell apart completely was in its supposed "historical" references. The list of fantasy facts was so exhaustive that at one point I actually leaned over and told my daughter that the comment about the Pope designating Mary Magdalene as a prostitute in 551(?) AD was the first true fact I had heard so far! The flashback scene to the Council of Nicea was particularly laughable. "Ben Hur" (both of them) and "The Greatest Story Ever Told" were more historically accurate than this piece of fluff. Not only was the presentation of that event (and the substance and purpose for it) a complete fraud but the cinematic "special effects" that recreated that scene (and other flashbacks) appeared to have been filmed and produced after the film's budget had already been spent.

In the end I cannot imagine the movie convincing anyone other than a raving lunatic or an impressionable visitor from another planet that Jesus Christ was "Married With Children" and that the entire Christian Faith was a fraud concocted by Constantine in cahoots with the leaders of a faith which had just survived two centuries of suffering, persecution and martyrdom for what? Believing that Jesus had been a man?. Sure.

If I were to catalogue the novel or movie at the local public library I would be tempted to classify it as "Fantasy and Science Fiction." It has more in common with "Star Trek" than with, say, "Gladiator" or "Master and Commander."

I'd give it two stars out of five, having docked it a half-star for simply being so unintentionally pompous and pretentious in the brazen flaunting of its "historical" hoo-haws.