Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Da Vinci Code movie

The Da Vinci Code, Philippa Hawker, May 18, 2006 A blockbuster made with a sense of what feels like weary duty. ... [Agree with the first, but not the second (see below).]

THE movie version of The Da Vinci Code might have an unbeatable combination of elements in its favour: it's based on a worldwide bestseller, it has been launched with a tidal wave of publicity, and there has been a flurry of notoriety and religious controversy, which didn't seem to do The Passion of the Christ any harm. It even had the distinction of an opening night at the Cannes Film Festival. But all this counts for nothing when the audience takes its place in the cinema, and for most of the 2 1/2 hours The Da Vinci Code feels like a slog. It's a dour, slightly murky vision: it feels, in a disconcerting way, as if director Ron Howard was trying to convey a mood of mild depression. [I, my wife and my fellow church members I spoke to after the movie yesterday (our church was offered a morning-tea + low admission price special), disagree. We all felt that the movie was very well (if not brilliantly) done, despite my low expectations after reading reviewers who all seemed to be regurgitating each other's negative reviews. Which is not to say that I agree with the facts, I certainly don't (see my webpage "The Da Vinci Code versus Christianity"). It is still almost totally factually wrong.]

And the things that a cinematic version could have added to a book that had its own plodding aspects - the pleasures of performance, the rush of bravura action sequences - just aren't there. [Frankly, I find it hard to believe this reviewer, Philippa Hawker, and I saw the same movie!] Tom Hanks is the hero, symbology expert Robert Langdon, who in the book is described by his admirers as "Harrison Ford in Harris tweed", with a voice that his female students call "chocolate to the ears". Hanks plays him with a look of unease that shifts occasionally into discomfort. [Actually, I thought Hanks played the part of Langdon to perfection.]

And Amelie's Audrey Tautou as the resourceful Sophie, [As did Tautou the part of Sophie. I would not be at all surprised if both she and Hanks win Oscars for their parts.] the cryptography expert drawn into the quest for the meaning and location of the Holy Grail, shares his anxious expression most of the time. [This is a weird criticism. They were being hunted by the French Judicial Police on a charge of murder and by a fanatical monk who had already killed in cold blood at least five people, so I would have thought the appropriate expression was "anxious"!]

Only Ian McKellen, as an eccentric Grail buff, has any real energy: the film crackles to life whenever he's on screen. His is the only character who seems to be having an adventure: everyone else just looks gloomy. [Well considering that as Sir Leigh Teabing, he was not being hunted (and I don't want to spoil the movie or book for anyone who hasn't seen or read it, by saying any more, although note that this link has a "plot spoiler" warning), unlike Langdon and Sophie, he has no reason to look gloomy.]

Dan Brown's story oscillates between cliffhanger chapter endings and mini-tutorials on da Vinci's iconography, the Grail legend and the history of the early church. [A difficult combination to translate into a movie.]

Screenwriter Akiva Goldman has managed to compress a good deal of this into the screenplay. [Agreed. It is really astonishing how much of the book he manages to include in the movie.] although those who have not read the book might find some of the plot details hard to follow. [I said that to my wife after the movie, but she disagreed. But I still think that is the case. But the alternative would be to slow the movie down with more dialogue at the expense of more briefly (or not at all) covering scenes in the book.]

Those who have read and enjoyed it will find that a few liberties have been taken with the story, and might take issue with some of them. And those with concerns about the film's capacity to offend religious sensibilities will note added elements that attempt to soften the controversy and have each-way bets about faith. [That was a big surprise. In the scenes where Teabing is spouting his nonsense about Constantine convening the Council of Nicaea to decree that Jesus was not just a man, but also God, as stated in the Nicene Creed:

"I believe ... in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only-begotten Son of God,
begotten of the Father before all worlds;
God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God;
begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father,
by Whom all things were made..."

the movie (but not the book) has Langdon correctly pointing out that the Council merely ratified what Christians had already believed for nearly three centuries. No doubt it was done to help avoid a boycott by Christians, but nevertheless it was good to see some countering of Brown's absurd (and indeed dishonest claims).]

But it's hard to imagine that anyone is going to feel much more than fatigue as they emerge from the cinema. [Agree, but due to all the fast-paced action, not boredom at having read the book. Personally I think the movie is better than the book.]

It's a blockbuster made with a sense of what feels like weary duty.... [Any reviewer who thinks that should consider whether the "weary duty" they are feeling is due to them having seen too many movies they were forced to watch and forgotten what it is like to just enjoy them!

During the movie the thought occurred to me that seeing it on screen will help most people to realise (if they hadn't already) that Brown's story is just fiction (indeed it is hard to think of any of its claims against Christianity that are factually true).

I am glad to see that many churches are regarding the movie as a mission opportunity. Their (and my) attitude is that of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 1:15-18 (NIV), "what does it matter?" since "whether from false motives or true", whether "out of selfish ambition" (e.g. in Dan Brown's case), "The important thing is that in every way Christ is preached" (i.e. spoken about), and therefore we Christians should "rejoice":

"15It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice."]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
`Evolution Quotes Book'

5 comments:

Reel Fanatic said...

Great stuff .. I won't be going to see this one, but I've been curious to read responses to it .. Poor bella Audrey just looks vaguely annoyed in all the press materials I've seen for this

Krauze said...

