It wasn't that bad.
Now, you may be asking yourself. "Wow, thornhill says the movie wasn't that bad. Maybe..." Stop for a moment. Do you really want to spend $8 or $11 on a film that `wasn't that bad'? While "The Da Vinci Code" is not the worst film I have ever seen, it is certainly far from a good film.
I have the same problems with the movie that I had with the book. The book is a fun read, a good page turner, but it isn't a great piece of literature. The author does what many authors do nowadays; they write their books to be made into films. As you are reading a chapter, it will suddenly end. A new chapter will pick up with a different character and location, and then it will stop. The next chapter will pick up where the first ended. In other words, he is writing the scenes of the `movie', editing his book much like a film. Also, when movies are made based on books, they generally streamline the dialogue, characters and action. If a book is already written this way, what options do the filmmakers have? Either they add dialogue, character and action or they further streamline it. In the case of "Da Vinci", they further streamlined it, making it less interesting and more movie-like. They have watered down something that was already watered down.
Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), a Professor of Religious Symbology at Harvard, is in Paris to give a lecture. During the lecture, Jacques Sauniere, the curator of the Louvre, is murdered by an albino monk (Paul Bettany). Before he dies, the curator leaves a series of clues for Langdon and Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), a police woman who turns out to be Sauniere's granddaughter. The local police chief, Bezo Feche (Jean Reno), immediately suspects Langdon of the murder and chases them through France and England. Along the way, a mysterious Bishop (Alfred Molina) plots to reveal the secret Sauniere, Langdon and Neveu are trying to keep. Along the way, Langdon meets an old friend, Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellan), who has spent his life trying to decipher the Da Vinci Code. Along the way, they run into members of mysterious branches of the Catholic Church and religious history, including Opus Dei, the Knights Templar and more.
Directed by Ron Howard and written by Akiva Goldsman, "The Da Vinci Code" is perfectly serviceable at times, but also a bit amateurish and `TV movie of the week-ish" at others.
There is zero chemistry between Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou. They only appear to even like each other towards the middle of the film. Until that point, they are thrown together by circumstance and seem merely to tolerate one another, realizing they each have information the other needs. Granted, Tom Hanks is quite a bit older than Audrey Tatou, but you might expect some sort of chemistry to appear, to make them attached to one another by more than circumstance.
The supporting cast is generally acceptable. Paul Bettany is the most interesting as a weird Albino monk who believes he must cleanse himself of his sins with self-flagellation. Alfred Molina's Bishop is a bit too mob-like, but interesting as well, providing a caricature of what extremes someone will go to keep a secret. Jean Reno appears bored as the police inspector. Sir Ian McKellan is interesting as the obsessed historian, but his performance contains so much exposition, you lose the train of thought after a while.
The main problem with the film is there is so much exposition. In virtually every scene, two or three characters are discussing various aspects of religious symbology. In many, one character will posit a theory and Langdon, Neveu or Teabing will contradict them and explain why they are wrong. This happens over and over again. It reminded me of early sound films. Because the technology was new and big, they couldn't move the microphones very much, for fear of creating static, or making it difficult to hear the actors. The result? In many early sound films, the actors stand together, in front of the camera, talking, much like a stage play. Not exactly the most engrossing method of storytelling. Howard seems to have borrowed this approach. The few, brief action sequences are spread throughout the almost 2 hour 30 minute film, leaving a lot of room for people standing around talking. "The Da Vinci Code" is meant to be part thriller, part mystery. When one of the characters says "I need to get to a library, quick!" you have to wonder how much time they invested in making the film exciting. Worse yet, they don't even go to a library.
As Langdon and Neveu hold their various lectures for the other cast members, they frequently stare off into space, thinking of what they are saying. As they do this, they begin to imagine the events as they unfold. Or, these same thoughts help them uncover a long buried secret propelling them to the next mystery. Director Howard uses these moments to bleed images of these events into the frame, in some allowing actors to recreate, in others, panning across images or statues. It is an interesting way of enlarging the action, increasing the scope, but it also reminded me of a History Channel or National Geographic Channel special. I half expected to see people running from an erupting Mount Vesuvius.
I think Director Howard was a little out of his league with this film. He does a much better job with dramas and family comedies than he does with "Da Vinci". In an early scene, we track the progress of Sauniere as he runs through the Louvre. Yet, Howard places the camera above him, behind dirty panes of glass and lead work, making it difficult to follow the progress. Ultimately, this robs the scene of any suspense it may have had.
I honestly don't understand why so many people are offended by the subject matter of "The Da Vinci Code". Author Dan Brown uses a number of historical events, ideas and bits of legend to craft his tale. It is an interesting theory, but keep in mind the book is published as a piece of fiction. I don't think anyone should assume that Brown is attempting to write a factual representation of history. He has combined various true-life elements, with his own theories and thriller elements to create a readable page-turner.
The movie seems very faithful to the book (or my memory of the book, its been a while since I read it) and that's unfortunate. This was a good opportunity for the filmmaker's to improve upon the book, strengthen the action, the dialogue, and the characters, make it a great thriller, to be remembered for the ages.
Instead, they created a visual lecture, the perfect companion piece to a book many millions have already read.