The Hollywood Blacklist
An unapologetic Wisconsin Republican taking the left-wing Hollywood radical elitists to task and fighting spiritedly against their self-aggrandizing agenda of political correctness and liberal methodology which only serves to demonizing the United States military in their efforts to bring victory to the war against terrorism. Only the operator of this weblog can directly post here, but comments are always welcome. You can e-mail the owner of this site at email@example.com.
Friday, June 30, 2006
Thursday, June 29, 2006
Film Review - X-Men: The Last Stand
It is downright eerie to see how interconnected the seemingly autonomous projects, Superman Returns and X-Men: The Last Stand, are with each other. For example, Brett Ratner, director of the third and possibly final installment in the X-Men series, was originally attached to resurrect the once venerable DC Comic superhero film franchise, which, in light of both the exasperating Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, unquestionably the worst installment in the series, was in serious need of revival, with Superman Returns now helmed by Bryan Singer, director of the first two X-Men movies. Creative differences with Warner Brother executives however forced Ratner from the project. Ratner was then replaced with McG, director of the fortuitously unfunny Charlie’s Angels film series, who reportedly was hired as a ploy to lure Michael Bay to the project. It ultimately failed when Bay asked for too much in back-end deals. In accepting the position of director for Superman Returns, Singer made live-long enemies with studio executives at 20th Century Fox. Not only did he dump the third X-Men movie with little if any advance notice to the studio, he brought along with him cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, composer/editor John Ottman, production designer Guy Dyas, and writers Dan Harris and Michael Dougherty, all of whom collaborated with Singer on the X2: X-Men United, draining the 20th Century Fox of some creative talent for the next installment at an inopportune time, the studio having just stacked out a claim for a Memorial Day release in 2006.
The story for X-Men: The Last Stand is easily the least memorable in the comic book trilogy. In addition it is far less consistent in terms of flow then the previous two entries. But then again given how Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, two of the three screenwriters for X2: X-Men United, bailed on this project in order to work on director Bryan Singer’s Superman project over at Warner Brothers it does not come as a complete surprise. The two screenwriters who replaced them lacked sufficient credentials to fill the void Harris and Dougherty left behind. Simon Kinberg wrote the screenplay for the embarrassing follow-up to the Vin Diesel blockbuster, xXx2: State of the Union, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith while Zak Penn’s sole writing credit was for Elektra. Fans of both the comic book as well as the cartoon series the X-Men films were based on will be sorely disappointed with how the Phoenix saga is portrayed onscreen particularly after the anticipation that was built up following the titillating conclusion to the first sequel in which an image of a fiery Phoenix can be barely made out from below the waters. The two variant plot lines – the mutant cure (based on Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men storyline) and the Phoenix saga – do not gel well together, belittling rather then complimenting each other. Also there are specific plot elements in the script that simply do not work at all. For example, the subplot between Angel, the boy with the bird-like wings, and his father, Warren Worthington, the man behind the mutant ‘cure’, is a complete waste. Nothing is done in term of advancing the plot. In fact the character of Angel itself makes only three appearances throughout the movie, none of which are of any significance with the only exception being at the very end. And what is the point of hinting at a supposed love triangle between Kitty Pryde, Iceman, and Rogue when nothing comes about of it? Outside of being a close friend nothing occurs between Kitty and Iceman that would suggest an impending romantic relationship. Rogue is barely seen as it is in the film so her transformation from having powers to being ‘cured’ of her mutant powers which have been nothing but a curse to her has no emotional impact on the audience.
Hugh Jackman returns in top action form as was to be expected in the role of Wolverine. However unlike the previous installments no advancement is made in terms of Wolverine’s character development. The audience gains no further insight into his past or the depth of his mind. This is a disappointment to say the least but had more time been devoted toward the script then something may have developed in some form or another. This will likely be expanded upon however in the subsequent spin-off soon to follow. Regretfully Academy Award-winner (it was handed to her because the NAACP complained) Halle Berry returns as Storm. Her role was expanded significantly (or else she would not have reprised the role in the third installment in the film series) but her vapid performance as the newly appointed leader of the X-Men leaves something greatly to be desired. Her character’s mutant powers are used to their full potential but besides that it was a critical mistake for Brett Ratner to have expanded her role in the film. Berry could have easily been replaced and no one would have noticed or complained. And while no comic book character truly dies (something both Superman and Elektra for example can attest to) certain send-offs in this film, Cyclops’s off-screen expulsion in particular, were a tad dispiriting.