Hi Steve,

I agree with your assesment of the film. I saw it with a friend who (unlike me) had read the book, and we had both read the very negative reviews in the press. I personally expected to be bored out of my skull. But when the lights came back on and the credits were rolling over the screen, we agreed that the movie had been way better than the reviews had let us to expect. My only criticism was the disturbingly cut car chase in Paris, but apart from that, the movie managed to hold my attention throughout - which isn't bad, considering that it lasts 2 and a half hours.

Stephen E. Jones said...

>Krauze said...
Hi Steve,

Hi Krauze.

>I agree with your assesment of the film. I saw it with a friend who (unlike me) had read the book, and we had both read the very negative reviews in the press. I personally expected to be bored out of my skull.

Thanks. It is an advantage to have read the book, but not essential. However, I suspect that after seeing the movie, many who had not read the book will do so, to explain the parts they don't understand.

>But when the lights came back on and the credits were rolling over the screen, we agreed that the movie had been way better than the reviews had let us to expect.

I expect the public will again have an opposite opinion from the critics. It sounds like another case of a cultural elite being out of touch with ordinary people (if not reality).

>My only criticism was the disturbingly cut car chase in Paris,

I presume the movie had to have it to explain their escape from the Louvre and getting to the bank via the US Embassy (the latter being an unncessary complication that Dan Brown wrote into the book). But then they didn't have time to flesh it out. Maybe it will go down in movie history as the shortest car chase (at the other end of the scale to the one in Bullitt)?

>but apart from that, the movie managed to hold my attention throughout - which isn't bad, considering that it lasts 2 and a half hours.

It certainly is attention-holding (unless you are a bored critic and have seen it all). When it finished my wife said she had to unclench her fists, she was so tense from all the action (even though the end is a gradual wind-down).

No doubt Brown will make more money, but I expect at the expense of his credibility, as more people realize after seeing the film that his plot was just a fantasy (and a *dishonest* one at that since Brown claimed it was "fact").

I wonder what the next anti-Jesus, anti-Christianity, money-making blockbuster will be.

It reminds me of what Chesterton wrote about critics attacking Christ and Christianity for opposite reasons, which shows that it is *Him* who is the centre, and *them* who are the off-centre (literally eccentric) ones:

"This odd effect of the great agnostics in arousing doubts deeper than their own might he illustrated in many ways. I take only one. As I read and re-read all the non-Christian or anti-Christian accounts of the faith, from Huxley to Bradlaugh, a slow and awful impression grew gradually but graphically upon my mind- the impression that Christianity must be a most extraordinary thing. For not only (as I understood) had Christianity the most flaming vices, hut it had apparently a mystical talent for combining vices which seemed inconsistent with each other. It was attacked on all sides and for all contradictory reasons. ... And then in a quiet hour a strange thought struck me like a still thunderbolt. There had suddenly come into my mind another explanation. Suppose we heard an unknown man spoken of by many men. Suppose we were puzzled to hear that some men said he was too tall and some too short; some objected to his fatness, some lamented his leanness; some thought him too dark, and some too fair. one explanation (as has been already admitted) would be that he might be an odd shape. But there is another explanation. He might be the right shape. Outrageously tall men might feel him to be short. Very short men might feel him to be tall. Old bucks who are growing stout might consider him insufficiently filled out; old beaux who were growing thin might feel that he expanded beyond the narrow lines of elegance. Perhaps Swedes (who have pale hair like tow) called him a dark man, while negroes considered him distinctly blonde. Perhaps (in short) this extraordinary thing is really the ordinary thing, at least the normal thing, the centre. Perhaps, after all, it is Christianity that is sane and all its critics that are mad-in various ways." (Chesterton, G.K., "Orthodoxy," [1908], Fontana: London, 1961, reprint, pp.83,89).

Stephen E. Jones

Krauze said...

Hi Steve,

"(even though the end is a gradual wind-down)."

They saved the biggest surprise for the end: Robert Langdon kisses Sophie on the forehead, and walks away! I don't think I've ever seen a movie without the obligatory romance thrown in.

Stephen E. Jones said...

>Krauze said...
Hi Steve,

"(even though the end is a gradual wind-down)."

>They saved the biggest surprise for the end: Robert Langdon kisses Sophie on the forehead, and walks away! I don't think I've ever seen a movie without the obligatory romance thrown in.

It was in the book too. I suspect it is because Sophie (allegedly) was the last living descendant of the man Jesus and the Goddess Mary Magdalen's, so she (Sophie) is also a Goddess too(in Brown's twisted logic).

That's right, the fundamental `logic' of the Da Vinci Code is: 1) Jesus was just a man; 2) Mary Magdalen was just a woman; but 3) by (allegedly) marrying Jesus, she became a Goddess (note the true Grail quest is to kneel before her bones)!

So, presumably it would complicate the plot (and maybe lose the lesbian part of the `sacred feminine' vote), if Sophie became too romantically involved with Langdon?

In support of that, the one sex scene in the movie where Sophie recalls seeing her grandfather Jacques Saunière indulging in Hieros Gamos (ritual `sacred' sex) is *very* tame (by Hollywood standards).

PS: I have never quite worked out why, if Jesus was just a man (and indeed *at best* massively deluded since he thought he was God), anyone (including the fictitious Priory of Sion), could be *bothered* preserving his blood line.

PPS: There is another slight problem. Brown claimed at the start of the book that it was "fact", yet its fundamental premise was that if the world found out that Jesus was married and had offspring it would destroy Christianity. Well the world found that out in 1982 (if not before) when Brown's fellow fraudsters, Baigent, Leigh & Lincoln claimed that in "Holy Blood, Holy Grail." However, last I checked (Sunday), Christianity is still here!

Stephen E. Jones