The Da Vinci Code

November 1st, 2006 DVD Reviews, Film, Filmink

Star Bill Murray and director Ivan Reitman poked fun at the puerile, frathouse antics of US army recruits in Stripes. Almost 25 years later, Aussie director Gregor Jordan tried a similar thing with Buffalo Soldiers, falling victim to the new age of nervous paranoia where the portrayal of any group or institution on film invites their wrath, his film hobbled by the now painfully image-conscious US armed forces.

In the early 80s, The Da Vinci Code might have been the mundane thriller many dismissed it as, but with powerful groups the world over with agendas about the way they were portrayed, controversy transformed it into the publishing phenomenon of the 21st century — inevitably inviting the attention of Hollywood.

It became such a success so quickly Dan Brown became the new Michael Moore. It was far more fashionable to rubbish his work and dismiss him as an intellectual lightweight than admit how much power he held over our culture.

But while the chattering classes pretended not to understand why we loved The Da Vinci Code, Brown laughed all the way to the bank, just as aware of the reason as everyone who bought a copy or ticket is; it’s a crackling story. After all, the original definition of a story is a recorded sequence of (sometimes made up) events that make us curious to know what happens next.

The two?disc DVD release contains neither too much nor too little. With another of Brown’s novels in pre-production there’ll undoubtedly be more material that will find its way into a Dan Brown or Robert Langdon box set, or the inevitable collectors edition.

The features comprise a series of short, easily-digestible featurettes — eerily like the chapters in a potboiler thriller. All the main players are present, and among the most interesting contains author and executive producer Brown on the phenomenon of the book. It’s also unusual but welcome in a glossy studio package as Brown comments on the lack of privacy being the only drawback to literary megastardom. It’s not quite as incendiary as him wishing plagues of locusts on the authors who sued him for plagiarism last year in England, but it’s a nice change from the nothing-but-good-news DVD extras most movies come with.

Ron Howard hasn’t been shy about doing commentaries before, but the absence of one here isn’t so bad as he’s front and centre in many of the featurettes, imparting the sort of information on all aspects of the project you’d expect from a commentary anyway.

There are 11 shorts and most of them are between 10 or 30 minutes, a format that offers two advantages. First, none of them become the sort of sound-bite PR fluff extras do when they’re too short.

Second, each featurette sticks to its distinct area – from day one production excitement among the crew to the scoring of the film. As such, very little material is repeated and the whole package has been put together with a good deal of care for the content. It’s a very nice change from some DVDs where they collect docos or features from wildly different sources without apparently caring they all contain much the same stuff.

Whether you’re interested in the character development or the logistics of filming permission in one of the world’s most famous cultural landmarks, there’s something you’ll like. The lead characters of Langdon (Hanks) and Neveau (Tatou) get their own analysis, while the supporting characters that gave the book and movie so many dimensions are all discussed in good detail too.

Amid such information-rich extras, there’s also some frivolous fun to be had. Just like the cover of the books’ first hardcover edition was peppered with clues and trivia, the film contains visual clues representing the characters or turning points in the story, most of which you’d never spot on first viewing (speaking of which, look out for Dan Brown in the book-signing scene early on).

It’s also not just the film and book that get the bonus treatment. Da Vinci’s most famous work itself comes under the microscope by the lucky people who got to spend a few nights alone with her, and you’ll enjoy listening to them try to dissect the enigmatic appeal of the Mona Lisa.

For most of human cultural history the scope of a thing denoted its importance. In the media age it’s easy to forget marketing can trick us into thinking something’s more crucial to our social DNA than it really is. As little more than a cinematic airport thriller, The Da Vinci Code might not deserve such riches and kudos, but as director Ron Howard says; ‘It’s supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to be a breathless chase’. Keep that in mind, keep the word ‘phenomenon’ in perspective and you’ll have a good time.

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