Blu-ray
Worth a Look
4 stars
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Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
3 Stars
HD Video Quality
4 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4 Stars
Supplements
1.5 Stars
High-Def Extras
3 Stars
Bottom Line
Worth a Look

The Da Vinci Code: Extended Cut

Street Date:
April 28th, 2009
Reviewed by:
Peter Bracke
Review Date: 1
April 28th, 2009
Movie Release Year:
2004
Studio:
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Length:
176 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Unrated
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

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.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

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.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

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.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

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.

  • Documentary (HD) - I love how studios often try to fool us into thinking there is a ton of featurettes on a Blu-ray, just by listing a lot of bulletpoints on the back of the box. 'The Da Vinci Code' two-disc DVD was an ace example of that -- what we got was just one big, sturdy documentary, cut up into a lot of different bits. For the Blu-ray, the studio has repurposed those segments, and added six more that were not on the previous DVD. (Again, you can watch all of these vignettes as a stand-alone feature on the second included Blu-ray disc, which contains only extras.)

    The result is a comprehensive overview of the production, from development through final edit. We get the usual promo-esque interviews and pandering to fans of Brown's book, but the best bits are the ones that cut through the marketing and give a you-are-there approach. The opener "First Day on the Set with Ron Howard" and "Filmmaker's Journey" are such segments, with great behind-the-scenes footage, and I also liked "Magical Places," which tackles some of the controversies and challenges the production faced in nabbing certain locations (including The Louvre and Lincoln Abbey). Brown also appears, offering his take on the religious backlash against the novel.

    The original dozen segments from the DVD are: "First Day on the Set with Ron Howard," "Discussion with Dan Brown," "Portrait of Robert Langdon," "Who is Sophie Neveu?", "Unusual Suspects," "Magical Places," "Close Up of Mona Lisa," "Filmmaker's Journey Parts I and II," "Codes of The Da Vinci Code" and "Music of The Da Vinci Code," plus new to the Blu-ray, "Book to Screen," "Re-Creating Works of Art," "The Da Vinci Props," The Da Vinci Sets" and "The Visual Effects World of the Da Vinci Code."

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

Unusual for such a big title, 'The Da Vinci Code' comes with a wealth of content fresh to the Blu-ray. It's even BD-Live-enabled, with even more goodies...

  • Audio Commentary - This is odd -- Ron Howard gives us a "select scenes" commentary for about half of the picture. Why he didn't just record a full track, I have no idea. In any case, there are 28 scenes here total that get commentary, and it's good stuff. Even if I'm mixed on his films, Howard really knows how to give commentary, speaking directly and succinctly, and not wasting time with uninteresting details. The track certainly jumps around, highlighting specific scenes (such as The Louvre), or cast members (both Tom Hanks and Paul Bettany get their own chapter stops). Howard also touches a bit on the controversy surrounding Dan Brown's novel. I certainly would have liked a full commentary, but what we do get here is informative and worth listening too.
  • Picture-in-Picture: "Unlocking the Code" - Sony has produced their most interactive, and complex PIP track yet for 'The Da Vinci Code' -- it even comes with a video demo. Engage the feature, and throughout the movie little symbols will appear -- these are your "code" to unlock, which grants you access to various making-of and contextual material. There is seven types of information scattered throughout the track, including: "Interviews," "Storyboards," "Prop Talk," "B-Roll," "Photos," "Symbols & Codes," "Langdon's Journey" and "Location Trivia." It's a nicely done track, and quite a mixture of video and still material, photographs, pop-up facts and behind-the-scenes footage. I'm not a huge fan of the icon-and-click approach, but Sony certainly has certainly pushed themselves to produce something new for the studio.
  • Preview: "Angels & Demons" (HD, 7 minutes) - Oh, c'mon now, you didn't really think Sony would miss an opportunity to flog the upcoming big-screen prequel to 'The Da Vinci Code,' now would you? This "A First Look at Angels & Demons" include a brief intro by Ron Howard, followed by a complete four-minute scene from the movie, and finally the theatrical trailer. All are in full 1080 video.
  • CineChat - One of two BD-Live features, "CineChat" allows you to watch 'The Da Vinci Code," while launching an online live chat with others also currently watching the film. I dunno -- I am an old-fashioned, beer-and-movie-night kinda guy, but I guess if my friends didn't live near me, this would be the next best thing. Too bad Sony doesn't provide a discount coupon for a six-pack in every Blu-ray box...
  • BD-Live - Finally, Sony has BD-Live-enabled 'The Da Vinci Code.' At press time, the disc's web portal hasn't launched, but watch this space when/if any exclusive content is launched.

Final Thoughts

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.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray
  • BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc/BD-25 Single-Layer Disc
  • Two-Disc Set
  • Bonus View (Profile 1.1)
  • BD-Live (Profile 2.0)

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.35:1

Audio Formats

  • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • French Subtitles

Supplements

  • Featurettes

Exclusive HD Content

  • Audio Commentary
  • Picture-in-Picture
  • CineChat
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