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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

Starring: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Alfred Molina, Jurgen Prochnow
Directed by: Ron Howard

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Some things you just can't avoid. Over the course of the last year or so, every time I looked at anything remotely involving the book industry, "The Da Vinci Code" was mentioned as either being a best seller of 'Harry Potter'-like proportions, or someone's favorite book (often even by people whose opinion I actually sort of respect).

So, bored while waiting for my trip back from Sundance this year, I found myself at the Salt Lake City airport with some change and a few hours to spare, so I bought the book for the trip back. I breezed right through it in the following 5 or so hours it took me to get back to my home town of Madison, WI. I don't normally read this sort of popular thriller stuff... not because I'm a snob, but I guess because I *do* whip right through fiction like this.

Not much of a challenge. On the other hand, I can see why this book is so popular; it's basically a series of word puzzles, cryptograms and logic puzzles that make it read like a cross between "Encyclopedia Brown", The Fugitive and the sort of Catholic conspiracy theory pablum you might hear on AM talk radio. It should be interesting to see how exactly this translates to movies; much of the puzzle solving involves Hanks' character prattling on for pages describing various historical concepts involving the founding of the Catholic Church.

I can see how these relatively little-known facts are interesting to most people, since this stuff is not talked about that much, but if you are familiar with terms like the Apocryphra, the Nicaean Council or the Codex Leicester, most of what Langdon says is going to be old hat for you (it was for me, pretty much). Admittedly, I was sort of informed by the book about the nature of the organization called Opus Dei, which is very central to the intrigue of the book (just want to confess that I'm not a *total* know-it-all :), though I have my doubts whether their actions are quite as exciting as he depicts. Over all, I thought the book was well-written and engaging enough for me to keep turning the page, but I was disappointed that with a hard cover price tag, it was over so quickly.

I guess, of course, the speed of the story is also what makes it a great candidate for feature film adaptation; except for 95% of all that historical exposition coming out of Hanks' character's mouth, it's very easy to imagine the movie being acted out in about 105 minutes.

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Anyway, as for what my expectations for the actual movie are now that I've read the book... I've got to say that pretty much everything we know about the movie is exactly what I would expect. Hanks, Tautou and Reno are 1, 2 and 3 exactly whom I would have cast myself.

I would not at all be surprised to discover Dan Brown wrote the characters with them in mind. Likewise, there's nothing particularly surprising that Ron Howard and Imagine Entertainment are involved; despite the controversy that some people might attach to the movie's concepts, this is more or less a pretty standard thriller caper in the style of The Fugitive (and heehee... thematic elements reminiscent of Hudson Hawk and Dogma ; yes, really).

What I mean is Howard's success mainstream director is his ability to be just that: universally appealing, and that's why this novel is such a hit; its story is very broad and able to grasp the curiosity of a large audience, apparently growingly intrigued by the historical implications that documents like the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hummadi have suggested over the last few decades. There's also a very good chance that it's this controversy that will help Sony and Imagine promote this movie throughout the spring and summer of 2006.

The story's implications about the nature of a certain Biblical female character could easily become the starting point of media-contrived "controversies" comparable to the hubbub surrounding The Passion of the Christ, except here, it's the Catholics who are made out to be the bad guys, not the Jews (well, certain types of Catholics, anyway, but the same restriction could be placed on the "villains" of Gibson's movie).

Anyway, I say all that to say this... the greenlighting of this movie was a no-brainer. Brown's novel is a runaway literary blockbuster of the sort seen only maybe once or twice a decade, and invariably, these sort of novelistic hits always become movies (heck, one of them, The Bonfire of the Vanities, *also* starred Tom Hanks).

Given the choice release weekend often reserved for the likes of 'Star Wars' prequels, this movie may lack much in the way of special effects (action wise, it's pretty standard fare), but it's literary origin is still such the novel du jour, and the timing is so perfect, that this movie is already a top contender to be one of 2006's biggest summer blockbusters.

*Preview by Greg, Yahoo! Movies


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