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The Da Vinci Code

(2006) ** Pg-13
153 min. Columbia Pictures. Director: Ron Howard. Cast: Tom Hanks, Jean Reno, Audrey Tautou, Alfred Molina, Ian McKellen.

Whatever they paid Ian McKellen, he was worth every penny (and no doubt more) to any success The Da Vinci Code: Da Movie has at the box office and in sure-to-be boffo DVD sales (a Da Vinci Code on every shelf! why not two?). As palpitating academic Sir Leigh Teabing, McKellen employs wit and oratorial skill to raise the pulse of director Ron Howard's otherwise resolutely uninspired adaptation of the 2003 Dan Brown bestseller.

Tom Hanks makes a choice to underplay the role of Robert Langdon, professor of religious symbology at Harvard (and celebrated author of "Symbols of the Sacred Feminine"); this seems like a great idea while he's playing a professor, and even for a while as he plays a professor unexpectedly escorted to a crime scene in the Louvre, but once the professor goes on the lam from police, only to be repeatedly held at gunpoint and exposed to shocking revelations, underplaying begins to seem like an absence of character. Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman deserve blame, as well, for showing too little interest in their lead character; a newly invented plot feint of the Catholic-raised Langdon again trying on his mothballed faith proves unconvincing.

Audrey Tautou (Amélie) is the second, equally bland lead, in the role of French cryptographer Sophie Neveu. 'Twas her grandfather slain in the Louvre, poor lass; the man had raised her since the vehicular demise of her parents, so the investigation is personal. Paul Bettany brings admirable commitment to his turn as self-flagellating albino monk Silas, an agent of the fringiest faction of conservative Catholic sect Opus Dei. Though ridiculously conspicuous in his cassock—not to mention his S&M undergarments—he stays hot on the trail of the film's Biblical treasure, "the source of the Church's power on Earth." Alfred Molina and Jean Reno play, respectively, Bishop Aringarosa and police Captain Fache.

Plot and pictures, however, are the pagan idols of The Da Vinci Code. Unsatisfied by merely dramatizing a novel with actors and settings, Howard exhaustively turns every idea into a visual, in the manner of A Beautiful Mind's optical pop psychology. A blossoming kaleidoscope of visual effects and instructive flashbacks illustrates and explicates—more often than necessary—each clever anagram, code, and puzzle. Working from Brown, Goldsman neatly highlights the themes of what we see and how we interpret what we see, the stocks-in-trade of symbology professors, cryptographers, and detectives (Teabing reminds Langdon, "the mind sees what it chooses to see").

Crammed into a 153-minute frame, the densely detailed The Da Vinci Code does begin to inspire heretical chuckles in the way it plays a connect-the-historical-dots game to reveal a sketch of a pregnant Mary Magdalene. Murder in the Louvre, Da Vinci-painted clues, Sir Isaac Newton, the Knights Templar, evil Swiss bankers, and Fibonacci numbers. Forget Holy Blood, Holy Grail—I think Dan Brown might've picked up his designs from a raving street-corner conspiracy theorist (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Excepting what may be the most insulting editing decision in years (a brief plot backtrack in an airplane hangar), Goldsman and Howard deserve some credit for making this much exposition coherent and even—thanks to McKellen's midpoint stretch—entertaining. For the most part, however, The Da Vinci Code is exactly the kind of safe Hollywood adaptation we've come to expect, and in the filmmaker's hands, every plot "twist" should be dully obvious even to those who haven't read Brown's book.

Solicitous to the Brown-faithful and Christ-faithful alike, Howard's film is finally too measured to be lively, too skittish to be provocative, too dramatically slack to be more than a ploddingly literal book-on-film or, worse, a late-arriving, self-important National Treasure for the NPR set.

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Aspect ratios: 2.4:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1

Street date: 4/28/2009

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Just in time for Angels & Demons, Sony sends home The Da Vinci Code on Blu. Disc One includes the Extended Cut of the film (offering approximately 23 minutes of previously unseen material), in a state-of-the-art A/V transfer. The image is spotless and nicely dimensional, with color and contrast that accurately represent the film's intended look. Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround provides substantial immersion, highlighting action in an impressive home version of the theatrical aural experience.

Disc One also features a few brand-new Blu exclusives: Unlocking the Code Interactive Picture-in-Picture track ("unlocking" "coded" access to video clips, production art, and trivia in the areas of "Interviews," "Storyboards," "Prop Talk," "B-Roll," "Photos," "Symbols & Codes," "Langdon's Journey" and "Location Trivia"), select scenes commentary by director Ron Howard, and a "A First Look at Angels & Demons" with Howard introducing a scene from the film.

Disc Two presents seventeen featurettes, all in HD, that tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the making of the film that PR will allow. Interview participants include Howard, author Dan Brown, producers Brian Grazer and John Calley, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, casting director Jane Jenkins, Jean Reno, Ian McKellen, Paul Bettany, Alfred Molina, Jean-Pierre Marielle, jean-Yves Berteloot, Jürgen Prochnow, director of photography Salvatore Totino, executive producer/second unit director Todd Hallowell, production designer Allan Cameron, head scenic artist James Gemmill, costume designer Daniel Orlandi, makeup/hair designer Frances Hannon, and more.

There's the introductory "First Day on the Set with Ron Howard" (2:13, HD); "A Discussion with Dan Brown" (4:52, HD); "A Portrait of Langdon" (7:18, HD); "Who is Sophie Neveu?" (6:58, HD); "Unusual Suspects" (17:58, HD), introducing the film's supporting characters; "Magical Places" (15:58, HD), which looks more closely at the historic location shoots; "Close-Up on Mona Lisa" (6:37, HD); traditional making-ofs "The Filmmakers' Journey Part One" (24:40, HD) and "The Filmmakers' Journey Part Two" (12:20, HD); "The Codes of The Da Vinci Code" (5:33, HD); "The Music of The Da Vinci Code" (2:54, HD); "Book to Screen" (11:06, HD); "The Da Vinci Code Props" (9:43, HD); "The Da Vinci Code Sets" (9:10, HD); "Re-Creating Works of Art" (6:03, HD); "The Visual Effects World of The Da Vinci Code" (15:03, HD); and "Scoring The Da Vinci Code" (9:44, HD).

It's difficult to imagine any fan of the film wanting more out of this snazzy two-disc Blu-ray set, also available in a gift set edition.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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