Shocking! Controversial! Blasphemous! Heretical! Just some of the adjectives used to attack Dan Brown's runaway best-seller 'The Da Vinci Code,' and also this, it's big-screen adaptation. As a content agnostic, I have to say that all of this religious backlash over 'The Da Vinci Code' means nothing to me. All I care about going into a movie like 'The Da Vinci Code' is whether it works or not as intended -- meaning, is it a good thriller? -- not if its realistic or literal to matters of faith.
To answer that question, on the level of pure popcorn entertainment, 'The Da Vinci Code' does work -- if just barely. This is a polished, star-studded and sometimes engaging thriller whose plot is absolute hogwash, but that's fun enough while you watch it that you forget to care much about the illogical details. I still can't believe anyone would take Brown's obviously commercial intentions seriously as anti-religious, or label them as anything but old-fashioned showmanship -- and that's no slam against the author. In fact, this guy is a genius, as he sure knew how to push buttons and sell books, and that he did... by the truckload. Unfortunately, the story he concocted also doesn't really hold up much to critical scrutiny, because while it's easy to praise its efficiency, it really doesn't have much emotional weight or thematic resonance beyond its own gargantuan success.
Since the book is now in print in like 30 countries, and has sold millions and millions of copies worldwide, the plot is probably already familiar to you. Tom Hanks plays some scholar with bad helmet hair named Langdon, who grabs that chick from 'Amelie' (Audrey Tautou) and runs around churches and museums and stuff. He is trying unlock 'The Da Vinci Code,' which the Catholic Church has kept hush-hush because it thinks its discovery will lead to mass apocalypse (or, at least, a drop in donations). What follows is back-room plotting by a cable of mean old Catholic priests, one really psychotic monk-dude (Paul Bettany) who likes to whip himself, endless dialogue about hidden clues and church lore (and I mean endless), and of course, lots of edge-of-your-seat chase-and-rescues.
As I said, I don't find 'The Da Vinci Code' remotely offensive. This is fiction, pure and simple. So I'll give Brown and director Ron Howard credit for not kowtowing to religious groups, and keeping the film faithful to the book. And it's also hard to criticize Brown for committing any crime except being pulpy -- 'The Da Vinci Code' may place itself in a religious milieu, but its plotting, villains, big secrets and general structure are as formulaic as any literary page-turner of yore.
In fact, the greatest strength of Brown's creation is that he takes pains to paint his characters as, if not wholly three-dimensional, then at least relatable and likable. There is much less time for him than in the novel, but Hanks' Langdon feels genuine and roots our empathy. Tautou is charming and effervescent as always, and for once we don't have an "acclaimed French actress" who comes off as slumming to win her first big American role. Howard also populates Brown's sometimes stuffy world with memorable character players -- Bettany, Sir Ian McKellan, and Alfred Molina all show up, and they give credence to even the most unbelievable and talky of Brown's plot contrivances.
Despite being so slick and professional, 'The Da Vinci Code' doesn't rank as anything near a great movie for me because, ultimately, it isn't really about anything. After racing from setpiece to setpiece, and listening to a mind-numbing amount of plotting (stretched to absurd proportions in this, the film's 176-minute Extended Cut), I expected more of an emotional payoff than I received. I can't reveal any spoilers, but Brown sets up such an intricate mystery that nothing less than the apocalypse would satisfy me. We certainly don't get that in 'The Da Vinci Code.' I can only give the film a baseline three star rating because at least there are enough twists, turns, violence, and car chases to make it diverting enough. I still can't fathom why 'The Da Vinci Code' has become such a phenomenon, but if nothing else, I guess it proves that the world loves a conspiracy -- however hokey.
Given the anticipation for and filmmakers behind 'The Da Vinci Code,' it's no surprise that it is handsomely-produced in the way only a major, big-budget studio movie could be. If I still find Ron Howard's directorial style a bit nondescript and "everyman," this is certainly a very good-looking 1080p/AVC MPEG- encode. (Note that the film's 174-minute Extended Cut is presented here -- there is no theatrical cut version offered, nor any seamless branching option that I could find.)
The color palette of 'The Da Vinci Code' is rich and a bit dark, by intention. I appreciated the nice uses of browns, deep blues and crimson. It feels "religious," and looks smooth, clean and well-saturated. Fleshtones sometimes feel desaturated or a little orange-y, but it's appropriate to the stylistic intentions of the film. Blacks are solid throughout, and contrast healthy and adding a nice sense of the depth to the image. This is a very detailed transfer as well, with strong clarity and healthy shadow delineation -- even the murkier areas of the picture held pretty firm (there is some black crush, but it usually isn't bothersome). And befitting a relatively new release, the print is in tip-top shape and there are no encoding issues. 'The Da Vinci Code' should not disappoint.
Sony offers the first high-res audio presentation for 'The Da Vinci Code,' giving us a fine English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track.
'The Da Vinci Code,' like any big, glossy thriller, pumps up its big moments with plenty of surround action. The rears are frequently engaged with prominent discrete effects and nicely-handled ambiance. The score may be a bit over-the-top, but it's bled well all around and certainly adds to the sense of envelopment and atmosphere. Dialogue is important here, as the film is overloaded with it, as well as Audrey Tautou's accent, which was sometimes hard for a dumb American like me to understand. I did struggle at times with low tones, with mumbled dialogue sounding obscured. Otherwise, the mix is robust and full-bodied, and low bass is strong. 'The Da Vinci Code' sounds as good as it looks.
Though rumors persisted that Sony was bringing 'The Da Vinci Code' to Blu-ray back in 2006 when the format launched, here we are, three years later, and the disc has finally just arrived (to coincide with the theatrical release of the prequel, 'Angels & Demons,' of course). The wait is probably worth it, as Sony has included the multi-part, nearly 90-minute documentary that appeared on the previous DVD on a second BD-25 single-layer Blu-ray disc, as well as considerable new exclusives. Video is upgraded to full 1080 HD as well, and it looks spiffy.
I make no bones about being a non-believer. So the "controversy" that continues to greet 'The Da Vinci Code' means nothing to me. All I cared about going into the film was whether it would work as a thriller. And more often than not, it does, even if I find its big revelations etc., a bunch of malarkey. Still, I can't deny that I was entertained. This Blu-ray is without a doubt a good one, with strong video and audio and plenty of extras, both new and exclusive. 'The Da Vinci Code' is well worth checking out on Blu-ray for fans of the film. And if you're merely curious, definitely give it a rent.