Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code has been translated into over forty languages and sold over 60.5 million copies worldwide, so the plot is likely a familiar one. The film begins with an old scholar being murdered in the Louvre. American Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), an expert in symbolism and in town for a lecture and book signing, suddenly finds himself in the middle of an ancient, worldwide conspiracy to suppress the true nature of the Holy Grail. Langdon is summoned to the crime scene to help analyze cryptic clues left by the victim, only to discover — with the help of the deceased’s cryptologist granddaughter Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) — that he himself is a suspect in the killing.
The two are soon on the run; helped by grail expert Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen), a crippled old man who may or may not know more than he lets on. At the same time, a secret Vatican organization meets to discuss their own search for the grail, a quest being carried out by an albino monk of the order Opus Dei (Paul Bettany).
I saw this film once in the theater and a couple of times on DVD and was bored, confused or unmoved by the whole thing each time. Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman’s (A Beautiful Mind) decision to fill the script with bloated, important sounding dialogue and overly dramatic behavior while sacrificing scenes of real character motivation and development, seriously hinders the film. Things that deserve to be further explored are dismissed to quickly and other events that don’t really need to be there take up way too much screen time.
A lot of time is spent on chases, stand-offs and shoot-outs, and The Da Vinci Code gets murkier, to the extent that’s possible, when it has to resort to action conventions. My favorite moment was when our protagonists make an impressive offscreen escape — one of those scenes where the bad guys are sure to blow the heroes’ cover, but don’t look now, they’ve somehow disappeared — and the film dramatically flashes back to show them surreptitiously sneaking out, bent low to the ground, and getting into a car.
The greatest casualty of the decision to gloss over character motivation is Captain Fache, a complete and utter mystery to viewers nevertheless played with good intentions by Jean Reno. Fache is the good cop who trails our protagonist runaways by any means necessary, and who figures out the real culprits just in time to save the heroes – the supposed antagonist who morphs into an ally. Except it’s never really explained how Fache figured any of this out.
The actors are all solid with Tautou and McKellen stealing most of the attention away from Tom Hanks. The waifish Tautou is always interesting to watch; her best scene comes when she confronts the murderous monk Silas (Paul Bettany), and practically froths at the mouth in restrained rage. McKellen is even better, bringing dignity and intelligence to yet another role. He also gets the best one-liners, and seems to really enjoy delivering them with tongue firmly in cheek.
In the end, the plot of The Da Vinci Code is absurd and director Ron Howard has put the film together in such a frazzled manner, with a series of flashbacks interwoven with present day events, that the whole project seems unnecessarily overwrought. Avid fans of Dan Brown’s book will likely be interested in this film for comparison purposes but most will likely just find themselves confused or bored.
This 1080p presentation in 2.40:1 widescreen delivers a true theatrical experience in the comfort of your own home. The Da Vinci Code isn’t a tremendously bright or colorful film; its palette is more akin to the rich hues of a Renaissance master. Reds are deep, blues are cool and greens are earthy. Since so much of the film takes place at night or in shadowy interiors, shadow detail and black levels really stand out. The fascinating artifacts in the background of Teabings study are just an example of the kinds of things you’re likely to notice for the first time. There’s only the slightest touch of grain during the main film. Highly contrasted and desaturated. It’s a real testament to the quality of this disc that it handles both styles with ease.
Sony gives us an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track.There is plenty of surround action. The rears are frequently engaged with prominent discrete effects and nicely-handled ambiance. Dialogue is important here, as the film is overloaded with it, as well as Audrey Tautou’s accent, which was sometimes hard for 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.
This 2-BD set has a good slate of extra features:
• Documentary: For the Blu-ray release, Sony has repurposed the segments released on the previous 2-Disc Special Edition DVD and added six additional segments. 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 thorough look at the production, from development through final edit. We get the usual promo type stuff and EPK but the best parts are the ones that take 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 enjoyed “Magical Places,” which tackles some of the controversies and challenges the production faced in getting certain locations for filming (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,” new to the Blu-ray are: “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.”
• Audio Commentary: This is different — Ron Howard gives us a “select scenes” commentary for about half of the picture. There are 28 scenes here total that get commentary and its interesting stuff. He highlights 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.
• Picture-in-Picture: “Unlocking the Code” – 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.
• Preview: Angels & Demons (HD, 7 minutes) – 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.
• CineChat: “CineChat” allows you to watch The Da Vinci Code, while launching an online live chat with others also currently watching the film.
• BD-Live Enabled