Sunday, January 13, 2008

Who Has Time For a Haircut When There Are Codes To Crack?

Twas the middle of the night, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except for me - watching the 3 am showing of The Da Vinci Code on Starz.

I'm a huge Dan Brown fan. Call him commercial or derivative or whatever insult you want to hurl at him, but he's a great writer. Yes, I'm one of the trillions who read The Da Vinci Code, and I'm proud of it. That man did almost as much for books as J.K. Rowling. So, come on, show a little respect. He's got people reading and thinking, and that's good. Well, maybe not good if you're the Vatican, but you can't please everyone. I loved The Da Vinci Code. It's a great, intriguing, provocative book. It was inevitably going to be made into a movie, but when it was confirmed, I was psyched. Ooh, Ron Howard? He's good. Akiva Goldsman? Yeah, he's a good writer. Audrey Tautou? Awesome. Love her. Ian McKellen? Alfred Molina? Almost too good to be true. Tom Hanks? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Crickets? Tumbleweeds?

Sigh. Tom Hanks. The thorn in Da Vinci's side. I think that's what lost me. He's wrong. WRONG. Just a million different kinds of wrong. I was still excited about the movie, but it gradually dwindled. It went from a must-see in the theater on opening day to a must-rent on Netflix to a maybe rent on Netflix to a maybe I'll catch it on cable to a I don't care if I ever see this movie. That was the trajectory. I didn't hear the greatest things about it, and I just lost interest. I blame a lot of it on the casting of Tom Hanks. I just couldn't see him in that role. No way.

Time passed, and I kept seeing that it was on cable, but I never watched more than a couple minutes. It seemed boring. Ahh, but tonight, the Starz aligned (oh, I slay me), and I decided to give it a chance. I'm glad I did. It was pretty okay. I even watched the whole thing. I don't want to get into what the book is about, but let's just say it's controversial. Like, monumentally. Dan Brown made a lot of Christians mad. Specifically, he made the Vatican and Catholics mad. Catholics always seem to get the most angry. I guess it's because they have the most power. He pissed off a lot of people with his fictional book (based on some real facts) that proposes the theory that Jesus Christ was married to Mary Magdalene and that they had a child. Even historians (probably devoutly Catholic ones) lambasted him for distorting things. Hello, people! This is a novel. It's fiction. Yes, Dan Brown asserts that some of the stuff is factual - the locations and some of the information about organizations and some historical background. But he never says that the main idea is real. He never claimed that the controversial theory was true. It's an interpretation. He said: "These real elements are interpreted and debated by fictional characters." He also said, "Interpreting those ideas is up to the reader." So, get off his back. When the Church gets so angry about something, it sort of makes you wonder. What is there to be so mad about if it's totally fraudulent? Why worry? Why be so defensive?

Anyway, I need to change the subject, because I'll get all fiery and won't be able to stop. Let me talk about the movie now. It's been awhile since I read it, but it seemed to be really faithful to the novel. I respect that it didn't water the story down much, if at all. Well, I'm sure it did, but not too noticeably. It has a really grainy look to it, which works well. Ron Howard doesn't do anything too outlandish with the direction. Actually, I think it's kind of boring at times. He played it safe, but some style pops up every now and then. I believe he did the best job he could. I like how Robert Langdon visualizes problem-solving, how he sees everything in front of him fit into place in mid-air. I didn't care for the flashbacks. They were used for character backstory, but also to depict historical events as they were explained to the characters. I guess it was probably just to break the monotony, so you had something to look at instead of talking heads. I don't know. I think that's insulting to the audience. We don't need shiny things to look at to distract us. They were unnecessary.

