The Da Vinci Code: Extended Cut (R3 DTS) Review
Late at night in the impressive surroundings of the Louvre in Paris, a man runs down one of the stately halls pursued by a hooded figure. Removing one of the many paintings from the wall, the security systems seal the room at either end, closing one of the figures in. But as the monk removes his hood, he also produces a gun and through the bars of the security doors, takes aim, demanding to hear something known only to a few. In the silence of the Louvre and with only the paintings as witness, the monk learns a secret that has remained so for two centuries before firing. Barely breathing, the curator takes a knife and, baring his chest, prepares his final statement.
Later that night in Paris, Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is giving a talk and book-signing session on religious symbolism when he is approached by the police, who pique his interest with a Polaroid of a dead body. Driving to the Louvre, Langdon is met by Fache Bezu (Jean Reno), who accompanies the professor into the museum, where the body of Jacques Saunière (Jean-Pierre Marielle), lies, a pentacle carved into his chest and with a coded message written on the wooden floor beside him. Fascinated, Langdon thinks aloud about what he sees in front of him, not suspecting that Bezu believes him to be the murderer. But when police cryptographer Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) arrives, Langon finds himself drawn into a conspiracy that threatens even the very foundations of the Christian church, which a mysterious figure, known only as the Teacher, is prepared to kill for...
It's long. It's so very, very long, almost, one suspects, on a par with actually reading the book. That alone will come as a surprise to a cash rich but time poor audience who had hoped that this film would have offered them a compressed version of a tale that, two years ago, beat in time with the cultural pulse of the nation. That is, if there is anyone left alive without some knowledge of The Da Vinci Code, be that from a reading of the book or, in the manner of all the best conspiracies, a grasp of some of the details but a rather bond between them. Almost everyone will, I am sure, have some memory of hearing Opus Dei, the Priory Of Sion and the Holy Grail mentioned as one but there remains a large audience who, short chapter by short chapter, followed Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu from the Louvre to a small church in Scotland on what is, as it is read, a rather breathless and wholly engrossing adventure. And that, of course, that may be the very problem faced by Ron Howard, writer/executive producer Dan Brown and Akiva Goldsman as they set about bringing The Da Vinci Code to the screen, perhaps trying to find something novel in Brown's thriller on its route to cinemas and, now, to DVD.
Actually, it would appear that they didn't bother. Succumbing to the worst instincts of one adapting a book for the screen, Goldsman looks to have avoided any criticism by simply leaving nothing out. And so, each summary of the plot, each line of dialogue and each shifting of the action around locations in France, London and Scotland arrives on screen almost untouched by Goldsman's hands. It's difficult to entirely blame him for this given how well-known the original material is but it would appear that he has sought not to upset those who attended screenings of The Da Vinci Code mouthing each line in silence, who congratulated themselves on their own casting of Tom Hanks as Langdon and whose heart jumped at seeing Leigh Teabing's explanation of the conspiracy of the Holy Grail with, in the manner, ironically enough, of a teacher, with a series of visual aids. Much like Stephen Kloves' work on Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone - like this, a much-too-long adaptation that sought to leave absolutely nothing out - Goldsman's script could have been trimmed even with something as inaccurate as a pair of garden shears and it would likely have been no worse off. Inasmuch, though, that the close presence of JK Rowling prevented such a thing happening on ...Philosopher's Stone, so, one suspects, Dan Brown used his clout to bring his material to the screen largely untouched.
The problem with The Da Vinci Code is how seriously it treats this material. Dan Brown, as no one seems tired of saying, isn't a very good writer but he understands two things perfectly, one being the interest that an audience has in secret sects, hidden symbols and conspiracies whilst the other is that he has a natural talent for ending each chapter with a cliffhanger. Regarding both, The Da Vinci Code is almost entirely wrong, being a much too portentous three hour film when an edge-of-seat, hysterically-made serial would have been near perfect, with the greatest disappointment being the breath of the mundane that blows away the fog of conspiracy that lingered about the book. The presence of the Vatican in the book was one of unmistakable power with such arrogance as to be almost untouchable but the film gives us pool-playing cardinals. Similarly, the Priory Of Sion, which is presented to us as having once counted Botticelli in its ranks now appears to be less a threat to one of the central tenets of Christianity than a lot of well-meaning folk more likely to grumble about the cold mornings in winter than the Holy Grail.
