The Da Vinci Code, Columbia Pictures (2006), directed by Ron Howard from a script by Akiva Goldsman (based on the novel by Dan Brown); producers Brian Grazer and John Galley. Cinematography by Salvatore Totino; score by Hans Zimmcr. With Tom Hanks (Robert Langston), Audrey Tautou (Sophie Neveu), Ian McKellen (Leigh Teabing), Jean Reno (Bezu Fache), Paul Bettany (Silas), Alfred Molina (Bishop Aringarosa). 148 minutes.
Let's begin with what is good about this film. First, Ian McKellen is excellent as Leigh Teabing. He manages to give his character a bit of depth-and even a bit of charm until Teabing finally shows his true colors. Second, the movie features many of the novel's appealing settings, most notably the Louvre. Third, we have to appreciate the film in part because of what it is not; that is, we must be grateful for the absence of much of the (mis)information found in the novel.
Having identified what is good, let's move on. Although it is obvious that much of what Brown presented in his novel as absolutely true and accurate is neither of those, some of that material is of course essential to the intrigue, and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman has retained the novel's core, the Grail-related material: the sacred feminine, Mary Magdalene's marriage, the Priory of Sion, certain aspects of Leonardo's art, and so on. In some cases, though, the exposition is so sketchy that a viewer who has not read the book may not fully understand, for example, the connections among the Templars, the Priory, Mary Magdalene, and even Opus Dei. Of course, the last gets a good deal of attention (which includes graphic scenes of Silas the albino 'monk' mortifying the flesh as well as a good many viewers).
Although the film runs to two and one-half hours (and feels longer), the screenplay naturally required the excision of a great deal of the novel's material. For instance, the omissions mercifully spare us most of the novel's fanciful excursions into art criticism, the exception being Teabing's long analysis of 'The Last Supper' and a few comments by Langdon about the 'Mona Lisa.' Paring down the story fortunately eliminates many of Brown's errors, large and small, about Church history, art history, geography, and other subjects.
In a number of cases, though, the condensation suppresses essential information. When Langdon looks at the series of numbers on the Louvre floor and identifies them as the Fibonacci series, no explanation is given. Nor is there any explanation when Langdon and Sophie later use those Fibonacci numbers (1123581321) as a bank code. Most viewers of the film will understand the references if only because most of them have read the novel. One wonders just whether Goldsman and Howard were in fact counting on our bringing to the theatre a knowledge of the book. If we do not, much will remain unclear, as if the first cut ran an hour too long and was shortened by eliminating or truncating transitions, conversations, and explanations.
Whatever the case, the editing clearly deserves some of the blame. …