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DVD Pick: The Da Vinci Code

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The Da Vinci Code DVD Cover Art

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An Entertaining Movie for Those Intrigued by Its Ideas

I wasn't bored for a moment by The Da Vinci Code (2006) starring Tom Hanks. But for those people who are not amused by the film's riffing on Leonardo da Vinci, Mary Magdalene and the Knights Templar, watching it must turn into a long slog. Still, millions of us have found it diverting to follow along as the story's hero goes on a quest to unlock the mystery of the Holy Grail.

Robert Langdon (Hanks) is a Harvard professor who has written a book titled Symbols of the Sacred Feminine. While visiting Paris, Langdon gets caught up in the aftermath of a murder committed in the Grande Galerie of the Louvre. He soon figures out that "so dark the con of man" is an anagram of "Madonna of the Rocks," and later he deduces that a bank account code was derived from the Fibonacci sequence.

Langdon goes to the home of another academic (played by Ian McKellen), who expounds on a mind-boggling hypothesis involving the Council of Nicaea, Leonardo's Last Supper and something called the Priory of Sion. This leads to Langdon ending up in Westminster Abbey at Newton's tomb and then traveling to Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland. But the final revelation has to do with the Louvre's Inverted Pyramid.

Dan Brown's Novel

The movie The Da Vinci Code is adapted from Dan Brown's 2003 blockbuster novel of the same name, which I had read before seeing the film. Brown is not a particularly good prose stylist, and believers in the cult of the sentence generally dislike his work. However, the book has a strong narrative drive, and I admire Brown's skill at embedding into a story historical speculation that I find interesting.

Prior to The Da Vinci Code, many books were written dealing with the issues raised by the historical speculation part of Brown's novel. These provided Brown with a variety of source materials, including Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln. (Brown's character Leigh Teabing—played by Ian McKellen in the film—is named for two of these authors, one by way of anagram.)

What Brown did in his novel was to take existing raw ideas and weave plot, characters and setting around them, thus creating enjoyable reading for millions of people. While the earlier books had only limited impact on the general public, The Da Vinci Code became a pop culture phenomenon.

Director, Screenwriter, Cast

Ron Howard directed The Da Vinci Code, and the screenplay was written by Akiva Goldsman. This is the same team that did A Beautiful Mind (2001) and Cinderella Man (2005). Their adaptation of The Da Vinci Code is generally faithful to Brown's book, which means that quite a bit of exposition remains. Nevertheless, the film offers some very arresting visuals.

As Langdon, Hanks is perfectly cast in yet another of his Everyman roles. Langdon spends nearly the entire movie in the company of a French police cryptologist named Sophie Neveu, played by Audrey Tautou (Amélie). Mutual affection develops between Langdon and Sophie, but full-blown romance doesn't blossom. However, Tautou does look suitably enigmatic.

The performances in the supporting roles are excellent. Ian McKellen has the flashy part of outrageously arrogant Grail historian Leigh Teabing. Alfred Molina portrays a powerful and dangerous bishop, and Paul Bettany plays a self-flagellating, murderous albino monk. Jean Reno takes the role of a French cop whose feelings about religion get in the way of doing his job.

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