Due to BCCN‘s publishing schedule, I am writing this column after I have had a chance to see The Da Vinci Code, but before the film has opened in regular theatres.
So on the one hand, I can safely say that the movie is a dud, a complete bore, and that most film critics, secular and otherwise, seem to agree with me. Reportedly, the movie even provoked unintended laughter when it was screened at the Cannes festival May 16.
But on the other hand, I cannot predict how average moviegoers will respond to the movie when it opens. By the time you read this, we should have a better idea.
But for now, I suspect its box-office performance will resemble that of Godzilla, which grossed $136 million in 1998 but was considered a failure because it made half that amount in its first week alone.
In other words, I would not be surprised if the movie had a huge opening, thanks to all the pre-release hype, but then sank like a stone due to bad word-of-mouth.
Dan Brown’s novel was always going to be difficult to adapt for the big screen. The bits anyone cares about have nothing to do with the story’s two-dimensional characters and genre-bound plot mechanics, and everything to do with the scenes in which certain people sit around and talk, and talk, and talk about the early church and Renaissance art.
The movie preserves the novel’s assertion that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a child, and that members of the Roman Catholic church, and the Opus Dei movement in particular, have tried to cover this up – even going so far as to kill the descendants of Christ.
Director Ron Howard and star Tom Hanks, who plays ‘symbologist’ Robert Langdon, have been telling everyone their movie is more of a thrill ride. Just relax, forget about the historical and theological claims advanced by the story, and enjoy the ride, they say.
But they forgot to take their own advice. If anything, the movie is at its weakest when it tries to be a ‘thriller’ – especially in those scenes where a killer albino monk pops out of the shadows with a weapon in his hands, or our heroes drive backwards through traffic, or preposterously easy escape routes turn up at oddly convenient times.
If anyone takes this story too seriously, it is the filmmakers, who approach the material with a stiff solemnity that makes any real enjoyment impossible. One of the amusing things about the book is how shamelessly it throws together every bit of ‘evidence’ it can muster – from classic paintings to Disney cartoons – to convince the reader that the world is full of secrets and conspiracies. The movie avoids this anything-goes approach and keeps its focus on the highbrow art – in what seems like a bid for credibility or respectability.
Worst of all, the film brings to life some of the book’s more slanderous assertions in brief, vivid flashbacks – including a sequence, set before the emperor Constantine got involved in church affairs, in which the early Christians initiate a civil war against their pagan neighbours. Thanks, Opie, for imprinting that slur against the martyrs on all our minds.
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Speaking of martyrs, Sophie Scholl: The Final Days comes to the Fifth Avenue theatre June 2. The film, which was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, concerns a German woman who is arrested for distributing pamphlets critical of the Nazis during World War II – and who is sustained by her faith as her situation grows increasingly bleak. The film is more interested in dialogue than visuals, but it is definitely worth seeing.
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It has been 30 years since The Omen showed that Hollywood was paying attention to the end-times craze popularized by the likes of Hal Lindsey and Salem Kirban. Now, a remake is on the way. This might seem like an odd time for an eschatological thriller. Didn’t we go through a bunch of those during the millennial angst of a few years ago? But then, it isn’t every day a movie about the Antichrist gets to come out on June 6, 2006 (6/6/06).
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A classic of Italian neo-realist filmmaking is coming to town this month. Roberto Rossellini’s The Flowers of St. Francis, filmed in 1950, will play at the Vancouver International Film Centre June 26 – 29, preceded by My Dad is 100 Years Old, a short film about Rossellini which stars his daughter Isabella and was directed by Canadian auteur Guy Maddin.
Rossellini cast real-life Franciscan monks as Francis and his followers. Catholic film critic Steven D. Greydanus calls the movie, also known as Francis, God’s Jester, “a beautifully simple little film that is as much a tribute to the spirit of humane curiosity in which the film itself was made as to the heritage of spirituality that is its transcendent theme.”