Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Da Vinci Code


Dir: Ron Howard (many films better than this)

Jesus died for this!? I used to operate under the cinematic maxim that Ron Howard has never made a bad film. Even Splash had redeemable qualities. While none of his films are masterpieces, you could always count on an enjoyable story with some solid acting and compelling, if not cliched, cinematography. Like Marcus dropping irrational prejudices, that maxim is no more. Marcus, you have been waiting for me to rail on a film. Well, here it comes.

The plot: Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is a notable Professor of Symbolism (or some other made up discipline) at Harvard University. He is delivering a lecture in Paris; afterwards, he is supposed to meet a curator at the Louvre. But alas, said curator is murdered, but he leaves numerous symbolic codes for Langdon. But the French cop on the scene is hell bent on pinning the crime of Langdon. Ok, let me get this straight: a world famous Harvard professor is being framed for the horrific murder of a guy he never met and the lead French investigator could not careless about the forensic evidence and motive...and remember this happens during the same time Langdon is delivering a lecture and conducting a book signing (Yes, I know Harvard professors are hard workers, and they get a lot accomplished in limited time). What follows is a series of non-sequitor chase scenes, unsubstantiated motives, placid character developments (anytime character develop rests solely on hackneyed flashbacks, you know the screenwriter is cashing it in), and uninspired acting. I hear the film is quite faithful to the book, so I blame Dan Brown, the man responsible for the collective dumbing down of society (at least Oprah assigns her readers quality literature).

I am often reluctant to dismiss populist art prima facia as superficial tripe. But I can only imagine Brown's faithful readers mistake the book's compelling religious conspiracy as insightful erudition. Indeed, the premise has merit. Jesus had a child with Mary Magdaline, but that secret was repressed by the Church to maintain the "faith" and the resultant power structure. I can see the attraction of a historic conspiracy that attempt to thwart any information that could undermine existing scripture and the accepted story of Jesus Christ. The premise is quite plausible; the Catholic Church has done some horrific acts in the name of Jesus (the film explains that the historic oppression of women in Christianity is the product of suppressing the Jesus/Mary marriage). But the film (perhaps the book is more thorough) does little with this premise beyond the intial exposition (and oh my Lord, is there a lot of exposition). Instead, Howard chooses to focus on the most artificial murder-mystery-cum-grand-conspriracy "thriller" in recent film history. Even the editing and cinematic tricks were lazy and derivative (recycled Beautiful Mind filming techniques). Yes, the antagonists have a secret to maintain, but beyond that, no character motivation is ever established. The plot rests on characters getting crossed, then double-crossed, then triple-crossed, which only results in the film collasping under its own indulgence. I have crapped more cohesive plots than this.

Howard often follows the Spielberg School of Filmmaking; have a plot dripping with pathos that we are forced to love the protagonists. But I guess Howard has now settled on a sacchrine-free cinematic diet. I failed to care about anyone, even the decsendent of Jesus Christ! (don't worry, I am not spoiling any plot--either you have read the book or you will have had figured out the entire plot within the first fifteen minutes of the film). I don't know what is the greater waste: the squandering of excellent talent on both sides of the camera or the money and hours spent watching the film (or the book for that matter). In the end, everyone loses.

I even have a problem with the title, in no way does it have anything to do with Da Vinci or a Code. I am not even certain "the" is anyway descriptive, except perhaps, this is "the" film you should not see this summer.

I wanted to like the movie, I really did. Howard, Hanks, Goldsmith, Reno, Molina, Tatou. Great talent. But the weight of expectations may have been too much, but it bothers me that the expectations were set by a stupid story based on an inspired premise (the only parts that Brown borrowed). Although I am not a religious man, I prefer the Greatest Story Ever Told. At least it makes sense.


Blogger paroske noted on 5/21/2006 06:34:00 PM that...

Have no interest in the movie. But the release has meant a week of cool Knights of Templar and Freemason conspiracy shows on the History Channel, so I applaud the making of this movie.


Blogger paroske noted on 5/22/2006 10:30:00 AM that...

One word:



Blogger ronvon2 noted on 5/22/2006 10:43:00 AM that...

Willow is the Battleship Potemkin compared to the DVC.  

Blogger paroske noted on 5/22/2006 11:16:00 AM that...

Did Battleship Potemkin have little people in leather pants?


Blogger ronvon2 noted on 5/22/2006 04:16:00 PM that...

Only in the John Waters remake.  

Blogger Omri noted on 5/25/2006 12:51:00 AM that...

With due respect, at least Brown and Howard do a relatively good job signaling the parts that are more fictional and the parts that are less fictional. The Gnostic Gospels exist in precisely the form that they are read out loud in the movie. The only good theologically substantive criticism that I've read was the one on Slate that honed in on the tension between Gnostic anti-materialism and the veneration of a mortal Christ. Which would matter if the Gnostics were theologically aware enough to notice inconsistencies in their beliefs and their practices (certainly that tension in Gnosticism was enough to fool the most incisive Catholic critic of Gnosticism in the last century into criticizing Protestantism and a type of Gnostism). The Last Supper also looks like what it is said to look like. If you think (correctly) that the aesthetic conventions of the time held John to be androgynous, make that point.

In fact, almost all of DVC's "dishonesty" comes from omissions (John looks like a woman... but aesthetic conventions dictated that John be drawn androgynously; a list of PS Grand Masters was found in the Bibliotheca National... by a lunatic who forged them and who claims to be a descendent of Christ). Frankly, I'm surprised at you - if Howard had said that Christ had 11 instead of 12 terrorists at Munich... err, disciples, you guys would be all over him.

I'm inclined to agree with a another review I read: you'll like the movie to the extent that you liked the book.  

Blogger ronvon2 noted on 5/25/2006 11:41:00 AM that...

Like Munich, I am evaluating the DVC on its textual and artistic merits, not some assertion of historic fidelity (those are a different set of questions, again, like Munich). Sure, they may aptly separate truth from fiction. But if that is anchored to a crappy narrative, then the value of such a separation becomes lost, or at least inconsequnetial. As I said, the premise is intriguing and can spark very interesting discussions (your post would suggest that). However, all those insights and resultant discussions could be had without the movie (read Holy Blood, Holy Grail, or as Marcus suggests, watch all the documentaries on the History channel). I afford Howard, and by extension Brown, all the poetic license he wants. But you are beholden to your artistic choices, and Howard's stink (at least in the DVC). I have heard that the movie is very faithful to the book. Good, because now I dont have the slightest bit of guilt for watching the movie before reading the book. My guess is that reading the nutrition labels on cereal boxes would be more rewarding.

Now, given my scholarly interests, I do embrace these types of films that spark public discussion on important matters (Day After Tomorrow, China Syndrome). And I realize these public discussion would not be had if it were not for the DVC, so I do find value the existence of the film. But that does not serve as a warrant to justify their artistic quality.  

Blogger Paul Johnson noted on 5/26/2006 03:53:00 PM that...

I have no interest in seeing the movie because the book sucked. There. I said it. I'm an un-American Communist loving Da Vinci Coda "HATA".