FIRST came the 50 million copies, then the slew of literary imitators, the lawsuits, the complaints from such quarters as the Vatican, the supersecret Opus Dei sect and the albino rights activists. And now, finally, the movie of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" has arrived, spewing religious conspiracy theories and art history for the masses and well as tons of box-office high jinks, or so hopes its distributor, Sony.
One complaint bruited about the Internet that director Ron Howard professes to know nothing about is the issue of Tom Hanks' long, swept-back tendrils. It's the hairdo that launched a thousand tongues wagging as the venerable star of "Forrest Gump" and "Apollo 13" made the awards-show rounds in the long run-up to "The Da Vinci Code's" premiere May 17 in Cannes and its general release two days later. "He looks great," insists Howard. "Tom really wanted to create a character, and it's more of a professorial kind of look."
Hanks is playing noted Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, who's drawn into the mystery of who murdered famed museum curator Jacques Sauniere and left his body amid the Da Vincis of the Louvre. Along with French cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), Langdon hurtles around Europe hunting for clues in the works of Da Vinci and exploring an alternate history of Christianity, one in which Christ and Mary Magdalene actually marry and procreate.
For the lay reader, such musings rank up there with what if the South had won the Civil War or Hitler had triumphed over the Allies. But the theory rankles the devout, hence the drumbeat of criticism. Howard's movie version contains re-creations of the biblical allusions so viewers understand the alternate religious history that drives the plot. There's no disclaimer, however, though some critics have asked for one.
"It's very controversial. What Dan Brown did with the novel, we didn't back away from in making the movie," says Howard. "I think what a lot of people have discovered -- a lot of theologians -- is this is a work of fiction that presents a set of characters that are affected by these conspiracy theories and ideas. Those characters in this work of fiction act and react on that premise. It's not theology. It's not history. To start off with a disclaimer...." he searches for the right words. "Spy thrillers don't start off with disclaimers."
The films also stars Alfred Molina, Ian McKellen, Jean Reno and Paul Bettany, who plays the killer albino monk Silas and who, like his character, opted to wear a pain-inducing barbed cilice under his robes "from time to time to remind him of what the character was going through," says Howard. "I didn't want these characters just to be chess pieces in a game."
Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman consulted with author Brown, who had at one point tried to write his own screen adaptation of his complicated thriller. Brown also helped Howard devise yet another complicated code, which is interwoven into the film, and influenced how the director composed the shots. "I laid out clues in a lot of different scenes. Some of them are reflective of Langdon's journey. Some are reflective of Sophie's journey. Some reflect the underlying threats that exist in the scene," says Howard. "Sometimes you have to freeze the frame to find it."
-- Rachel Abramowitz