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The Da Vinci Code

Hollywood's Summer Blockbuster Bomb

By Pamela Cole

The latest Ron Howard/Tom Hanks collaboration on what was supposed to be the blockbuster film of the summer still sits atop the box office chart in the third spot after four weeks. As of June 29, Sony Pictures' The Da Vinci Code has racked up $207,492,832 in theaters against its reported $125 million budget, so by Hollywood standards, it's a huge success.

However, I can't stop thinking about The Da Vinci Code and how surprisingly awful it was.

Filmmaking is a fickle business by any measure. You can give a bunch of college kids a video camera, a computer, and 48 hours to make a film, and come up with a reasonably enjoyable viewing experience. Or you can take one of Hollywood's most gifted and prolific directors; it's highest-paid, two-time Oscar-winning, leading man; the most-talked about, best-selling novel of our time; and a virtually unlimited production budget — and make an absolute flop. That is, in my opinion, what happened with The Da Vinci Code.

Let me say, first of all, I loved the book. I loved all of Dan Brown's books, which I read after succumbing to reading "The Da Vinci Code" through mass consensus. (How was I ever going to participate in cocktail or water cooler conversation again, without reading this controversial novel?) If I recall correctly, I read it in one sitting, fascinated by its pace and premise. When I heard that the proven award-winning team of Howard & Hanks was taking on its conversion to film, I was overjoyed, as any film-lover would be. This was a fail-safe combination in my opinion. While I couldn't quite imagine the divine sprite, Audrey Tatou, in the sexy and confident role of Agent Sophie Neveu, I trusted Opie on this one. After all, she was French.

But seldom have I been so eager and excited to plop down $8.75 to spend a Sunday afternoon in the theater, and been so immediately disappointed by the screen. First of all, where was Tom Hanks? Who was this stiff, frowning fellow with super-glued hair? (Or was it a wig? I didn't really mind that Hanks' cute curls were tamed, I just thought the do was weird.) And I'm assuming that Tatou was cast as Neveu in exchange for permission to film in the venerated Louvre. Because, only that and the fact that she had an actual French accent would qualify her for this role. Tatou is a delight, a genius, as seen in Amelie and the glorious, unforgettable scene in Dirty Pretty Things where she twirls in her nightgown. But never could she be mistaken for a tough, commanding, yet breath-takingly seductive police detective. In every scene, I was afraid she might break.

The absence of chemistry between Hanks and Tatou was more obvious than global warming from outer space. It was as if they were acting in separate films in parallel universes. To Howard's credit (and probably Hanks', too) they realized this dearth of chemistry and didn't try to force the love interest that arises in the book. Instead, they awkwardly tiptoed around it, allowing Hanks a fatherly kiss on Tatou's forehead at the end of the film as the characters almost eagerly parted ways.

The book had this driving, mysterious, riddle-solving tone. It was smart and intriguing, and made readers feel smart and intriguing. But Howard got the tone all wrong in the film. Can you say melodramatic? Yes, I suppose the book was dramatic, but it was an undertone, not something we were painfully aware of. The film audience found itself laughing at the most dramatic moments as an overarching score soared from the surround sound speakers to pump up the drama, in a way that ended up being just funny and campy. Uncomfortably, the audience would stop laughing only when the last beat of the scene finally indicated that this was serious business, and wasn't supposed to be laughed at. How were we supposed to know? Every time Tatou breathlessly uttered, in that tiny French voice, "How can this be?" I laughed out loud. I couldn't help it. And did Hanks really say, again and again, "Of course. How could I have missed it?" Or did I just imagine such ridiculous dialog.

Oh well. It just goes to prove my point. Here you have a "C-" movie, in my grade book. But you have one of the best marketing machines in existence at Sony Pictures, cranking out the PR message MONTHS before the film even opened, before we even had the trailer to salivate over, before we knew the film was a stinker. Now, everyone has to go and see it, has to see with their own eyes the demise that passes as Hollywood cinema. It's like watching a train wreck in slow motion--no, it's like watching the car that tries to cross the train tracks and beat the train. We have to know.

If you don't see this film, how will you ever be able to participate in cocktail or water cooler conversation? You must see it, for this film proves two things:

1) Even great filmmakers occasionally make bad films, against all odds.

2) Great marketing and PR can make even bad films profitable.

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