“In my mind I’ve been making The Da Vinci Code for more than two years,” blabs Ron Howard on one of the puddle-shallow Making Of featurettes. It’s a sentiment most viewers can appreciate. In our minds it seems to take about that long to watch it.
The Da Vinci Code is an odd movie by anyone’s standards. The original book managed to sidestep criticism of its gag-worthy purple prose by marrying tons of mind-snagging research and conspiracy-theory gubbins to a thriller plot which – and you have to give credit to author Dan Brown for this – rattled along with near-perfect pacing. Bam! Bam! Bam! went the revelations, as a book that few actually rate as even competent literature caught readers in a page-turning hurricane that swept the world.
But it’s that thriller element which goes walkabout in Howard’s movie version. There’s no question that he gets the look and the feel of night-time at the Louvre, grey mornings at Westminster Abbey and granite-bleak Scottish churches bang on. And such attention to detail also shines through in the only slightly dumbed-down exposition detailing the sacred feminine, the real nature of the Holy Grail and other esoteric chunks of medieval lore that make up at least half the film’s dialogue.
For all the above, Howard can be back-slapped. For the rest, he deserves to be thoroughly bitch-slapped – kneecapping the drive that made Brown’s book more than just a lecture with added murder, mystery and monks. Plot turns that should have viewers gasping wash by in a flood of verbiage, action is delivered in a whispering visual monotone when it should be a hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck shriek and the book’s big revelations are doled out with careless casualness. The Da Vinci Code is far from a terrible film – hearty scene-chewing by Ian McKellen and Paul Bettany’s chilly turn as Silas, the murderous albino soldier of God, preclude that – but it is a very, very dull one. Plenty for the mind to chew on, but virtually nothing to get your adrenaline pumping.
The extras don’t liven things up much, either. The short behind-the-scenes featurettes are standard promotional tosh, glossy chances for everyone involved in the movie to tell you how great everyone else is and for actors to bang on about the nature of their characters. Yawn. Been there, seen that. The one plus point, however, is that these featurettes give you a hint as to just why a director as competent as Howard took his eye off the narrative ball so badly. Puppydog starstruck by the chance to film in the Louvre itself, it’s a wonder he managed to get any storytelling done at all.
The longer, two-part A Filmmakers’ Journey documentary is better. A decent Making Of, it’s a fairly clear run through production from start to finish. There are unanswered questions (just why does Bettany’s albino not have red eyes, à la the book’s Silas, for instance?) and some sloppy interviewing (it’s really annoying to be told that a make-up effect is simple and then not be told how it’s done), but generally it does its job well.
The most interesting extra, though, is the mini-feature outlining hidden codes and symbols within the movie itself. Without it, you’d never realise that, say, the poster you fleetingly see before Langdon gingerly gets into a lift is Caravaggio’s ‘Boy In The Well’, a clever-clever reference to the reason for Langdon’s claustrophobia. It’ll certainly keep medieval art scholars with a bent for crosswords happy, though you can’t shake the feeling that it would have worked better as a text commentary option rather than a featurette. But then, since this two-disc package doesn’t bother to include a commentary by Howard, Hanks or anyone else, maybe that would be too much to expect.