Thursday, June 22, 2006

Da Vinci codicil

Having waited till the hype died down, Woolly Days went to see the Da Vinci Code at Stafford cinema on Tuesday night. The session was sparsely attended.

I did not have high hopes for this film. Enough reviews had slated it and the book was ludicrous. A 153 minute running time didn’t impress either. Just about the only good reason to see it was the Catholic Church had advised people not to. Nevertheless I enjoyed it. The Da Vinci Code was so bad it was hilarious. Unintentionally hilarious. The film took itself very, very seriously.

It was trying to match the book. Back in 2003 Dan Brown published The Da Vinci Code. It was an instant winner and sold over 60 million copies in over 40 languages. You cannot make this sort of money without interesting Hollywood. TV tried to buy it but Sony Pictures paid eventually paid $6 million for the movie rights. The budget was an estimated $125 million. Despite the critics, the film has managed to make some profit (grossed $145 million to the end of May in the US alone) thanks to the connections to the book and the massive advertising hype prior to the release date. Ron Howard was brought in to direct the film. He is a competent director but he was clearly too starry-eyed about the prospect of directing a “masterpiece”.

Brown’s book was based on the British 1982 book “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail”. That book traced the thousand year history of a mysterious cabal called the Priory of Sion. The priory is a hoax, perpetrated in the 1950s and 60s by a pretender to the throne of France called Pierre Plantard. Plantard used this ficticious organisation to advance his own claims that he was descended from the Merovingian kings of France. He died in 2000 without achieving any success from the myths. But others would profit. The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail was also a bestseller in its day and tried unsuccessfully to cash in on Dan Brown's success when it sued for plagiarism in 2004.

Tom Hanks and Audrey Tatou have the lead roles in the movie. Both sleepwalk their way through their misadventures. It’s the only rest they seem to get as they cope without sleeping, eating or drinking in their 48 hour dash across France and Britain. Ian McKellen twinkles mysteriously and overacts monstrously as the Grail expert Teabing. Jean Reno gets to shrug gallicly on occasion as well keeping alive the stereotype of blundering French policemen. And Paul Bettany goes on a recruitment drive for Opus Dei as a common-or-garden self-flagellating, cilice-wearing, killer albino monk.

The plot is the unravelling of a secret that “could shake the foundations of Christianity.” Gasp! A curator is murdered in the Louvre, Robert Langdon (Hanks), a sleepy semiotician, is implicated (he should have read the signs!) and Sophie Neveu (Tatou) is conveniently both a cop who is an expert on signs as well as the granddaughter of the murdered man.

Before he died, the curator leaves a coded message in his blood which only the combined knowledge of Langdon and Neveu can interpret. It leads them to a key which opens a safety deposit box in a Paris bank. They then hitch a lift on a bank security van to the property of Sir Leigh Teabing (McKellan) who has a vested interest of his own in the dastardly secret. He takes them to London where the police are just as bungling as the French. The film even shows a rerun of the fugitives escape for those of us, like the Police, too dumb to work it out the first time.

The murderer is revealed as Silas, the hitman monk who works for the Catholic CIA, better known as Opus Dei. The Spanish priest and recently canonised Josemaría Escrivá founded the Prelature of the Holy Cross and Opus Dei, commonly known as Opus Dei (Latin for "The Work of God") in 1928. Their central teaching is "ordinary life is a path to sanctity.” It is difficult to see much sanctity in the work of Bettany’s mad monk or Raul Julia’s sinister bishop.

Their adventures take them to the Temple Church and Westminster Abbey and a showdown with all the key participants. Silas and his cilice are bumped off and PC Plaude arrives to sort out the mess, arrest the crims and tell us how it was solved, very much in the manner of Scooby Doo. There an epilogue at Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland where the members of the Priory of Sion mysteriously arrive to greet their newest ‘leader’…Sophie Christ.

All the while they travel, Langdon and Neveu plod their way tediously through the ever decreasing circles of the conspiracy. Expensive CGI imagery takes us back on a guided walking tour to the Crusades, middle age London and the bible.

Catholics have protested about the revision of their Church history. Perhaps the Chinese, in their infinite wisdom, have shown the best taste. They have banned the film. No official reasons have been given. An anonymous source says China's propaganda department has warned media outlets "not to comment, discuss the film, or even mention the name of the movie in any form in print." I don't recall Falon Gong being implicated in the conspiracy.

Anyone who hasn't read Brown's novel will probably be confused about the ponderous story, and anyone who has will be equally bored, since the film offers nothing new to Brown's plot. Why the Catholic Church is so upset over such turgid rubbish is beyond belief. Monty Python’s Holy Grail was more believable and more deliberately funny.

No comments: