Act VII: The Da Vinci Code

THE STORY

A murder inside the Louvre, and clues in Da Vinci paintings, lead to the discovery of a religious mystery protected by a secret society for two thousand years, which could shake the foundations of Christianity.

THE GOOD

Who would have thought the name of Jesus Christ can cause such controversy, negativity and even downright hatred whenever he’s mentioned outside of The Bible?

Yet that happens to be the case whenever literature and film such as Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Dogma or even the Harry Potter series take on or even hit at religious and spiritual beliefs, inviting passionate and defensive reactions from different religious groups.

In 2003, The Da Vinci Code was added to that list.

Written by American author Dan Brown, the novel finds Harvard professor and symbologist Robert Langdon and French cryptologist Sophie Neveu on the hunt for the Holy Grail – represented here not by a cup which grants eternal life but rather the bloodline of one Jesus H. Christ – following clues left in the works of art from Leonardo Da Vinci, while running from police after being implicated in a murder.

Author Dan Brown

As expected, a story which carries the implication that Jesus was not only a regular man but one who married and had children did not go over well with the Christian and Catholic community, who heavily criticized and condemned the novel.

Also as expected with controversies, it helped boost sales enormously, with The Da Vinci Code selling over 100 million copies worldwide to date – making it one of the most successful novels of all time.

With that amount of success, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood came knocking on Brown’s door to make a big screen adaptation. And so they did, bringing along a $6 million dollar check.

He took the check.

Shortly after the film rights were sold to Sony Pictures, Academy Award Winner Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) was brought on board as director, who in turn assembled an impressive international all star cast lead by Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon and Audrey Tautou as Sophie Neveu, with supporting roles for Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Alfred Molina and Paul Bettany.

Tom Hanks and Director Ron Howard

Filming began during the summer of 2005 at The Louvre Museum in Paris. A replica of The Mona Lisa had to be used as lighting it would have damaged the painting. Because of its controversial nature, some locations denied access to the filmmakers, forcing them to build accurate recreations in Pinewood Studios, while others like Winchester Cathedral granted them permission to film, only to use the money they were given to pay for a campaign which debunked and criticized the book.

On May 17, 2006, the film had its premiere at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, where it was met with an unexpected reaction: Laughter. Once it was released around the world on May 19th, 2006, critical reactions didn’t improve, gaining a 26% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Despite being destroyed by critics, facing constant protests at screenings and being banned in over 14 countries, The Da Vinci Code still proved to be a smash hit, grossing over $750 million dollars worldwide and going on to receive two (slightly better received) sequels, an upcoming TV show and even a Broadway play.

No such thing as bad publicity I suppose.

THE BADILLO

PROFESSOR ROBERT LANGDON

In the novels, Robert Langdon is unimaginatively yet understandably described as “Harrison Ford in Harris tweed“, as Ford is usually the first face that comes to mind when thinking of “History professor who finds himself in pursuit of holy and mythical artifacts”.

Thankfully, the filmmakers chose another route and offered the role to the legendary two time Academy Award Winner Tom Hanks (and his hair). Even if a case can be made for the many issues which plague the film, I don’t think either the character nor the actor should be part of that list.

Although the books present Langdon as something of a mix between Indiana Jones and Sherlock Holmes, the adaptations tone down the romantic and physical nature in order to take advantage of the “everyman” quality which Hanks so effortlessly captures in his performances while also reinforcing the idea that the professors knowledge and intelligence are key to his survival in life and death situations, creating a much more interesting type of “action” hero than what’s usually seen in this genre.

Also, the man probably deserves a third Oscar just for saying the line “You are the last living descendant of Jesus Christ” in a convincing manner.

HUNT FOR THE HOLY GRAIL

The Indiana Jones franchise, Romancing the Stone, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, National Treasure… I’m a sucker for treasure hunting movies. Any film that involves people on the search for treasures, lost artifacts and/or solving conspiracies has my attention.

Although the movie has seen its accusations of being nothing more than a dull, boring and inaccurate history lecture, just as Langdon was a breath of fresh air in this genre, the same can be said in how the quest for the Holy Grail was treated.