As for the rousing style with which Dan Brown closed each chapter, Sophie Neveu's, "Professor Langdon, you are in grave danger!" would have been much better suited to an end-of-part-one close up on a pair of wobbling eyebrows than to a wide shot of Tom Hanks' doughy face. After all, isn't that how the book was read, being a, "Oh, just one more chapter..." novel to keep by one's bedside than a work of literature to get lost in. Unfortunately, the film tends towards misunderstanding that, toppling those peaks of the novel into a rather ordinary whole that relies too heavily on jumps to rouse its audience than the mystery of the Holy Grail.
One doubts if anyone, or at least those who had read the novel, expected as thrilling an adventure as those of Indiana Jones but Tom Hanks too often looks to be a step away from the action, something that the book, by being an experience more involving for the reader, avoided. It is, then, something of an indifferent experience with there being little revealed about the Holy Grail that isn't indicated so well in advance as to rouse its audience with the promise of a conspiracy revealed. It's a familiar refrain regarding the film adaptation of a successful book but in the case of The Da Vinci Code, it's one that rings true with the gradual revealing of the novel's mystery looking lacklustre in comparison to how one might have imagined it. Not that it was a very much better film but National Treasure may well be the one that readers of The Da Vinci Code deserve. Disappointingly, it's not this one.
Taking place mostly at night, The Da Vinci Code does a fine job with regards the transfer but it may have been that Ron Howard kept this in mind when making his film, ironing out shadows of the Louvre until everything is bathed in a rather undistinguished light. As such, the DVD doesn't have to work very hard to look acceptable even in its three hours being squeezed onto a single DVD but, equally, it ought not to be praised either. Indeed, one might say that The Da Vinci Code doesn't look a great deal better than some of the BBC's more recent and expensively-produced shows, which is all the more obvious by the time the story reaches London, by which time it's not looking very much better than Spooks.
It does, however, sound excellent, particularly the DTS track that's been included on this Extended Edition, which occasionally springs to life with a rousing Hans Zimmer score or some inspired use of the rear speakers. However, the audio tracks, both the DTS and the DD5.1, are generally very good throughout with the mix giving the dialogue space and also recognising that in a film this length, it's necessary to prompt the audience should they, over a long night's viewing, find themselves dropping off. Finally, although there are subtitles, the French dialogue is presented in English via fixed subs.
All of the extras on this set are on the second disc - so no commentaries nor trivia tracks - and these begin with First Day On The Set With Ron Howard (2m08s), which joins the director in the Louvre discussing his reasons for taking on the film and what his hopes are for his adaptation.
A Conversation With Dan Brown (4m47s): There are many unkind souls who would say, on hearing Dan Brown say that he wrote his first book aged five, that he's gotten no better with age. The writer is in fairly self-effacing mood as he talks about the theory of the bloodline of Christ being a theory that existed long before his book and how surprised he was by the original success of The Da Vinci Code but he gives little away to the viewer, less even when it comes to talking about his next book.
A Portrait Of Langdon (7m13s): I had expected this to mention tweed a great deal - having read both Angels And Demons and The Da Vinci Code, that Langdon wears tweed is about all that I remembered about this rather forgettable hero of the books - but was disappointed to find that it did not, resorting to finding something to Langdon that Tom Hanks brought to the part but which was never in Brown's books. This feature interviews not only Brown but also Tom Hanks, Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer but, as you might expect given its short length, doesn't actually have very much to say on Langdon but has much more on the casting of Tom Hanks in the part.
