Thursday, 18 May 2006

The Da Vinci Code (2006)

Experience the phenomenon of a poor screen adaptation!

If you care to watch this movie, keep in mind the 3 golden rules of print to screen adaptations:

1. Great books tend to produce disappointing movies
2. Trashy, pulpy, or even bad books tend to make great movies
3. Only with a great director can a great book be made into a great movie

The year-long studio campaign, the media hype, the court cases, and above all, the religious controversy – all these have contributed to an air of expectation for the movie. You expect it to be nothing less than phenomenal, yet audiences will go away with an uneasy feeling of being conned into watching an overlong, dialogue-heavy, dull movie.

It’s worse if you’ve read Dan Brown’s pulp thriller. The book had a strong cinematic quality, its zippy prose and very short chapters bouncing the reader between different characters and locations, all within a 24-hour storyline, without any gaps or pauses between the chapters. Yet the film (a reasonably faithful adaptation) plays like more a book, with characters slowing the action down to a crawl every 20 minutes to explain the intricacies of the plot. Yes, the characters do the same in the novel, but Dan Brown’s throwaway word style make readers forget that the expository quality of his expositions, while Ron Howard’s unimaginative and dull directing, fuelled by lifeless portrayals from the woefully miscast and mismatched pair of Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou, hammer in the tedious nature of much of the film’s dialogue. Only Ian McKellen, as Leigh Teabing, adds a zest to the grim proceedings with his dizzy portrait of a 70-year-old Holy Grail and church conspiracy fanboy. I suspect he was the only actor on the set who had a fun time with the script.

Not all the film is like that. In the first 10 minutes, Ron Howard skilfully compresses the first 70 pages of the novel by intercutting between Robert Langdon’s (Tom Hanks) lecture on symbology with the murder of Jacques Sauniere, keeper of the world’s most powerful secret and a master puzzle-maker. I cannot comprehend why the initial spark of innovation sputtered out completely by the time Sauniere’s granddaughter Sophie (Audrey Tautou) appears on the scene to save Langdon from the clutches of a policeman (Jean Reno) determined to pin Langdon for the murder. As a result of Ron Howard’s failure of imagination and nerve, the film feels overlong – it is in dire need of the fast and creative editing we see the first 10 minutes. So overlong that the final third of the movie was actually a chore to sit through, and the final 20 minutes felt unnecessary and anticlimactic.

Do note that The Da Vinci Code has been passed uncut under the NC-16 rating by the Board of Censors. Its members feel that “only a mature audience will be able to discern and differentiate between fact and fiction”, surely an admission that Singapore’s world class education system has failed to teach to young children the difference between fact and fiction.

First published at incinemas on 19 May 2006

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