Sunday, July 16, 2006



I came, I saw, and I wasn’t conquered.

I will give it to you straight. The film version of the Da Vinci Code was a disaster, burdened by a brewing controversy of its own making (which, thankfully, helped it at the tills), and a ho-hum performance by its lead characters.

Directed by Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, M*A*S*H) and screenplay by Akiva Goldsman (producer of Poseidon, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Constantine), the film successfully wasted the amazing sceneries of Paris and London by its irritating in-your-face photography. With the rare distinction of actually filming in all the locations found in the novel save for anything within the Holy See’s jurisdiction, there weren’t enough long shots of the Louvre and of the normally-breathtaking English countryside to provide a sense of grandeur, and the shots in the churches were given to trivial details instead of taking in their vastness, majesty – and emptiness - to capture the mystery that is most essential in this film’s success. After all, this is the very same thing that made the novel a winner. It has set fire to its readers’ imaginations, that to see the film version would be the next best thing to seeing the places mentioned in it.

But lo and behold, Ron Howard failed miserably in capturing the essence of the book. He focused too much on the controversial parts of the book (for obvious reasons) that he forgot that the novel was, first and foremost, a cultural trip across Old Europe’s most secret and mysterious locations. The controversial twists were merely that – twists.

The film also tried to end itself on an emotional and triumphant note, with a realization by Robert Langdon that Mary Magdalene was actually buried beneath I.M. Pei’s (in)famous glass pyramids at the Louvre. For those who’ve read the book, this is a new and totally different ending, but it only appears like an afterthought if only to close all the issues it raised during the length of the film.

Needless to say (but I’m still saying it), Tom Hanks is wrong for the character of Langdon. He doesn’t have gravitas to live up to Langdon’s reputation. Audrey Tautou is a pretty and swell actress as exemplified by the global success of Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain , but she appears staid and restrained in the Da Vinci Code. It must be because she has to speak in English, although this hasn’t been much of a problem with French actresses Sophie Marceau and Julie Delpy. Maybe she’d get used to it soon enough to be able to accept more English-speaking roles. (Note: a little-known film, Dirty Pretty Things, where she plays an illegal immigrant working as a chamber maid, is a must-see for fans and cineastes)

French films are to blame for this because they are rarely shown outside Europe – and available DVDs are almost always without English subtitles. Tautou’s last film, A Very Long Engagement, obviously was shown in Manila to cash in on people’s happy memories of her in Amelie, but I digress.

Sir Ian McKellen, playing the role of ‘The Teacher’, is the only winner in this film. Being English helps, I guess. French actor Jean Reno has done far better roles than this one. Léon comes to mind easily. Paul Bettany (Dogville, Wimbledon, A Beautiful Mind) as Silas is threatening enough but he could have given the role a little more oomph to incite fear, but I guess this wasn’t meant to be. He only went by the book, so to speak. Alfred Molina (Frida, Chocolat) as Bishop Aringarosa was forgettable.

Overall, the Da Vinci Code was a boring thriller sans the thrill. It wasn’t worth all the hullabaloo and I found myself in a semi-catatonic state all throughout. Well, just go on and see it; then, move on with your life.

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