Who Is Sophie Neveu (6m53s): Characterisation is clearly not one of Dan Brown's stronger points as having read the book, watched the film and viewed this feature, I'm still wondering who Sophie Neveu is, other than the obvious given how The Da Vinci Code concluded. As with the feature above, this describes the casting of Audrey Tautou and - you'd never have guessed! - how well she works alongside Tom Hanks.
Unusual Suspects (17m52s): In keeping with the two features on the casting of Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou, this follows with the selection of the actors for the other principal roles in the film, including Jean Reno, Sir Ian McKellan, Alfred Molina, Jean-Pierre Marielle (Jacques Saunière), Jean-Yves Berteloot (Remy Jean), Jürgen Prochnow and Paul Bettany. No one actor, with the possible exception of Sir Ian McKellan, gets an awful lot of screen time in this feature and are not asked to do a great deal more than surmise their thoughts on the film and the book in two sentences or less. Thankfully, Dan Brown is on hand to add some background to the characters and their place in his story as, without him, this would have been very slight indeed.
Magical Places (15m52s): Given that the locations of The Da Vinci Code are often more impressive than the characters, it's only fitting that after three features on the latter, we have one on the former. And this feature is it, in which Dan Brown, Ron Howard and DoP Salvatore Totino talk about filming in the Louvre, in various locations in London and across Scotland and in Malta. However, rather than describing the locations in any detail, what we have are Tom Hanks' thoughts on the locations, which are disappointingly vague given that though he might be a decent actor, his abilities as a historian are somewhat more limited.
Close-up On The Mona Lisa (6m32s): Dr Who And The City Of Death had it that the Mona Lisa hanging in the Louvre was a fake, which it might well be, but this feature misses the opportunity to haul in a couple of art experts in favour of, once again, Dan Brown, Ron Howard, Ian McKellan and Tom Hanks' thoughts on the painting and their memories of their first sight of it.
Filmmakers' Journey (2x Parts, 24m34s and 12m14s): In keeping with the disjointed nature of these behind-the-scenes features, this two-parter, which is as close as The Da Vinci Code DVD gets to a making-of, goes into more detail on the production but, like everything else in this set, not very much more detail. Beginning with the book and Ron Howard's approach to Dan Brown, this touches on many aspects of the making of The Da Vinci Code, including the acting, costume design, photography, make-up and special effects in the order they are noted in the film but with the exception of the occasional scene, such as Paul Bettany's self-flagellation, this offers very little to the interested viewer.
The Codes Of The Da Vinci Code (5m27s): In keeping with the spirit of the book, the film of The Da Vinci Code is filled with secrets and symbols, which are rather easy to spot but possibly harder to find a reason to. This short feature lists them and whilst some are clearly hokum, such as Botticelli being a member of the entirely fictional Priory Of Sion, others are rather better, such as the poster for a forthcoming Caravaggio exhibition in the Louvre using the painter's The Boy In The Well to advertise itself, which represents Langdon's past and the reason behind his claustrophobia.
The Music Of The Da Vinci Code (2m55s): And by this stage, there is a certain clutching at straws to fill out this second disc. This one features Ron Howard and composer Hans Zimmer talking once again about The Da Vinci Code over some footage of an orchestra before Zimmer is given a minute or thereabouts to discuss his scoring of the film.
DVD-ROM Puzzle Game: Sony Pictures have included a demo of The Da Vinci Code PC game on this disc, which is limited to only thirty minutes before stopping to remind the player to buy the full version of the game.
At almost three hours, this Extended Edition of The Da Vince Code adds twenty-five minutes to the film and although this is my first viewing of the film, this doesn't feel as though it has cut very much from the novel on its way to the screen. However, as has been said throughout this review, that's not necessarily a good thing despite what more enthusiastic fans of the book might say but for matters of completeness, rather than anything else, this is probably the definitive release of The Da Vinci Code on DVD. Break it up over five or six evenings and it may begin to live up to the enjoyment that comes from reading the book.