Voices

Busted blockbuster

The Da Vinci Code proves artistry and story line do matter

Issue: "Houses divided," June 3, 2006

It never occurred to most of us who worried about the impact of The Da Vinci Code that it would turn out to be a really bad movie. We assumed with its Academy Award--winning director and cast that the movie would magnify the novel's anti-Christian message. And yet film critics are panning, even ridiculing, it. Though millions are indeed going to the theaters to watch this twisted tale of how Christianity is a hoax, that the movie is so aesthetically bad makes it less persuasive and may mitigate the harm that it will do.

The website Rotten Tomatoes quantifies what critics are saying about any given movie. According to the site's calculations, The Da Vinci Code received a "rotten" rating, scoring only 17 percent on the quality scale. That means of 106 reviews, only 18 found the movie "fresh," while 88 found it "rotten."

For example, Devin Faraci of the movie website CHUD calls the movie "Retarded, ridiculous and crushingly dull." Then he tells us what he really thinks: "It's a movie that's too stupid to appreciate its own stupid origins, and so it takes itself completely seriously. The stupider things get, the more seriously the movie takes itself, and the more seriously it takes itself, the funnier it is. The movie isn't content with its own stupidity-it actively assumes that the audience is operating on a simian mental level (although considering how bad the writing in Brown's original novel is, maybe the movie is overestimating the fan base)."

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Instead of criticizing the content of the movie, many critics find fault with the way the movie was made and executed. They criticize the casting and the acting, the pace of the script and the quality of the writing. They show what these faults do to the effect and entertainment value of the final product. Most of the critics conclude, in the words of Phoebe Flowers of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, that "the movie is woefully plotted and just flat-out, eye-crossingly dull." Edward Douglas of comingsoon.net, who calls the movie "duller than watching Da Vinci's paint dry," says it "takes away the book's little credibility and makes the flaws more obvious."

"The surprise, and disappointment, of The Da Vinci Code," says Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman, "is how slipshod and hokey the religious detective story now seems."

"For those who hate Dan Brown's best-selling symbology thriller," says The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt, "the eagerly awaited and much-hyped movie version beautifully exposes all its flaws and nightmares of logic." Christians can take consolation in Mr. Gleiberman's conclusion about the movie: "It's hard to imagine it making many converts."

So is the problem that this is just a bad movie, that a better adaptation of the novel might spread its word more effectively? Rene Rodriguez of the Miami Herald doesn't think so. "This laborious, talky, fleetingly engaging, ultimately silly picture is about as good a movie as anyone was ever going to wring from Dan Brown's inescapable bestseller."

The novel is also an artistic mess-with one-dimensional characters and a ludicrous writing style-but, as 40 million readers have found, it is highly entertaining, with a fast-moving plot and page-turning suspense. The book's argument and factual claims hinge on proposed solutions to elaborate puzzles.

Not just the riddles and word-games of the plot, but artistic masterpieces and history itself are reduced to cryptograms. The words of the novel create a "plausibility structure" that enables readers to take the story seriously. But take the claims out of Mr. Brown's verbal packaging-by submitting them to historical analysis or translating them into another medium-and they collapse like a house of Tarot cards.

Meanwhile, Christians trying to convey a far better message should keep in mind that aesthetics really do matter.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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