Sir Ian McKellen who earlier this summer appeared alongside Tom Hanks in the Ron Howard drama The Da Vinci Code returns to the role of Magneto/Eric Lehnsherr in top form which frankly is hardly a surprise given his experienced acting career. It is the final climatic scene in the film in which Magneto’s Brotherhood of Mutants and the X-Men face off on Alcatraz Island that fully demonstrates the cruel irony of Magneto’s development in the X-Men film series. Standing high above the masses of ‘pawns’ he sends in first against the humans guarding Alcatraz Island, relentlessly cut-down with guns loaded with the ‘cure’, Magneto has become the very thing he hated most, as tyrannical a dictator as Adolf Hitler ever was. And while the film’s conclusion in which a now cured Magneto is seen in the park playing a game of chess alone is a tad precipitous and headlong, it fits perfectly with the X-Men mythology. In the comic book series Magneto and his immediate family were persecuted for their Jewish heritage by the Nazis, shot and then buried in a mass grave. He alone survived because he unconsciously used his magnetic powers to prevent the bullet from killing him. While it is unlikely we will know the definitive answer to whether Magneto was ‘cured’ of his mutant powers or not, it is certainly not out the question that he indeed used his magnetic powers, consciously or not, to prevent the needle from delivering the cure into his body.
Kelsey Grammer perfectly translates the mutant character Beast from the comic book and cartoon series to the silver screen, from his appearance to his mannerisms and even down to his famous tagline, “My stars and garters”. Fans will be pleased to say the least about it.
There was so much potential, at least from a fanboy aspect, for Kitty Pryde (one of the few prominent Jewish superheroes not to mention her extraordinary high IQ) that even her translation from a mere background character to a supporting role is a bit of a disappointment. Ellen Page’s performance however is delightful regardless the irrelevant love-triangle the writers involve her in.
As for Juggernaut, played by British football player-turned actor Vinnie Jones, nothing is mention in the way of his character being related to Professor Charles Xavier. In the comic book series he was the stepbrother of Professor X and his helmet which is dramatically different from the one he wears in the film was created to block out telekenetic powers such as his stepbrother’s so noone could read his mind or manipulate him. The only highlight may be the cheap one-liner he throws at Kitty Pyrde near the end of the film, “Don't you know who I am? I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!” This of course is a passing reference to the internet short film ‘The Juggernaut Bitch’ but unless you aware of what they are referring to, it just comes off as being awkward and unnecessary.
And while it may be a mystery for some, the absence of Nightcrawler from the picture should not come as a surprise to audience members who have played the X-Men: The Last Stand companion video game.
