May 20, 2006

The DaVinci Code

Ron Howard's The DaVinci Code is recognizably the same story as Dan Brown's mega-selling novel. Every scene was directly drawn from the text, even much of the dialog. But with the exception of a few scenes of shocking violence, this might be the first thriller adaptation that's actually less thrilling than its source material.
In an effort to cram as much of the novel's mythology into the script as possible, the movie audience is denied the joy of the mystery. Revelations are clunked down in chunks of weighty narration that Brown gave the reader time to consider and think about before revealing. Without the joy of discovery, what sparked on the page fizzles on the screen.
And what few changes there are seem created to undermine the tension inherent in the text. The book makes it clear that Langdon has been thrown into being a fugitive before he even has any time to think about it. He is consistently, right up until the climax, a day late and a dollar short. It gave his character inherent fallible charm that made the reams and reams of history more digestible. Sophie Neveu, so much the equal partner in the book, is reduced to mere audience surrogate in the film. Of the novel characters only Silas, the albino monk, was adapted even adequately. And only Sir. Leigh Teabing survived with life and zeal. McKellan's portrayal, packed with all of the humour and inherent eccentricity of the character, is the movie's only saving grace. He makes the middle passages at least bearable.
If the Catholics found the book blasphemous, they have even less to like about the film. All of the religious figures, who must shoulder the mythology first and be human beings second, lack almost all of the human qualities that made them sympathetic in the book. Characters that were misguiding on the page are more universally evil here. Scenes that words made intimate and personal and granted a false sense of grandeur here. Goldsman's script plays to the broad strokes which it should focus more on the detail work.
The film had a neat visual device of going back in time through an overlap with the modern places. Buses drive through knights on horseback. It was took advantage of the film medium in the way very little else in the film did.
The movie, like the book, has two endings. The first, at Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, is representative of everything this movie has gotten wrong. A scene originally between four people is now filled with dozens. Revelations that should be personal are made merely historical. Changes are made that bog everything down rather that allow the movie to breath.
The second ending has no dialog. It was perfectly realized, and rather moving. It is a masterful use of cinema to relate a literary idea. I left the theatre wondering: Why couldn't the rest of the movie been handled like that? ()


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