Sony // 2006 // 174 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Steve Power (Retired) // May 18th, 2009
So dark the con of man?
Long after having bowed on DVD, Ron Howard's (Frost/Nixon) adaptation of Dan Brown's gazillion copy-selling drug store rag The Da Vinci Code has hit Blu-ray in a snazzy extended package. It's just in time for the theatrical release of the prequel (now sequel), Angels and Demons. Does that make it a worthy purchase for purveyors of everyone's favorite high-def format?
Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks, Saving Private Ryan) is a Harvard professor of some renown and an expert in symbology. During a book signing in Paris, he is approached by the French authorities, and taken to the Louvre museum, where an acquaintance, Jacques Sauniere, has been killed. It seems his body left naked on the floor of the grand gallery in a twisted imitation of Da Vinci's famous "Vitruvian man," and Langdon's name was all over the crime scene. Accused of the murder, Langdon and a young police cryptologist, Sophie Neveau (Audrey Tatou, A Very Long Engagement) find themselves on the run, pursued by the taciturn French investigator, Bezu Fache (Jean Reno, The Professional) and a ruthless agent of a Christian secret society, Silas (Paul Bettaney, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World). Can they piece together the clues left by Sauniere, Sophie's grandfather, and manage to crack a centuries-old code that could lead them to the truth behind the source of God's power on Earth? The answers lie in Sophie's memories, and buried in the works of Leonardo Da Vinci.
I first picked up Dan Brown's novel when the film was a few months away and the hype had reached its fever pitch. As I read through the book, I grew more and more frustrated by the telling of the tale. Brown had undoubtedly done his research, and it was there on every page, with little narrative deviations telling us about such unrelated things as the geography of Paris and the type of airplane they use to travel to England. If the tale at the core of the story -- a treasure hunt full of secret societies, rogue offshoots of the Catholic Church and ancient mysteries about the foundation of Christianity -- wasn't so dang interesting, I doubt I would have finished. Brown also tossed in a few red herrings too many, which lessened the thrill of the hunt. Thankfully, most of the flaws of the novel didn't make it to the big screen version, more out of inability than any intentional revision. Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman's script is completely faithful to the novel, almost slavishly so, but there have been trimmings here and there to keep everything practical (no cryptex within a cryptex), and certain elements of the book, I'll call them the educational side roads, have been abandoned simply because they could never be shoehorned in. It's an adaptation that brings the thriller to the forefront with tighter focus. I feel it succeeds where the wordy novel fails, and is actually the more enjoyable version.
I'll also say right now, I'm a Tom Hanks fan, and I feel he performed admirably here, really playing up Langdon's academic side, and giving us a fish out of water portrayal that was convincing. Ian McKellan (Lord of the Rings) also does well as Sir Leigh Teabing, an old friend of Langdon's and an expert in the object of their treasure hunt. I especially liked the "exposition detour" at Teabing's house. This scene has been cited as one of the flaws in the film, but I felt it was a great scene that provides the audience with just the answers they need to propel them into act three, and Hanks and McKellan knock it out of the park.
Sony has pulled out all the stops for The Da Vinci Code's arrival on Blu-ray. The extended version adds about 25 to 30 minutes to the runtime, but only two scenes really stood out to me, neither of which helped or hindered the film. The video is top notch, a little soft, but that seems like more of a stylistic choice than anything. The audio also does a formidable job. No complaints here.
There's been a lot of noise made about BD-Live technology in recent months, and this is the first time I've really taken the plunge in that regard. Using BD-Live, I was able to watch some Angels & Demons production stuff, particularly the stars on the red carpet at the premiere in Rome, and I was able to browse through a pretty thorough collection of current trailers for upcoming theatrical features and Blu-Ray releases. Upon entering a code and my e-mail address, I was able to download and print a coupon for $10 off my ticket to see Angels & Demons if I so choose. There was another feature presented called Cinechat, which almost looks to be the movie equivalent to Xbox Live. It's a cool feature, but I don't know how interested I'd be in chatting with friends while I watch movies. BD Live is a little cooler than I'd initially thought it would be, and while it wasn't the second coming of home entertainment or anything, I could definitely see the technology being used for some cool stuff in the future, and what's on this disc in particular complements the other features pretty well.
The only real extra on the first disc is a five-minute scene from Angels & Demons, bookended with an introduction by Ron Howard, and the film's theatrical trailer. It's a good scene that has me wanting to check out the sequel. The second disc of the two disc set appears fully loaded at first glance, but the majority of the featurettes present are reruns, ported over from the DVD, and everything, including the new material, runs pretty short, with an average of 5-10 minutes run time for each. They're all puff-pieces to be certain, and don't really go a long way toward providing any kind of insightful information.
The features are rounded out with a wealth of picture in picture material present during the film. This is typical of what's making it into Blu-rays these days, and while I can't exactly say it's a welcome distraction, it's not entirely useless either.
The Da Vinci Code definitely has a few minor problems, for one, the subplot involving Opus Dei and Bishop Aringarossa (Alfred Molina, Spider-Man 2) feels weak and underdeveloped, existing more as a contrivance to explain other characters' actions rather than a truly self-serving thread of its own. Other characters fall victim to similar underwriting, including Inspector Fache and the albino monk, Silas. These characters feel more like they exist because they have to, something to propel Sophie and Robert along on their quest, they feel kind of like the villains in the National Treasure series in that they're thrown into the mix to add some drama and urgency, though their motivations are often either cloudy or outright silly (Fache chasing Langdon without hard evidence because a bishop called him up and told him to? Come on!) It's not like the film would have worked better without the villains, but they definitely could have used a little more development.
The other big problem I had was the tone in which the film talks to its audience. Brown's novel was dimestore pulp wrapped up in a pretentious, academic dust jacket (in the metaphorical sense of course), and the film, being such a loyal adaptation, suffers similar issues. When these characters get talking, the dialogue is presented in overblown fashion, with an air of sincerity that really wants to make the audience believe in the absurdity. A sense of humor could have gone a long way toward earning some more fans, but this is highbrow stuff, after all, there's no room for smiling when you're on a grail quest!
Fans of the novel will almost assuredly gravitate to the movie with little to complain about. The extended cut, at just shy of three hours, can be a bit of a marathon, but it's ultimately a trip worth taking if you like a bit of treasure-hunting adventure.
The Da Vinci Code definitely does more right than it does wrong.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 174 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13