Overall, the third and quite conceivably the final chapter in the epic X-Men saga (spin-off projects however are being developed by 20th Century Fox for individual mutants including Wolverine, Magneto, and even Mystique) was not the best we could have hope for but neither was it as cataclysmic a disaster as some hardcore fans predicted it would be. Firmly lacking the quintessential elements of continuity and profundity in the areas of character development and story enhancement, X3 never really rises above the measure of a pure adrenaline-fueled action popcorn flick which needless to say is precisely what the domestic box office needs more of. It won’t please everyone but neither is it meant to. Sure, it goes a little over the top at times and it is noticeable that more forethought was placed into carefully orchestrating particular action sequences (for example, the Golden Gate Bridge sequence) then crucial elements of the script which were more worthy of attention. That said however the action sequences are where the film and more importantly director Brett Ratner truly shine. The battle scene near the beginning of the film, the one in which fans get to briefly see the Danger Room as well as a quick shot of a Sentinel, and the one at the end seem to mirror each other perfectly, creating a sort of symmetry which works to great effect. There’s the brilliantly choreographed fight sequence between Wolverine and other mutants through a forest, moments with the Phoenix, and so much more that to further elaborate would be to spoil it. Beyond that X3’s dilemmas are staggering. This is not however director Brett Ratner’s fault mind you. Let’s face it, X2: X-Men United with the exception of the rather haphazard subtitle is one of the best comic book feature film adaptations in recent memory, if not of all time, albeit far behind the genius of Spider-Man 2. X2 was a tremendously difficult act to follow whether it was Brett Ratner or even if Bryan Singer himself had returned to the helm. Like Return of the Jedi after the Empire Strikes Back, the second film had received such critical and public acclaim that expectations were set ridiculously high for the follow up. In other words someone was bound to be disappointed no matter who directed it. In addition kudos should be given to director Brett Ratner for putting together a practically acceptable if not often inconsistent superhero film in the short amount of time, far less then any other director in the same situation at a different production studio. Singer’s absence is noticeable, no doubt about it. The first two films were far more sincere in nature while Ratner’s is more off-balanced. But rather then attempt to duplicate Singer’s directorial style Ratner instead chose to put his own spin on the X-Men franchise which whether you agree with it or not is true to his filmmaking abilities. While X-Men: The Last Stand marks a significant step backward for the superhero film franchise, it is at least a half-way decent action flick, something of which American movie audiences have been deprived of for some time now. Had director Brett Ratner been given more time in which to put together the production, he could have easily produced a stirring final chapter in the X-Men saga but sadly it does not happen this time around.
My Rating: **** out of 5 (Grade: B+)
Superman Returns with $21M on Day One
Warner Bros. Pictures' Superman Returns, directed by Bryan Singer, opened with $21 million on Wednesday. The figure, which includes early Tuesday night screenings, marks the 8th biggest opening for a Wednesday, just behind last year's War of the Worlds, which collected $21.3 million before moving on to earn $121.2 million its first seven days.
Superman has a slight advantage over the Steven Spielberg film, however, as next Tuesday is the Fourth of July and more people will be able to head to theaters. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean it will earn more over the seven days. Singer's film debuted in 3,915 theaters and will expand to 4,064 theaters on Friday, the fourth-widest release ever.
Spider-Man 2 holds the record for a Wednesday opener. The Sam Raimi sequel made $40.4 million on June 30, 2004.
Mysterio is Fourth Spider-Man 3 Villain
Besides Venom, the Sandman, and the Green Goblin, Spider-Man will be duking it out with Mysterio, played by Bruce Campbell, in the third installment in the comic book film series.
New Futurama Material
In anticipation of the return of Futurama, here is a trailer (regretfully) for Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth starring an animated former vice-president and Bender.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Spider-Man 3 Teaser Trailer Online
Check out the official teaser trailer for the third installment in the Spider-Man film franchise before it premieres in front of Superman Returns this evening at midnight across the country.
Sunday, June 25, 2006
Sandler Clicks, Waist Deep Kills
Adam Sandler returned this weekend with his high-concept comedy Click, and despite bad reviews, it followed the path of many of his previous movies, grossing an estimated $40 million in its opening weekend, an average of $10,669 in 3,749 theatres. If that number sticks, then Click will be Sandler's fourth-highest opening movie after last year's The Longest Yard, 2003's Anger Management and 1999's Big Daddy.
Disney/Pixar's animated comedy Cars did far better in its third weekend than last week, earning another $22.5 million, a scant 33% drop-off, to bring its box office total to $155 million.
Dropping down to third place, Jack Black's Mexican wrestling comedy Nacho Libre didn't hold up nearly as well, adding another $12.1 million in its second weekend to bring its total to $52.7 million.
Vondie Curtis-Hall's crime drama Waist Deep, starring Tyrese Gibson and rapper The Game, had the most impressive opening of the month, earning $9.4 million in a mere 1,004 theatres, an average of $9,414 per theatre, not too far off the average of the higher profile Adam Sandler movie. It also made more its opening weekend than Tyrese's last movie Annapolis did, despite opening in 600 fewer theatres.
It also managed to race past Univeral's The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift to take fourth place, the threequel dropping 62% from its opening weekend and grossing another $9.2 million. Its total box office after ten days is roughly $42.5 million.
In sixth place, the Keanu Reeves-Sandra Bullock drama The Lake House took in another $8.3 million to bring its own gross over $29 million.
