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The Da Vinci Code (Frank's Take)

01/06/2006. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy The Da Vinci Code in the USA - or Buy The Da Vinci Code in the UK

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So the question presents itself as this: will one of the highly controversial event motion pictures of the year stack up to its enormous expectations? After all, says Frank, The Da Vinci Code has a lot riding on its explosive reputation. Not only is it based on the sensational best-selling book penned by Dan Brown, it has also created a worldwide buzz not experienced in quite some time.

The Da Vinci Code (2006) Columbia Pictures

So the question presents itself as this: will one of the highly controversial event motion pictures of the year stack up to its enormous expectations? After all, The Da Vinci Code has a lot riding on its explosive reputation. Not only is it based on the sensational best-selling book penned by Dan Brown, it has also created a worldwide buzz not experienced in quite some time.

With a catchy title, an immensely popular printed blueprint as its inspiration, two Oscar-winning likeable forces in the creative Tom Hanks-Ron Howard collaboration, a slew of perceived objectionable religious overtones and the majestic presentation of international interest, one would think that The Da Vinci Code was destined for cinematic greatness.


If this is the case, then why does filmmaker Ron Howard's underdeveloped topsy-turvy narrative make The Last Supper look like ordinary wining and dining at a cosy neighbourhood pizzeria? In other words, The Da Vinci Code isn't as percolating in its off-kilter reverence as one would expect.

As ambitious and intriguing as Brown's heralded tome has been to its countless avid readers, there were definite signs that the big screen adaptation had obvious notable shoes to fill artistically. Although stylishly roguish and exquisite in its jet-setting mode, The Da Vinci Code feels relentlessly disjointed and garrulous without offering any pliable stimulation to elevate this rambling actioner beyond its plodding means. Evidently Catholics and other religious denominations will have other pressing concerns in cracking this scabrous Code other than to argue its scathing spiritual ribaldry-they will probably be disgruntled by the film's overlong meandering mode as well.

As a moviemaker, Howard is undeniably imaginative and thoroughly celebrated for helming skilful material and taking his designed vision to the starving masses. However, Howard's spotty direction and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman's meagre scribing contributions renders this theological action-adventure an expensively staid and inflexible thriller. The handlers behind the film, particularly Howard, were spirited in their efforts to bring this heretical hayride to its compelling knees. Sadly, the challenge to rise to the occasion in capturing Brown's blasphemous page-turner only results in the quagmire of tedium despite its promise of hearty backlash. Consequently, this Da Vinci doesn't paint a pretty picture when it comes to tossing around its chaotic clues.

The premise centres on Harvard Professor/symbologist Robert Langdon (Hanks) as he tours the great sights of Europe. Specifically, Langdon is tapped to help in the murder investigation of a French museum curator found lifeless in the Louvre. Strangely, there are ominous designs and symbols embedded in the man's bloody chest not to mention incomprehensible scribbling at the dead body's side. Hmmm, just what do these signals actually mean anyway? Thankfully, Langdon is aided by the presence of police cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou from Amelie). Sophie just happens to be the deceased's granddaughter and is very concerned by the trail of puzzling pieces of symbolism left behind in an echo of head-scratching second-guessing.

Because of the complexity of this targeted murder investigation, Sophie feels that Langdon's involvement may be jeopardized. A cynical French cop (Jean Reno) is looking to make Langdon the fall guy in this pending homicide. With a series of ominous obstacles (anagrams, twisted riddles, suggestive anecdotes, etc.) and the sceptical French police in tow, Langdon and Sophie must flee while trying to patch together all the unknown symbolism that continues to befuddle them.

And so the manhunt is on for the tumultuous tandem as they seek out the harsh answers to threatening questions that could expose incriminating hush-hush titbits about the Catholic Church. Providing that the Catholic Church is immersed in such a tawdry cover-up, just what would they do to prevent our razzle-dazzle runaways from digging deep into secretive territory that might give some unflattering perception to Catholicism as a practicing discipline?

There's no doubt that Howard's expansive 152-minute odyssey is opulent in the sense that this robust scenic saga radiates when we're whisked away to lavish locales that include Paris, London and Scotland. But other than being a decent picturesque travelogue guide, The Da Vinci Code is never more than a slight cat-and-mouse frenzy wrapped up in a colourful package.

The suspense is curiously generic and the audience is never totally caught up in the hype involving the ponderous covert operations of Da Vinci's works that may have guarded a 2000-year old secret that could presumably shock the world. Surprisingly, Howard oversees this so-called provocative project with the impish simplicity of an elaborate treasure hunt. One has to wonder if this eye-popping production could have been more punctuated, structured and riveting under the guidance of a more intense, offbeat and unconventional filmmaker.

Howard oozes in the pricey excessiveness when turning the camera on his theory-driven thrill-ride. Even so, you're left wondering with all the deciphering and dashing that's taking place then why does The Da Vinci Code drag as noticeably as a defective muffler on the Pope's bullet-proof buggy? Maybe it has to do with the fact that Hanks (with his bizarre hairdo withstanding) and Tautou have all the action-oriented lustre of Pa and Ma Kettle on a treadmill? Or that the staggering convolution of descriptive mumbo-jumbo feels dull than it does deliriously uplifting?

As the periled pair on a mission, Hanks/Langdon and Tautou/Sophie never give us their impression as being convincingly compromised by the potential conflicts that lie ahead. In fact the duo appear almost as mismatched as the twisting and turning hints they're asked to solve while on the run. Basically, it's almost inexcusable for Hanks and Tautou to give off such indifferent vibes in a probing albeit choppy potboilers such as this mediocre offering.

The continual excitement of this mundane mystery-thriller is highlighted by the pseudo-shock value of the various personalities thrown at us for quirky disillusionment. The harried evilness of menacing monks, perturbed pagans, a cultish Catholic sect and a murderous albino (Paul Bettany) is merely a laundry list of macabre characters that pop up erratically in a bid to chew the ticking minutes away. The film is rescued somewhat by Ian McKellan's Holy Grail aficionado and the wild musings of the church politics and protocol. For the most part, The Da Vinci Code comes off as overblown and scattershot and the sense of urgency certainly gets lost in this unintentional silly-minded conspiracy fable.

The reliable factor behind Da Vinci's "code" of honour is probably the notion that it had the advantageous protesting label stuck to it confrontational backside. Ironically, the self-importance and toxic barbs pointed at this hostile holy-minded whodunit couldn't buy a pensive moment even if it dared to suggest that the Almighty wore white tube socks with His sandals.

Frank Ochieng

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