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Da Vinci Code, The

Sony Pictures // PG-13 // November 14, 2006
List Price: $29.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted October 20, 2006 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

Dan Brown's globetrotting religious thriller of a tale has long swept the world. Swept meaning affected, whether it be fervent praise, mere novelty, or rampant disagreement. Few novels can offer rapid-fire tense sequences and provocative religious theories simultaneously. The result is The Da Vinci Code, a magnificently elaborate murder mystery that engages the reader to ponder an age long suspicion. This novel screamed big-screen adaptation with every page turned.

After watching the film theatrically for the first time with high expectations, this reviewer left feeling that The Da Vinci Code adheres very closely to the book in tension and drama. However, the charming and adventurous tone evident in the novel didn't seem to transfer over intact. This left a heavy-handed, dramatically laden film struggling to have fun. In short, the first viewing didn't grip me in the same manner as the addictive, page-turning novel.

Oddly enough, my second round with this big screen version of The Da Vinci Code on DVD was a vastly more enjoyable experience. After an initial viewing grounded my expectations, the film's positive points truly began to stand out.

Director Ron Howard and writer Akiva Goldsman take Brown's sharp thriller and adapt it practically word for word for the screen. This challenging process leads to an intricate, methodically paced film that requires a load of patience. However, with concentration and adaptableness to a slower tempo, you might just have a good time with this engaging religious drama. Now, the film still feels a bit on the heavy side. It could benefit from some dialogue tweaking and enhancement in the "thrilling excitement" department. However, to my delight, the film knocked me aback with its fine performances set amidst a superbly shot and scored film.

Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), a professor at Harvard University, is in Paris discussing symbolism and the misgivings of images in modern culture. While signing copies of his book The Sacred Feminine after his lecture, Langdon is visited by the French Police. After he is shown a strange picture depicting the death of the Louvre's current curator Jacque Saunière, Robert is lured to the crime scene in the museum's lower depths. Led to believe he is along for crime scene analysis and questioning, Robert doesn't know that he is a suspect in Saunière's murder. Amidst hallways that span across the works of the Louvre, the murdered man crafted a series of clues in his final moments that involve Langdon and French cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou). This "code" involves the works of Leonardo Da Vinci, the dark secrets of Saunière's past, and one mammoth of a conspiracy theory.

As with my first exposure, the characters in The Da Vinci Code seemed extremely well cast. It was after this second viewing that the performances' strengths truly begin to shine. Tom Hanks' Langdon is intelligent, serious, and inquisitive. Even though he doesn't initially embody my model of Langdon, Hanks molds into the character with poise as the film progresses. As his pair, Audrey Tautou's Sophie is convincingly pure-hearted, strong, yet troubled. Of course, Jean Reno portrays French police captain Bezu Fache wondrously (especially since Brown envisioned Reno when he crafted the Fache character). Both problematic men of the cloth, Bishop Aringarosa (Alfred Molina) and Silas (Paul Bettany), appear resilient, appropriately misguided, and particularly dangerous. Most impressive, however, was Sir Ian McKellen as Sir Leigh Teabing. Initially, out of all the characters, McKellen's character seemed the most miscast in my eyes. However, as the film progresses, his performance radiates stronger than any other. He brings passion and vivacity to Teabing in a way that completely surprises me. Altogether, Howard assembles an immensely talented and properly depicted cast that only suffers from the film's darkened, tense tone.

The purpose of The Da Vinci Code is not to teach a theology lesson. It is to entertain, thrill, and engage the viewer amidst an interesting murder mystery … with a twist of philosophical history and theory. If beliefs and expectations are checked at the door, then the film works as an above-average dramatic treasure hunt. While lacking in thrills and excitement, it does compensate for these misgivings with atmosphere and dramatic integrity. Ron Howard has crafted a tense, deliberate film with a fantastic cast and an array of striking visuals.

The DVD:

Sony has presented The Da Vinci Code in a very nice two-disc special edition. Included with this DVD are both discs with very nice cover art, promotional inserts, and a nice, glossy slipcover over a standard two-disc keepcase.

The Video:

The Da Vinci Code is a beautifully shot film in the first place. Plain and simple, this DVD's transfer does the cinematography justice. Presented in a beautifully detailed anamorphic image, the transfer looks extremely nice. What I was most impressed with is the clarity and sharpness of detail. The texture and coloring of the paintings, flesh tones and complexion, and the scenic locations set all over the globe just popped with detail. Dark areas appeared rich and deep for the majority of the time. I did notice that some of the darker scenes could have been a bit deeper, but to a minor degree. Overall, the Da Vinci Code sports an excellent transfer.

The Audio:

This DVD's audio presentation matches the video quality wonderfully. Packed with a very nice Dolby 5.1 audio, the surrounds engulf the viewer with a nice array of beautiful notes from the score and assorted ambient sounds. Bass isn't used often in the film; however, when it needs to pack a wallop with a gunshot, a crash, or suspense-building portions of the score, it delivers. The rich soundtrack pours through well, except for a few select scenes where I wish it would have surged a tiny bit further over the top for suspense purposes. Both Robert and Sophie's voices come through clean and clear. In total, the audio presentation for this film is handled very well. Also available are Spanish and French 5.1 audio tracks, as well as a Dolby Surround track. Subtitles are also available in English, Spanish, and French.

The Extras:

Disc 1 contains the film, language tracks, and a few select previews.

Sony has loaded up Disc 2 with an interesting Special Features layout. There are several options to select from, the first option being a "Play All" choice. I didn't select this option because I wanted to systematically go through each of the pieces. However, it appears that the entire special features line-up ties into one large documentary. Identically designed transition graphics appear in each of the featurettes to create a seamless feel. Instead of individual options, these selections are more like a "Chapter Listing" to the documentary:

- 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
- Music of The Da Vinci Code
- DVD-Rom Puzzle Game Feature (not a portion of the doc)

Each segment takes a surface glance at the particular elements. The majority of this documentary series is insightful and entertaining. I greatly enjoyed the First Day on the Set and Magical Places pieces. The opportunity to be taken through the beauty and the challenges of the locales across Paris, London, Scotland and others was exceptional. Also, The Mona Lisa portion gives very heartfelt, honest insights into the cast and crew's experiences with the painting during the Louvre shoot. Furthermore, the Codes of The Da Vinci Code portion was surprisingly entertaining. This feature illustrates the clues and symbolic visual elements that are scattered throughout the film. I also felt the three character study pieces were sufficiently explanatory on the casting decisions and motivational elements of crafting Langdon, Neveu, and the antagonists. What I would have loved to have seen are some production still photographs, marketing efforts, and trailers. As a whole, however, the documentary series was adequately comprehensive. The Special Features disc doesn't seem to have English or French subtitles. However, it does have Korean, Thai, Chinese, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles.

The Bottom Line:

If you are looking for a fast-paced thrill ride with action and adventure around every corner, then The Da Vinci Code might not be your cup of Earl Grey. However, if you have patience and can enjoy a dramatically tense film that takes its sweet time to unfold, then you may have found a very appealing option with a bit of theological analysis. Howard's direction and Dan Brown's core narrative combine to produce a well crafted and interesting melodramatic treasure hunt. This film comes easily Recommended to fans of the book, as well as those looking for an enveloping diversion amongst beautiful images and strong performances.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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