Univeral's romantic comedy The Break-Up, starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn, crossed the $100 million mark over the weekend thanks to its $6.1 million weekend take.
Fox's family sequel Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties flipped places with Fox's other sequel X-Men: The Last Stand, the former making $4.7 million this weekend to the latter's $4.4 million. Still, Garfield has only earned $16 million in its first ten days, less than the previous movie made its opening weekend, while X-Men is sitting pretty as the highest-grossing movie of 2006 with $224 million.
After becoming the second movie this year to cross the $200 million mark, Sony's The Da Vinci Code brought in another $4 million over the weekend to round out the Top 10 with a total of $205 million.
DreamWorks' Over the Hedge and Picturehouse's A Prairie Home Companion rounded out the Top 12 with $2.7 and $2.2 million respectively, but Fox's remake of The Omen took another huge tumble, falling out of the Top 12 with just $2.1 million while bringing its total after three weeks to just under $52 million.
IFC Films' crossword documentary Wordplay added 43 theatres over the weekend, where it earned another $326 thousand, an average of $7,244.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Racin' and Rasslin' Rule the Box Office
On Friday, Jack Black's Mexican wrestling comedy Nacho Libre earned close to $11 million, slightly more than Universal's The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and two million more than Disney/Pixar's latest animated feature, Cars, but the Pixar movie used the family business over the weekend to make up the difference, enough to eek out a second weekend at #1.
With a 48% drop-off, possibly the worst decline for a Pixar movie to date, Cars ended up with an estimated $31.2 million in its second weekend, bringing its total to $114.5 million. At this point, it doesn't look like it will be replicating the box office success of Pixar's previous movies, but it could end up making over $160 million.
Directed by Napoleon Dynamite helmer Jared Hess, Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon's PG comedy Nacho Libre made roughly $27.5 million over the weekend, enough for a solid second place, while becoming Jack Black's highest opening comedy to date with an average of $8,961 in its 3,070 theatres.
Its prime competition for teen and older males, Univeral's street racing threequel The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, lost another director and another star, but it earned just over $24 million its opening weekend. That might seem like chump change compared to the previous installment's $50 million opening, but it's still impressive considering the amount of competition for its audience this time around, but it still averaged $1,000 less per theatre than Nacho Libre.
Univeral's romantic comedy The Break-Up, starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn, dropped down to 5th place with an additional $9.5 million, a 53% drop-off, which brought its box office total to $91.9 million in three weeks.
The bottom half of the Top 10 featured a trio of 20th Century Fox sequels and remakes:
With an estimated $7.2 million, the family sequel Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, starring Jim Davis' popular comic strip cat, once again voiced by Bill Murray, was a tragic disappointment compared to the $21.7 million opening of the original movie, which went on to gross over $75 million over the summer of '04. It would have the honor of being Fox's first sequel of 2006 to fail miserably.
On the other hand, Fox's successful sequel, X-Men: The Last Stand, added another $7.1 million to end up in 6th place just below Garfield. Its $215 million gross in less than a month keeps it well ahead of the pack in terms of being 2006's highest grossing movie.
While the ironic 66.6% drop for The Omen may be great for Fox's marketing campaign for the horror remake, it's not a very good sign of the movie's long-term appeal. It grossed roughly $5.3 million in its second weekend to bring its box office take to just under $47 million.
Sony's controversial The Da Vinci Code, starring Tom Hanks, declared a more pronounced victory over its regular sparring partner, DreamWorks' Over the Hedge in their fifth weekend in theatres. Although the former added another $5 million to its box office take, it's yet to cross the $200 million mark, but it's within strinking distance with $198.5 million so far. Rounding out the Top 10, Over the Hedge added another $4 million, a 60% drop due to the influx of more family films, to bring its total to $139 million.
Just outside the top 10, Robert Altman's movie based on Garrison Keillor's radio show A Prairie Home Companion added another $2.6 million, a 43% decline from its impressive opening weekend, while the global warming doc An Inconvenient Truth, starring former Vice President Al Gore, expanded into 404 theatres and added another $1.7 million, bringing its total to $6.4 million in four weeks of what is still considered a limited release.
