I do believe that I'm probably the only person who hasn't read author Dan Brown's blockbuster novel, "The Da Vinci Code". While I rather regret not having the chance to read it yet, I suppose that at least I went into the experience of watching the movie fresh.
The film stars Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor of symbology who happens to be in the neighborhood when the murder of a curator takes place in the Louvre. Before passing away, the man - who was supposed to meet with Langdon - writes a note in his own blood. Soon enough, Langdon is tracked down by Captain Fache (Jean Reno), who pegs him as a suspect. Lucky for Langdon, the curator's granddaughter, a cryptologist named Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), helps him escape custody so that they can figure out the clues that were left them.
The majority of the picture has Langdon and Neveu zipping around Europe, solving various puzzles within Da Vinci's paintings that lead them towards - not to give exact details away for those two other people out there aside from me who didn't read the book - a massive secret and a priceless artifact. Giving chase is Silas (Paul Bettany), a mysterious and psychotic Albino monk who works with a secretive group that doesn't want to see the main characters uncover the truth, as it would be devastating to the Catholic church.
While I admittedly have not read Dan Brown's novel, the first thing that one notices about the film version is that it's quite chatty. Nothing wrong with being talky, but the film spends fairly large chunks of its running time sifting through large amounts of exposition, as the characters stop to explain every last detail of what's going on in a way that occasionally brings the scene to a halt. Trimming a lot of this discussion and letting the audience figure things out on their own would have given the movie more urgency and made the scenes of discovery more enjoyable.
While there are some action sequences in the film, the combination of stretches that are largely subdued and the amount of exposition results in a film that gains momentum at times (moreso in the last hour), only to lose steam. I found the movie usually mildly interesting, but it wasn't nail-biting in the way that one would expect from a movie one would classify as a "mystery/thriller".
The performances are a mixed bag, although I wouldn't call any of them below average. Hanks is - surprisingly - the least involving, offering a performance that's simply too subdued for its own good. It's certainly not a terrible performance, but I think it's just about my least favorte of the actor's. Tautou brings a bit more energy to her performance and remains a more compelling character. The film's best effort is a supporting performance from Ian McKellen, who brings a much-needed touch of subtle humor as a history expert and friend of Langdon.
Maybe this all worked better on the page or maybe the pairing of Ron Howard and writer Akiva Goldsman is to blame, as while Howard has made some fine films ("Apollo 13", "Cinderella Man"), he wouldn't be the first director I'd think of for a thriller. Overall, "Code" was neither great or a total loss - I thought it was somewhat compelling in parts, but noticably uneven and not up to its potential.
VIDEO: A 1.33:1 pan & scan presentation was what was provided for review. The pan & scan presentation offered a just adequate presentation here, providing images that were consistently moderately soft. The film has plenty of shadowy/dimly-lit/just plain dark scenes, and this presentation did not provide a satisfying level of detail/definition.
Some minor shimmering and some slight artifacts were also spotted, but no edge enhancement was seen. The film's color palette was subdued throughout, but appeared accurately presented here. As one would expect, the film looked quite cropped on this pan & scan edition.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is mildly enjoyable, largely putting the surrounds to use to reinforce the score and add occasional sound effects and touches of ambience. Otherwise, this is a largely dialogue-driven feature. Audio quality was quite nice, with a crisp, full score and dialogue that sounded consistently clear and clean.
EXTRAS: The only extra on the first disc are a set of trailers for upcoming Sony films. The second disc opens with "First Day on the Set with Ron Howard", which is a piece that runs a little over 2 minutes and offers Howard giving some very basic thoughts on starting the film. "A Discussion with Dan Brown" is only slightly longer, and offers the novelist chatting about the story, the writing process and the popularity of the book. "A Portrait of Langdon" and "Who Is Sophie Neveu?" have the filmmakers discussing how great it was for Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou to play the leads. All of these featurettes offer a couple of decent tidbits of information, but they're otherwise largely fluffy.
"Unusual Suspects" is a nearly 20-minute discussion of the supporting cast, with Howard, the casting director and others chatting about how actors were picked for the supporting roles. "Magical Places" runs a little over 15 minutes and proves more interesting, as it has the filmmakers taking the audience through some of the remarkable locations used in the film. Howard chats about working with the supportive French government, talks about the excitement of filming in Paris and discusses the specifics/challenges of shooting in some of the main locations. "Close-up on Mona Lisa" has the filmmakers and actors giving their thoughts on the legendary painting.
"A Filmmaker's Journey" is split into two parts, with the total running time being just a bit over 35 minutes. The documentary starts with Hanks, Howard, Brown and others discussing the casting, the film's performances, shooting major scenes, the story, some minor discussion of the controversy, cinematography and more. The documentary moves along at a nice clip and provides some enjoyable information.
"The Music of the Da Vinci Code" provides a very brief look at composer Hans Zimmer's work on the picture. "The Codes of the Da Vinci Code" takes a look at some of the hidden codes in the film. Finally, we get a DVD-ROM demo of the "Da Vinci Code" puzzle game.
It's too bad that we don't get a commentary from Howard (who has definitely provided commentaries for his past films) and/or Brown here. Maybe those are being kept aside for a future edition?
Additionally, viewers will find a $3 off coupon for one of the studio's catalog titles (Mr. Deeds, Radio, White Chicks, Christmas With the Kranks, 50 First Dates, the Animal, Rudy, Sense and Sensibility, Master of Disguise, Darkness Falls, Bewitched, National Security, Mothman Prophecies, Zathura, Close Encounters, Secret Window, River Runs Through It and Forgotten are the options) in the case. This is a nice added bonus that has appeared in a few of the studio's major new releases lately (I believe a coupon was also in "Click".)
Final Thoughts: "Da Vinci Code" usually remained at least watchable, but a few average performances, script and inconsistent pacing kept it from reaching its potential. The DVD set offers a selection of mostly enjoyable featurettes as extras. As for the presentation, definitely go with the widescreen edition instead of this full-frame release. Recommended for fans, while those who have not seen the film yet may want to try a rental first.
The Film C+