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The Da Vinci Code

Year: 2006
Production Co: Imagine Entertainment
Studio: Columbia
Director: Ron Howard
Producer: Brian Grazer
Writer: Akiva Goldsman
Cast: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tatou, Jean Reno, Ian McKellen, Paul Bettany, Jurgen Prochnow, Alfred Molina
In hindsight, Dan Brown's mega-selling potboiler was the perfect story for Ron Howard to bring to the screen. All his films have been (though it sounds like tautology) cinematic. He always uses a broad scope, he isn't above dramatic flourishes to extract the emotions he wants the audience to feel and his stories are always accessible and emotional with a minimum of subtext or quietness.

It was also (as always) highly amusing to see every film, literature and pop culture critic and writer around the world fall over themselves to write the 'definitive' word on the Da Vinci Code phenomenon, being making time the rubbish the whole thing as if to assert that while Brown and Howard's products would appeal to the masses, it was below them.

Howard and his cast are undoubtedly having the last laugh (along with Brown, rolling in his millions) right now, after the film made the money it did thanks to the strongest want-see factor since Star Wars Episode I. They never intended to bring you anything other than a rollicking ride - the novel put into pictures and dialogue - and they succeeded.

Howard trims just enough out of the novel to make a two hour film and leaves nothing else out as symbologist Robert Langdon (huge-haired Tom Hanks) is called by the police to the Louvre during a lecture trip in Paris. Finding the body of the aged curator with his own name referenced, the police immediately name him a suspect, but together with cute-as-a-button French police cryptologist Sophie (Tatou), he has to go on the run and solve the mystery unfolding before them.

It's a roll call of Europe's biggest actors and its most famed and aesthetic locales as Langdon and Neveau follow the trail left by Leonardo Da Vinci hundreds of years before about the disturbing truth behind the Christian church, that Jesus married Mary Magdelene and his descendants still walk the Earth.

Characters and shadowy institutions weigh in on all sides to protect their own secrets in the conflagration, from Opus Dei on down, and what ensues is an elaborate but easily digested tangle of plotting that was never meant to be more than a thrilling story.

It's definitely the 21st century however - years ago you could use the name of an existing institution, church, government agency or company in a negative light and everybody knew it was just for fun. Do it now and you'll get everything from boycotts to lawsuits - as both Howard and Brown have discovered in the nervous, public image-conscious noughties.

There's also something slightly odd about Paul Bettany as the Opus Dei assassin, monk Silas, driving around in cars and using guns. With his white face, nasty sneer and ratty cloak, he looks like he should be wielding a lightsabre.

Everyone takes it seriously on screen with the exception of McKellen as the historian/conspiracy theorist Teabing, who hams it right up and has as much fun as you should watching it.

Nothing about it lives up to the phenomenon the book and movie have generated, but that's the nature a modern cultural phenomenon - most, like The Da Vinci Code, comprise more than the sum of their parts and if you expect a good time and not the meaning of life, that's what you'll get.

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