Opening in two theatres in New York City, the popular Sundance documentary Wordplay, chronicling the appeal of the New York Times crossword puzzle, earned $35 thousand this weekend, almost twice as much as Kevin Bacon's directorial debut Loverboy, which opened in twice as many theatres.
Brittany Murphy Voicing Tinker Bell
Disney opened Licensing International 2006 in New York by revealing Brittany Murphy as the voice of the sassy and spunky fairy for the 2007 release of Tinker Bell. In the tradition of its many animated classics, Disney will bring to life an enchanting tale of Pixie Hollow and Tink's new fairy friends voiced by some of Hollywood's most talented actors.
"I've had the good fortune of playing many interesting characters, but none as magical as Tinker Bell," said Murphy. "To give Tinker Bell a voice for the first time in history is such an honor."
Tinker Bell will be the first time audiences hear Tinker Bell speak, as the movie brings to life the amazing world of Disney Fairies in all-new CG-animation. The movie, to release globally in Fall 2007 by DisneyToon Studios and Walt Disney Home Entertainment, will be supported with a strong marketing campaign and a broad consumer products line at major retailers around the world.
"Tinker Bell is such an indelible character to pop-culture even without a voice," said Dick Cook, chairman of Walt Disney Studios. "She is sassy, feisty and independent. Brittany's distinctive voice and superb talent will bring all these qualities to life, as well as show new sides to Tink's personality. Audiences will get to know Tinker Bell like never before, and I am sure will fall in love with her all over again."
Saturday, June 17, 2006
Friday, June 16, 2006
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Pixar's Cars Takes Checkered Flag!
The big release this weekend was Pixar Animation Studios' seventh computer animated movie, Cars, featuring the voices of Owen Wilson, Paul Newman and Larry the Cable Guy. Set in a world inhabited only by 4-wheeled vehicles, the G-rated family comedy grossed an estimated $62.8 million its opening weekend, an average of $15,579 in 3,985 theatres. Even though it received a wider release than Pixar's last movie The Incredibles and opened in 600 more theatres than Finding Nemo, their only other summer release, it earned less money than both those movies, which each opened over $70 million. It's currently the fourth-highest opening movie of 2006, but it's not a good sign for it to replicate previous Pixar films' success, since the reviews aren't nearly as overwhelmingly positive as previous releases.
After topping the box office last week as the second-highest opening rom-com ever, Univeral's The Break-Up, with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn, dropped to second place with a second weekend take of roughly $20.5 million. Despite its 48% drop, it has already grossed $74 million.
The 20th Century Fox remake of the horror-thriller The Omen, which grossed more than $12.5 million on Tuesday, setting a new record for the day, fought with Fox's action threequel X-Men: The Last Stand for third place. According to estimates, the latter has claimed victory by a mere $100,000, with each of them making rougly $15.5 million over the weekend. Regardless of its placement, The Last Stand was able to cross the $200 million mark this weekend, making it the first movie of '06 to hit that milestone as well as it being the highest-grossing movie of the year so far.
Another race too close to call is the fifth place feud between DreamWorks Animation's Over the Hedge and Sony's The Da Vinci Code, a mere difference of $1,000 separating them according to estimates. The DreamWorks comedy took a 50% tumble due to the introduction of Cars into the market, but its $10.3 million weekend take brings its total to $130.2 million. By comparison, The Da Vinci Code, which opened the same weekend, has grossed $189 million so far.
Entering the box office at #7, Garrison Keillor's NPR radio show A Prairie Home Companion came to the big screen thanks to director Roger Altman and newcomer Picturehouse, who released the musical-comedy into 760 theatres, where it earned an estimated $4.7 million over the weekend, an impressive average of $6,166.
Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible III earned another $3 million in its sixth weekend, bringing its total to $127.5 million, while Robin Williams' road comedy RV ends its run in the Top 10 with another $2 million, bringing its total gross to $65 million.
Rounding out the Top 10 was the summer's biggest bomb, Wolfgang Peterson's Poseidon, which has yet to gross $55 million including this weekend's $1.8 million take.
