By the time this film was announced, everyone and their dog had asked me if I’d read The Da Vinci Code. I hadn’t.
Yes, I’d heard it was the bestest book in the whole wide world. No, I didn’t want to borrow their copy. Months later, when I finally sat down to watch this DVD, I had still not read Dan Brown’s masterpiece. See, I decided to be one of the few who could judge the film as completely separate from the novel.
Unfortunately for my personal experiment, it seems that the book was simply too powerful to not influence my viewing experience. It didn’t matter that I’d never cracked this controversial tome’s spine, because I couldn’t avoid the media storm surrounding it nor the effects of said storm. I think the best example of my issue with The Da Vinci Code is its cast. Can you believe the list of folks this film attracted? Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Paul Bettany and Alfred Molina. These aren’t all big Hollywood stars – they’re better; they’re all top-notch actors, and all here thanks to the pull of a contentious, monumental bestseller.
With a cast this strong, not to mention an apparently phenomenal story and a production team chock-full of Oscar winners, The Da Vinci Code could have been something really special. Instead, this film is – as the cliché doesn’t go – not greater than the sum of its parts. Some would blame Ron Howard for this, others might even blame Canada. Me? I blame the hype.
Why did I expect the film’s story to be great and thus suffer disappointment? The hype. Why did an exceptional cast bluff me into thinking the film would be as brilliant? Again, it was the hype that sucked them in, and subsequently suckered me.
Ignoring my greater disappointment for a moment, I should say that The Da Vinci Code is at least an entertaining movie. If you throw aside all of that hype and expectation, you’re left with a film that’s intriguing and fun to watch, but that – at 149 minutes – suffers from a bit of the bloat. The final 25 minutes or so feels like an epilogue, which is something that works much better in a novel than it does on film. Remember all of the fuss over the ending of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King? Howard’s film reminds me of Jackson’s. Once Ian McKellen’s character is taken away by the police, I felt the movie was over. Sure, there was more mystery to be revealed, but without the danger element the film loses all feeling of urgency. And as for the final reveal, I’m sure most viewers saw that one coming by the film’s half-way point.
So it’s far from perfect, but The Da Vinci Code film is certainly a must-watch if only just to see what all of the fuss is about. If you’ve already read the book, I have no idea how you’ll respond to the movie, but I intend to read it some day to find out.
And now, on to the DVD set.
The Da Vinci Code – Full Screen Special Edition is presented on two discs, with the main feature on disc one and bonus material on disc two. Obviously, this full screen version of the film is presented in 1.33:1 format. The transfer is very good, with rich detail, excellent colours, and nice black levels. There are a lot of shadowy scenes in beautiful old settings in this film, and they come off looking really good. I did notice a few sporadic instances of soft picture, but no other issues.
The menus on both discs are animated, with sound.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix sounds great. Obviously, this isn’t a bombastic film, but there is still good use of all channels to create an environment for the viewer. Dialogue is always clear, and Zimmer’s score fills out the sound stage nicely.
A plethora of audio options are available, including English Dolby 2.0 Surround, French Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1. For subtitles, the set offers English, French and Spanish.
This 2-disc Special Edition set includes a fair amount of bonus material, but the level of substance is hit and miss. There are 10 featurettes, 13 trailers and one DVD-ROM game demo. A commentary track or two would have been nice, but alas, none were included.
You’ll find the trailers on disc one, and the featurettes on disc two. We’ll skip the trailers and move right along to the first featurette, First Day on the Set with Ron Howard. Not much to this one, just Ron Howard talking about his excitement and plans for shooting the film. Runs about 2 minutes.
Up next is A Discussion with Dan Brown who, you may have heard, wrote the novel. He was also one of the film’s executive producers, and here we get four minutes or so of his thoughts on writing, the inspiration for The Da Vinci Code, and how he’s handling the loss of privacy that results from achieving celebrity status. Don’t expect depth here, but on the surface the topics are interesting.
A Portrait of Langdon follows, and it’s the first featurette with some substance. Watch this one to get an analysis of the film’s protagonist, how Tom Hanks became involved, and how the respected actor fits this character. This one runs just over seven minutes.
Then there’s Who Is Sophie Neveu?, which is similar to the Langdon piece, but about Audrey Tatou and the film’s female lead character. About six minutes, and worth watching.
Next is Unusual Suspects – The international cast…Colorful, memorable and frightening characters. It’s a really long title for a 17-minute featurette, but it definitely says what it is. Ron Howard et al wanted to truly make an international film by casting actors who are actually of the same nationality as their characters. Here we get a minute or three on the main actors involved, from Jean Reno as Captain Bezu Fache to Jurgen Prochnow as Andre Vernet.
Magical Places covers the amazing shooting locations, including The Louvre in Paris, Temple Church in London, and various spots across Europe. Tom Hanks talks about how being on location helped inspire the actors’ performances, while Ron Howard gushes about the incredible journey of making this film. It runs just under 16 minutes, and is definitely worth checking out.
Next we have Close-up on Mona Lisa, a six-minute featurette of the cast, crew and Dan Brown talking about the world’s most famous painting. They gush about the experience of standing alone in the Louvre with Leonardo’s self-proclaimed finest work. Clearly, that’s a rare experience.
Then we get into the pair of making-of featurettes, Filmmaker’s Journey Part 1 and Filmmaker’s Journey Part 2. I have no idea why they’re separated, but whatever. Part 1 runs 24 minutes, and covers various aspects of making the film up to about the film’s half-way mark. Part 2 picks up right after, and it offers about 12 minutes that’s more focused on the cast and crew’s experiences working with Ron Howard. These two add up to a solid making-of featurette.
The Codes of The Da Vinci Code follows, and it reveals a neat aspect of the film – a code within the code. Basically, there are a bunch of symbols planted throughout the film, each with an actual meaning for one or more of the characters. Ron Howard’s idea, and it certainly adds “replay” value. Can you find them all?
The last featurette is The Music of The Da Vinci Code, which offers a quick look at Hans Zimmer’s score. Not much depth here, but it’s short enough to watch anyway. Plus, it includes a plug for the CD soundtrack, available at a store near you.
Bonus content wraps up with a DVD-ROM game demo. I’d tell you all about how great it is, but I didn’t try it. If you do, maybe leave a comment about that on this review.
The Da Vinci Code is a decent film made by a lot of really talented people, but it unfortunately does not live up to the blockbuster novel’s hype. This special edition DVD set offers excellent audio and video, along with some decent special features. Is it worth buying? If you enjoyed the film, absolutely.
Special Features List
- First Day on the Set with Ron Howard
- A Discussion with Dan Brown
- A Portrait of Langdon
- Who Is Sophie Neveu?
- Unusual Suspects – The international cast
- Magical Places
- Close-up on Mona Lisa
- Filmmaker’s Journey
- The Codes of The Da Vinci Code
- The Music of The Da Vinci Code
- DVD-ROM Game Demo