It's practically an impossible task to bring this book to the screen. It's too complicated. I think it lags quite often, because the characters are constantly talking and explaining. If your mind wanders for a second, you might as well quit. You'll never catch up. It's plot overload. It works in the book, which never drags. It's like a lightning bolt flashing across the sky. In the movie, it's too much. If you haven't read the book, I imagine you'd be really lost. I guess they're counting on people having read the book. though. But I read the book, more than once. And I was still confused at times. It's too much to process. There's too much speculating and theorizing and yapping. A really brilliant teacher once told my class that there's a reason people stick to genres in film. When you work within a genre, the audience is already familiar with the formula, so you can spend maybe 10 minutes setting it up and the rest of it telling a kickass story. If you try to do something really out there, like The Matrix, it's all speech-making. You spend the whole movie explaining your new genre and its rules to the audience. I think this also applies to the movie version of The Da Vinci Code. Yes, they obviously need to explain what's going on, and what's being said is fascinating. But somehow, it's too heavy, and it doesn't quite work. It's like a big-budget lecture. This is not at all the fault of the book, which is fantastic. I think it could have been written better and interpreted more effectively to not seem so cumbersome.

The acting is really good for the most part. Ian McKellen is a lot of fun. He brings so much spunk to his role and is definitely the most entertaining. The rest of the actors are good, but it feels like they're just going through the motions. Alfred Molina seemed particularly bored. Paul Bettany creeped me out, so maybe he was too good. I adore Audrey Tautou. I think she's one of the greatest actresses around. But here, it's like she was sterilized. I mean, this isn't the same Audrey Tautou that's in Amelie or A Very Long Engagement. She does a great job with what she has to work with, but her character is more tame and somber in the movie. It's kind of a thankless role when it shouldn't be and doesn't have to be.

And Tom Hanks. Worst casting choice ever. I'm serious. Langdon is supposed to be intellectual, yet dashing. He's about 40, has a deep, sexy voice, and is tall and lean and in great shape (he's a swimmer). Does any of that describe Tom Hanks? No! Not ever. I think Ralph Fiennes would have been perfect. Other acceptable choices are: Liam Neeson, Daniel Craig, Hugh Jackman, maybe even Tom Cruise. Tom Hanks is not sexy. I could never get past the ick factor. He's not the Langdon I imagined. Dan Brown wrote a book before The Da Vinci Code called Angels & Demons. Robert Langdon is the protagonist in that book, too. Angels & Demons is one of my favorite books of all time. It's outstanding. Like, a hundred times better than The Da Vinci Code. And they're making that into a movie to be released in 2009. The Catholic Church is going to have a fit. I mean, they must know about it already, but I have no idea how they're going to make it. It's actually about the papacy and the Vatican and is possibly more controversial than The Da Vinci Code, maybe not in message, but certainly in how things play out. Good luck with that.

Anyway, Angels & Demons is a book I want to read over and over. I don't want to pick it up and think of Tom Hanks. That's gross. He's so wrong. I mean, he's not a hideous man. But he's ruined my perfectly pleasant fantasy of a sexy, intellectual fictional character with his fuddy-duddy Tom Hanks-ness. How can I ever swoon over Robert Langdon while I'm reading again? And what's with the hair? He does an okay job with the role. I don't think he's stretching himself as an actor or anything. It's a paycheck part, definitely. I don't buy him as a scholar turned action hero. I think he's bland and lifeless for the majority of the movie. In the book, Langdon and Sophie (Tautou's character) are supposed to get romantic. I mean, they don't have sex. When would they have time with all the talking? But, they're supposed to form a romantic attachment. Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou have zero romantic chemistry. His hair is like a greasy anti-aphrodisiac. Ew. I mean, it's still there in the movie, but I'm so glad they never kissed. During their final scene together, I was cringing. Talk about religion - I was praying that they wouldn't kiss. It would have been appalling. I might have vomited. They didn't. So, we all dodged that bullet.

I realize that most of this review has been pretty negative. But I did enjoy it for the most part. The very end is wonderful. They visualized it brilliantly. There's this swooping shot that's just breathtaking. So, they got it mostly right. It's a thrilling story, even if it wasn't executed perfectly. It leaves you with all the same titillating questions as the book. Some of those arguments, the ones proposed by fictional characters, are pretty compelling. I think that's why the Church is so mad, and so afraid.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to scrub my eyes with a scouring pad and bleach to try and remove the image of Tom Hanks from my retinas. Oh, but he'll be back in 2009 - only older, blander, pudgier, and greasier than ever. Hot.

Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)

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