Just outside the Top 10, the global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth added another 45 theatres and another $1.5 million to bring its total to $3.9 million.
The only significant movie in limited release was the Miramax documentary The Heart of the Game about a Seattle-based girls basketball team, but it didn't generate much interest in the 3 theatres in New York and Los Angeles, earning only $12.2 thousand.
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Teaser Trailer for Ratatouille Online
The teaser trailer for the first Pixar Animation Studios film developed under their merger with the Walt Disney Corporation Ratatouille is now online.
Sunday, June 04, 2006
X-Men Broken Up By Rom-Com Defeat
Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston took down the mutants in a weekend that was expected to see a second straight box office win for 20th Century Fox's X-Men: The Last Stand.
Universal Pictures romantic comedy The Break-Up surprised the industry with an impressive $38.1 million from 3,070 theaters in its first weekend. The Vaughn and Aniston-starrer averaged a strong $12,395 per theater and cost about $52 million to make.
Fox's X-Men: The Last Stand took a huge dive of 66.6% in its second weekend after setting the new Memorial Day weekend record last week. The third installment added $34.4 million and has collected $175.7 million so far domestically.
DreamWorks Animation's Over the Hedge remained in the third spot and made another $20.6 million in its third weekend for a total of $112.4 million. The animated comedy was able to surpass Sony's The Da Vinci Code, which had topped it the previous two weekends in North America. Code earned $19.3 million and has reached $172.7 million.
Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible III and Wolfgang Peterson's Poseidon each dropped a spot with $4.7 million and $3.4 million, respectively. M:i:III has earned $122.7 million after five weeks, while Poseidon is at $51.7 million after four weeks.
Although it expanded to just 77 theaters, Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth was able to enter the Top Ten in ninth with $1.3 million, for a strong average of $16.9 million. The film has made $1.9 million in two weeks.
Also in limited release, the French action flick District B13, co-written and produced by Luc Besson, grossed $410,000 in its opening weekend in 151 theaters, a weak average of $2,715 per theater. Lionsgate opened the drama Peaceful Warrior in 10 theaters from which it made $77,000, and documentary The War Tapes was released in just one theater but managed to take in $13,200.
Friday, June 02, 2006
Film Review - The Da Vinci Code
Since it was first published over two years ago, The Da Vinci Code, a best-selling historical-fiction thriller from acclaimed author Dan Brown, was received by the public with more controversy then any other literary work in recent memory. Not surprisingly the feature film adaptation of the novel has been met with nearly as much resistance, or more, as the source material it is based on. Everyone from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a central administrative organism of the Catholic Church which has insisted that the novel is “full of calumnies, offenses, and historical and theological errors”, to Opeus Dei to an actual organization representing American albinos have chosen to protest the film’s release. In spite of the way the mainstream media has portrayed their ‘fanaticism’, you have to give the Catholic Church some credit. Rather then rioting in the streets, blowing up cars with homemade bombs, setting fires, vandilizing property, and causing mass hysteria and congestion like their European Muslim counterparts during the whole Mohammed cartoon ‘controversy’ earlier this year, the United States Conference of Bishops, the same Christian organization which labeled the Academy Award-winning film Brokeback Mountain as ‘morally offensive’, launched a website and a straight-to-DVD documentary called ‘Jesus Decoded’ seeking to debunk some of the more outrageous claims the Dan Brown novel makes regarding the life of Jesus Christ and the history of the Roman Catholic Church. All this however may be in vein. At its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, the European cinematic elite responded to the film with jeers and hisses of protest. And North American film critics have practically reviled the film with only eightteen percent of one-hundred and fifty-two critics on Rotten Tomatoes recommending it. The Da Vinci Code may well have self-destructed if it were not for the controversy and intrigue surrounding it.
The story for the feature film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code deviates very little from its source material with the exception of course of some minor and inconsequential details (Jacque Saunière is not Sophie Neveu’s real grandfather, for example, and Sophie’s brother was killed in the same car crash that took her mother and father, among other things) and a rather anti-climatic ending. This may be exactly why the movie fails on so many levels. No matter what your personal opinion of author Dan Brown is – whether he is a genius or a huckster, an ingenious writer or a master manipulator – everyone who has read one of his books has to admit that he has this striking ability to craft engaging characters which lead readers to glare over any at all lapses in conventional logic. On paper The Da Vinci Code is an enthralling historical thriller mostly because few people take it all in at once. Stretched over a continuous two hour and thirty-five minute time period however the plot holes and lapses in logic become glaring to even the least observant audience member.
