Into every life, there comes a defining moment of motion picture badness; a time when you must choose whether to embrace the way of the bad movie or turn away and walk the well-worn path of sanity. Even for those of use who have taken the road less traveled and ventured into the sinister alleyways of the industry’s dispossessed and forgotten children, there are places where perhaps it is better not to go. These gloomy, Gotham-esque warrens may be our hunting grounds, but sometimes even we quail; sometimes, a movie just looks too bad, even for us. This is the testing time and we have a choice to make: do we stand forth and stride into the darkness, or shuffle away and try to avoid making eye contact with our friends?
But these tests do not merely come on us in the dark heart of Blockbuster Video. Sometimes, just sometimes, a work of such monumental crapness actually makes it to the big screen in a flurry of hype and merchandising that would make George Lucas blush. Sometimes, a truly bad movie attains apotheosis and ascends to walk in hallowed pastures, on which it ought be shamed to look.
Such a movie is The Da Vinci Code. Not the worst movie ever reviewed herein, but a movie whose assured commercial success and slick production make it more offensive than any but the most vile of genuine, unashamed bad movies can hope to compete.
“Seek the Truth”
Directed by Ron Howard
Starring Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Alfred Molina, and Paul Bettany
In fact, so egregiously bad is this film that no one reviewer could possibly do it justice. Therefore, here follows a two-handed review, featuring the thoughts of both HappyFett and Gonzohistory.
Disclaimer – Let’s be clear: this film is a work of fiction which does not purport to actually reveal the truth behind the foundations of Christianity. I personally can not imagine that any sane person would find it to be blasphemous or offensive. This review will in no way criticise The Da Vinci Code for representing or purporting to represent a flawed version of reality, any more than I would criticise The Lord of the Rings for its laughable claims of the existence of elves and dwarves. We will be criticising the film solely on the grounds that it is shit.
Second disclaimer – We accept that there is also an element of bitterness involved, in that the authors are jealous of the sheer amounts of money that people are making from this crap.
Robert Langdon is a Professor of Symbology who gives pat lectures which seem to impress people very much and writes best-selling books about the sacred feminine. While visiting Paris, he is taken to the Louvre by Jean Reno – I mean, the character has a name, but basically it’s just Jean Reno – to see a corpse covered in symbols and ends up on the run with the dead man’s granddaughter, trying to solve a mysterious puzzle which will unlock the secret of the Holy Grail, before it can be destroyed by a shadowy council of Catholic Cardinals dedicated to maintaining the temporal power of the Church of Rome through the use of albino assassins.
There follows a whistle-stop tour of modern Jesus Bloodline lore, via a series of fairly predictable revelations and some really dodgy names, to a conclusion that frankly lacks punch.
A Harvard professor (Hanks) and a French cryptographer (Tautou) investigate a murder which leads them, by a series of elaborate clues, to an ancient conspiracy which is trying to protect the knowledge that Jesus had kids, and another conspiracy, headed up by Alfred Molina and his mad assassin Paul Bettany, that wants to stamp the knowledge — and the family — out.
The baddies frame Hanks and Tautou for the murder, so gruff, dependable policeman Jean Reno sets off in pursuit. Along the way, the pair hook up with eccentric scholar Leigh Teabing (McKellen). After many wacky adventures, during which the MacGuffin changes hands a dozen or so times, they discover that Tautou is the last heir of the divine bloodline and Hanks has some kind of quasi-mystical chivalrous experience.
What’s wrong with it?
Well, first and foremost there’s the fact that the film ends at least 30 minutes after the plot does. What tension the film has comes from the protagonists being pursued by a self-mortifying albino hit-monk and, once he is dead, there is absolutely nothing to keep the film going because – and this is the great sin – the film fails utterly to make you give a good goddamn about its own central premise. The film is about the Great SecretTM (the, if you will, dark con of man), but nothing in it manages to give the impression that the secret actually matters. Yes, it’s the quest for the Holy Grail, but so what? There is no sense of importance.
The central story was kind of spooky when Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln did it in Holy Blood, Holy Grail — twenty-five years ago or whatever. Now it’s not going to shock or alarm anyone with the wit God gave a goose, which makes it so maddening that this calculatedly lame, middle-of-the-road film was the flashpoint for an international controversy.