Whereas the aforementioned films rely on impossible booby traps, evil henchmen, fist fights and elaborate action sequences (and I love them for that), The Da Vinci Code doesn’t feel the need to get into any of this, focusing instead on research, discussions and the use of knowledge (even if what’s discussed in the movie stretches historical accuracy) in the pursuit of its treasure.

It separates itself from those earlier films by engaging its audience in a more thoughtful manner, inviting them to question history through literature and study rather than simply entertain through explosions and car chases (and I also love them for that).

THE LAST SUPPER

No scene captures this better than the set piece where our protagonists do nothing more for 10 minutes than break down and dissect Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper for its perceived secret messages.

It is, perhaps the moment that made or broke the film for audiences. You were either completely absorbed by the “history” lesson given by Ian McKellen’s soothing voice or you were already snoring. I happened to be part of the first group.

After all, the novel’s success (as well as the movie’s) partly comes from its exploitation of our collective fascination with conspiracies and hidden meanings.

Of course, it was also one of the most criticized elements when initially released due to its historical inaccuracies but I can’t help enjoy McKellen’s spirited delivery, Howard’s visual cues and Zimmer’s rising melodramatic music. Also, if it helped make even one person crack open a history book, it was well worth it.

CHEVALIERS DE SANGREAL

Although the complete soundtrack deserves a place here, it’s the rousing finale titled Chevaliers de Sangreal which easily remains the highlight. The powerful and inspiring four minute track would prove so popular that it would later turn into Robert Langdon’s theme for the sequels and is guaranteed to make an appearance at every live event from the composer.

Within the context of the film, it’s a beautiful and uplifting final exclamation mark after spending two and a half hours (or three, if you’re watching the extended cut) on this quest as we run alongside Langdon through the streets of Paris, with both the audience and the professor slowly discovering Dan Brown’s final twist: the true resting ground of The Holy Grail.

The Shots

The Dialogue

ROBERT LANGDON
This is the original icon for male. It’s a rudimentary phallus.

SOPHIE NEVEU
Quite to the point.

SIR LEIGH TEABING
Yes, indeed.

ROBERT LANGDON
This is known as the blade. It represents aggression and manhood. It’s a symbol still used today in modern military uniforms.

SIR LEIGH TEABING
Yes, the more penises you have, the higher your rank. Boys will be boys.

ROBERT LANGDON
Nobody hates history. They hate their own histories.

CAPTAIN BEZU FACHE
You used me.

BISHOP MANUEL ARINGAROSA
God uses us all

The Music

Considering Hans Zimmer’s impressive, iconic and influential body of work includes the soundtracks for both The Dark Knight and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises, Gladiator, The Lion King and Inception, to say that his music for The Da Vinci Code stands as one of his more recent memorable scores is impressive.

With a distinctly religious core and an operatic flavor, Zimmer beautifully bridges the gap between the spiritual themes present in the story and its thriller elements through the use of instruments which sit comfortably at any church and a suspenseful style.

From the tragic and angelic choirs on Kyrie For The Magdalene, the tense and rhythmic violins on Beneath Alrischa to the rousing finale of Chevaliers de Sangreal, the composer’s talents are put to excellent use on the controversial blockbuster.

  • Kyrie For The Magdalene – Hans Zimmer
  • Beneath Alrischa – Hans Zimmer
  • Chevalier de Sangreal – Hans Zimmer

THE BETWEEN

  • 24 (2001) creator Joel Surnow thought that “The Da Vinci Code” would provide a great story line for the show’s third season. Surnow asked his boss, producer Brian Grazer, about acquiring the film rights to the book. Dan Brown had no intention of his book being adapted for a television show, and rejected their bid. Several months later, Sony Pictures paid $6 million for the book, and hired Brian Grazer as producer.
  • Bill Paxton (Twister, Titanic) was Ron Howard’s first choice for Robert Langdon, but the actor had to decline due to scheduling conflicts.
  • Brian Grazer cancelled twenty-seven interviews at Cannes, to minimize the surrounding controversies this movie had already generated.

THE CONCLUSION

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