Director: Ron Howard | Released: 2006
Starring: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautao, Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Paul Bettany
The Da Vinci Code is as controversial a novel as it is brilliant. Love it or hate it, this story’s depth and insight into the past–and using the past as a window to see our present–is something to admire. And it’s no mystery that this international blockbuster would eventually be made into a movie. The curiosity and fascination the book sparked in people obviously would make for a king’s ransom at the box office. So, is this the holy grail of screen adaptations, or another dead end on the quest for truthful screen adaptation?
Crappy Tour Guide
Dan Brown took careful aim to elaborate on the book’s settings. Afterall, in The Da Vinci Code characters explore some of the most famous buildings in Western Europe. Brown does this through third person narration and the lead character’s inner monologue. In using Robert Langdon’s (Tom Hanks) inner thoughts to explain the historical significance of these buildings, he is not only helping the viewer understand the importance of the locale and painting a clear picture for our imaginations, but he is also verifying himself as a historian and scholar.
In the movie, however, we do not get to hear Langdon’s admiration of the buildings or rambling thoughts on the cults and sects that dwelled there in centuries past. This has dire consequences on the validity of the character. Instead of hearing his expertise on the locations he takes us through from chapter to chapter, the movie proves his expertise in a quick and dirty prologue where he is lecturing an audience on symbology. The prologue is interesting, but fails to fill in the blanks on the dozen locations we see throughout the journey. It is only fair to note that Howard does provide some historical background, sporadically via flashbacks. But most of the historical significance is lost.
Removing these “tour guidesque” descriptions of places like Paris’ Louvre, London’s Westminster Abbey, Templar Church, and Chatteau Villette, really detracts from the experience as a whole. Imagine following a tour guide through Paris, but he doesn’t say anything at all about where he is taking you. That is how the movie feels in comparison to the novel.
There were too many bits and pieces of the novel left out of the movie, but there were a few surprise changes that are debatably for the better or worse. The most significant of these, in my opinion, comes in the end of the movie where Langdon and Sophie (Audrey Tautao) find the Priory of Sion’s documents in the bottom of Roslin Church. This doesn’t happen in the novel, as they get their answers from a more direct source. In the novel they do not find documents or the holy grail, but Sophie gets her memory back and finds her grandmother in a cottage by the church. From her we learn about Sophie’s past in a triumphant reuiniting–rather than Langdon extrapolating her history by pilfering the Priory’s ancient documents. Trading the scenes at grandma’s cottage for an extra scene at the church where we are led to believe Langdon and Sophie will be beat-down by the Priory, also leaves a hole in Langdon’s quest, as Sophie’s grandmother helped Langdon discover the current location of the grail. In the movie he figures it out himself.
In Landon and Sophie’s next dialogue scene, Langdon becomes this waxing philosopher on religion and spiritual power–which is 100% contradictory to his unwavering academic personality. Plus Howard leaves out their promise to reunite a month later in Italy–boo! The least he could have done for the brainiacs in the audience is promise them a hot date with a Frenchie for all their booksmarts.
Other notable changes come in all of the extra gunfire added in the movie. Shootings in churches? Oh boy. Howard also cut out the cocky usher from the Templar Church scene, which was a nice little episode of drama and a hint of suspense. The hospital scene with Inspector Fache (jean Reno) and Bishop Aringarosa (Alfred Molina) was cut, and left those two characters as enemies rather than friends. And for a quest movie to cut out an entire puzzle from the story was odd to me. Langdon solves two cryptex puzzles in the novel, but only one in the movie–an edit made to save time I’m sure. There are many more, but I’ll spare you the smaller points. But if I missed anything else major, please chime in. I don’t claim to be a Da Vinci Code conspirator, so by all means, conspire.
I’ve heard people grumble about Tom Hanks as Langdon, but I don’t think he was all that bad. Maybe Russell Crowe could have fit the mold better, but I digress. As mentioned before, the audience really doesn’t get to know just how deep Langdon’s intellect goes. And to put insult to injury, rather than displaying Langdon’s academic supremecy, Howard gives him a weird photographic memory superpower where he moves objects in his imagination to solve puzzles. What?! Just let the genius bore us with too much information! That’s what geniuses do!
The puzzle-pieces are hardly an obstacle in the movie, but they are nearly characters unto themselves in the novel. Also, charactesr spent little time on admiring the artificats found, whereas in the book pages were spent on describing the objects found. All-in-all, the characters, excluding Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellan) seemed blase about the adventure. The majority of scenes that made Sophie useful to the quest were cut or given to Langdon–which is odd since the movie is about discovering women’s rightful power in the world. But, then again, the big theme of the book is about the church depriving women of power–much like Howard stripping Sophie of her scenes. Instead, she comes across as dumb eye-candy…pity.
Also worth mentioning are little tweaks, like how Teabing is much more menacing and Fache is much more tame in the movie, while they were the exact opposite in the novel.
The movie is a so-so flick, but does the movie shame in my opinion. But, alot of the things the movie fail to convey are very hard elements to express in film. The characters, locations, and objectives of the story just seemed hollow in comparison to the novel. Let’s hope Howard’s Angels & Demons is a better interpreation Brown’s work. Stay tuned for the review.