Then there’s the historical bullshit. The film gives woolly, fluffy, vague and occasionally downright inaccurate dates for real historical events, placing the first crusade too early and stating that a set of records go back ‘thousands of years, to the death of Christ’. It also over eggs the pudding by embellishing the already pretty sensational history of the Templars with wild suggestions of ‘sealed orders to be opened simultaneously across Europe’ and the whole thing ends up being silly instead of portentous.
What’s right with it?
The film is, if nothing else, slick. On occasion, the blatantly manipulative soundtrack almost manages to convince you that you are reacting emotionally to the film, despite its utter lack of involvement.
And then there’s Ian McKellan, clearly aware that he’s in a stinker, but mucking in with not the least resentment. No Jeremy-Irons-in-Dungeons-&-Dragons grumpy moping, this is a professional thesp in full flood. Alfred Molina likewise gives it his all and Paul Bettany’s Silas the albino assassin is really rather creepy and disturbing, with the droopy-eyed menace and the flesh-creeping self-flagellation.
How bad is it really?
If it were just some stupid little DtV effort like we deal with a lot here at the Bad Movie Marathon, this movie would be only a dumb conspiracy thriller, the kind Heath Ledger or Michael Rooker or somebody could growl and bumble his way through. As a massive blockbuster based on a hugely popular novel, its lack of substance amounts to an affront.
Ian McKellen seems to know, if no one else does, what a stinkburger this film is, and he just goes completely balls-out with his performance, going from a camp old don to a scenery-chewing maniac over the course of the picture.
Also, the relationship between Molina and Bettany’s characters is nicely drawn.
What’s up with…?
- The names? Sir Leigh Teabing? I mean, anagrams are one thing, but if the best you can come up with is ‘Teabing’, just drop it and call the bugger ‘Smith’. And Bishop Aringarosa? I’m given to understand it’s Italian for ‘red herring’, but I just wanted one of the other shadow council types to demand a telephonic explanation by snapping out: “Ring Aringarosa!” (It would at least have supplied some much needed distraction).
- A professor of religious symbolism — from Harvard, yet — who seems to have missed every development in the analysis of symbolism in the last hundred years?
- Offing the albino hit-monk a clear half hour before the end of the film?
- the elaborate code the murder victim places throughout the Louvre, with anagrams and everything? In the time it took him to do that, he could have learned medicine and performed surgery on himself.
- The Church allegedly getting all upset about this? Why?
- the big philosophical implication of the system being “just act like Jesus recommended without worrying about the details of his life?” So, basically, what most Western Christians already believe, then?
All this shit about the Catholic Church persecuting Sir Isaac Newton over gravity? He was a bloody Anglican, for crying out loud. I mean, sure he was a heretic, even by the standards of other Anglicans, but it’s not like the Catholic Church (and the Shadow Council clearly wasn’t an ecumenical body) put people under house arrest in 18th century England, so he was no Galileo or Copernicus.
- the entire town knowing the deal when they go to Rosslyn? I don’t think that’s how good conspiracies work.
Top notch. Cinematographically, this film is da bomb, there is a stirring score, and the visual effects intended to show Langdon’s mental processes are slickly done. It’s almost tragic that this much effort went into the stinker. 3
Dialogue and performances:
The dialogue is, to put it bluntly, crap. Lots of waffle about secrets so powerful that they would shake Christianity to its foundations and ‘what matters is what you believe’ sentiments that are so bloody trite that they play like ‘The Best of Thought for the Day’. The performances are a mixed bag, from Tom Hanks’ slightly petulant Langdon to the glorious camp of McKellan’s Teabing. 17
Plot and execution:
Well, I don’t know if it’s exactly randomness, but the film certainly takes the grab-bag of vaguely Grail/Priory of Sion related crap and sort of shakes it up a bit. It’s like Foucault’s Pendulum without the higher thought. 14
Waste of potential:
It would be hard to make a decent and coherent movie about the Priory of Sion. It could be done, but not without substantially more thought and care. And damnit, if you’re writing or filming a thriller, can’t you at least make it vaguely thrilling. You might also think that at least some of the money invested in this could be spent on getting something right. 16