The Da Vinci Code (2006)

Spending my junior year of college abroad in Ireland has given me the incredible opportunity to travel across Europe fairly cheaply. I recently visited Paris for 67 euro. While I was there, of course, I visited the Louvre, the most famous art museum in the world, home to some of history’s greatest masterpieces, including Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. This surreal experience inspired me to read Dan Brown’s own masterpiece, The Da Vinci Code, knowing that nearly the entire first act of the novel takes place in the Louvre and employs a massive conspiracy theory involving Da Vinci’s work as a vehicle to drive the narrative. Having been abandoned by my friends — who had early flights the morning of our last day in Paris — and approximately 14 hours of alone time before my own flight, I sat down in a Parisian café and read the first 400-odd pages.

As far as Ron Howard’s film is concerned, I would like to dedicate this review to explaining how it so stupidly and unnecessarily diverges from the novel that it actually pisses me off.  To better capture the tone of my rage, I will examine each moronic decision to veer away from the book as it pops into my mind, rather than going in chronological order according to the film.

The greatest of many atrocities committed by this film is the wildly inaccurate portrayal of the character of Robert Langdon, not that Tom Hanks played the character horribly — though I was surprised to find his performance fairly weak. It was Howard or whoever’s decision to portray the character as a skeptic of the great conspiracy, involving the mysterious Priory of the Sion and the brilliantly devised hidden messages within the works of Da Vinci, which enraged me. This decision essentially removes half of the stakes of the story. While in the novel, Robert Langdon’s fascination with the Holy Grail makes his predicament exhilarating, the movie’s — I refuse to call it a “film,” from now on — choice to have him be a non-believer makes his journey far less exciting because the audience doesn’t give a shit if he actually finds it. The audience is invested in this character, so if he doesn’t have a passion for the Grail, neither will the audience. Basically, all the audience cares about is whether or not Langdon and Sophie are able to evade the Fache — the police captain on their tail. In contrast, what makes the novel so great is the overwhelming number of sources of tension, including and especially the treasure hunt that these very likable characters —Langdon and Sophie — are so interested in.

And another thing: what in God’s name happened at the end?! Is the implication that Jacques Saunière is not Sophie’s grandfather? Is the tour guide at the Roslin an errand boy or is he Sophie’s brother and the third and final remaining direct descendant of Jesus Christ? How did the living Priory members get to Roslin so damn fast, and why did they come, anyway?

There is also a plethora of small details changed for no apparent reason, which, frankly, just rubbed me the wrong way.  When, for instance, Langdon and Sophie first seek asylum at Teabing’s “Le Petit Versailles,” the series of three questions he asks Langdon are slightly different. Why?!?!?! Ron, baby, you were adapting an immensely beloved novel; you should have known better than to mess around with the details. C’mon man, you’re better than that…

A final thought before I get too exasperated: the film completely and utterly ignored the humor in the book. By no stretch of the imagination is Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code a “comedy.”  This being said, between the back and forth between the two scholars and some of Langdon’s unspoken thoughts, there were several moments while reading that I audibly laughed.  At one point, Langdon ponders whether, given the obvious need of some of France’s great leaders to overcompensate for their small stature, it is a coincidence that the beloved symbol of French culture, the Eiffel Tower, is a 900-foot tall phallic object.  Because so much of the novel is spent articulating the unspoken thoughts of the characters, the movie adaptation — still not using the word “film” — might have benefited from a narrator. Or, even, multiple narrators; whosever’s thoughts were in need of expressing could have been expressed by that character as a narrator.

Let’s fan-cast this inevitable remake in the form of another David Fincher/Trent Reznor/Jeff Cronenweth team up starring Matt Damon as Robert Langdon and either Natalie Portman or Paris native Eva Green as Sophie; have Fincher work on the script together with Dan Brown, and I think a well-acted, masterfully crafted film that will dazzle yet alarm audiences will be produced. You’re welcome.

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