The first thing to say about the movie version of The Da Vinci Code is that it is certainly superior to the book. What we have is something like 'a Gnostic potboiler'.
It is impossible to review the film simply as a film because the book (more than 40,000,000 sold and counting) and the reaction pro and con has become a worldwide phenomenon. Opus Dei, who are targeted in the novel, have led the way in inviting people to read the book and see the film, even enjoy them, but realise that they are, at least, misleading concerning the Gospel story of Jesus and about Mary Magdalene, that they are based on selected 'suspicious', on the margins, sources, and that it is all a fiction.
It is a 'what if'?' tale rather than a 'what was' story.
Actually, writers and film-makers do this all the time - if think of films about Joan of Arc or Francis of Assisi, which interpret the saint's life through contemporary eyes and rearrange history and imagine scenes accordingly. They do not, however, play with documents like the quoted Gospel of Philip that was written at least two hundred years after Jesus. But, there is enough material available, pamphlets, books and DVDs on these topics and there are websites galore with answers to difficulties with Dan Brown's work.
One thing that needs to be said is that the screenwriter, Akiva Goldsman, and the producers, have been much more careful to downplay controversy than Dan Brown did. All the way through the film, there are statements about opinions being only opinions, that there are other possibilities to consider. This is especially the case about the discussion on the humanity and divinity of Jesus, Constantine and the Council of Nicaea. The discussion between Tom Hanks and Ian McKellen illustrates this well. As regards Opus Dei and the present Vatican, the screenplay makes clear that neither is responsible for the murderous activities of Silas - rather, the bishop from Opus Dei is part of a hidden and secret group in the Church which wants to renew faith and practice strictly and oust 'cafeteria Catholicism'. If any group were to feel targeted this time, it might be the followers of Archbishop Lefebvre.
Does it work as a drama? For those who have read the book and liked it, I think it will work quite well. It follows the plot outline closely even if it modifies some of the claims. For those who have read the book and thought it poorly written, their view will be reinforced. A number of those at early previews who had not read the book said they were baffled by some of the plot jumps and developments. (At the first Cannes press screening, there were outbreaks of laughter when the claims about the Grail and Mary Magdalene were finally voiced. The sceptical and secularists in the audience thought this rather ludicrous.)
Tom Hanks is a fair Robert Langdon (and has to do fewer physical gymnastics than in the book). But it is one of his stolid performances and he makes a lot of solemn utterances very po-faced. Audrey Tautou has to be tough and charming as Sophie. It is Ian McKellen who is obviously enjoying himself immensely as Sir Leigh Teabing. He gets most of the fallacious lines about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the church, cover-ups and the role of the Priory of Sion. One hopes that audiences will not think there is any truth in them because they hear them on screen - from a villainous character who can't be trusted in the story itself.
Right at the beginning Robert Langdon reminds us that when we look at a painting we see what we want to see and don't see what we don't want to see. Exactly.
To read a more extensive analysis of the move see: www.signis.net/
LONDON - 22 May 2006 - 660 words