When it was announced that Tom Hanks would play Robert Langdon in director Ron Howard’s feature film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, reportedly beating out Russell Crowe, Bill Paxton, Ralph Fiennes, Hugh Jackman, and George Clooney for the coveted role, many questioned the decision in spite of the two men having worked together before in the Academy Award-nominated film, Apollo 13. Hanks lacked both the physical dexterity and the emotional intensity required for the role, regardless of the dramatic roles he had taken on in the past. Hanks spent more time trying to quell fears by donning an alternative hairstyle, showing it off whenever he could on national television, then actually developing the character of Robert Langdon. Director Ron Howard’s decision to play up Langdon’s claustrophobia far beyond what was necessary for the role was a poor one at best. This particular character element, if it can be called that, is barely mentioned at all in the novel, merely a passing reference early in the book, and yet it is featured prominently throughout the film, especially in three or four key scenes in particular. Yes, we get it! He’s claustrophobic! Let’s move on, shall we? If audiences didn’t grasp it the first time, which was pretty obvious, redoing it several more times the same way as before wasn’t going to do it. The real predicament with Tom Hanks is that he doesn’t bring anything to the role that other actors wouldn’t have brought with them had they been selected. Robert Langdon appears less like the invigorating symbologist readers have come to know him as and more like a little lost puppy afraid to do anything lest he be slapped upside his rear-end with a rolled up newspaper.
Audrey Tautou, barely known outside of France with the lone exception being the independent foreign film Amelie, should have had the most promise in this film’s cast but sadly she does very little, if anything significant, with the role of Sophie Neveu. Much like Hanks she appears entirely lost and confused in this film. This is not a call to deviate solely from the source material but at least do something other then merely translating, in this case rather poorly, from it.
Fans of the novel will be most upset with easily the worst character translation from the book to the silver screen, that being Captain Bezu Feche who, sadly, is transformed from ‘The Bull’ to the ‘The Puppet’ in a manner of speaking. Jean Reno, best remembered for his role opposite Robert De Niro in Ronin, does his best to play up the role with tremendous enthusiasm, demonstrating quite clearly that Feche is not a man to be toyed with. The difference is that in the novel he is portrayed as a man entirely in control of the situation even when it turns out that his assumptions of Robert Langdon’s guilt are wrong. He manipulates his own mistakes in order to catch the real killer, showing his adept intelligence and dedication to his profession and faith. The film however portrays him merely as a pawn of Opeus Dei, the religious affiliation he belongs to.
Sir Ian McKellen is the film’s sole saving grace. He appears as though he is having a blast in the role of Sir Leigh Teabing, a Grail enthusiast with a peculiar vendetta against the Roman Catholic Church and, as the audience ultimately finds out, the catalyst of the film. His delivery of charming one-liners throughout the second half of the picture is of particular highlight. For example, when Robert Langdon is explaining to Sophie Neveu about the blade, or the phallus, being an ancient symbol for male (there is far more behind the meaning of this symbol then either the Harvard professor or the filmmakers let on) and that it is still used by the military today, Teabing interjects, “Yes, and the more penises you have, the higher your rank. Boys will be boys!” And when Teabing’s private jet in met in England with a police escort searching for both Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu who they believe to be on board the plane he quips, “If it's that important to stop us, you'll have to shoot us”, only to point to his man-servant Remy and say, “You can start with him”.
Silias, the Opeus Dei albino monk, and Bishop Aringarosa are two characters who are most dramatically altered from their source material. In the novel they are portrayed as tragic figures, individuals whose flaws – Aringarosa’s is desperation and Silas’s is blind faith – are exploited for evil. This neither condemns nor excuses what they do but leaves readers expressing sympathy toward them because their actions are human which we quickly identify with. The movie on other hand leaves audience members feeling emptiness toward their demise. They are altered in such a way as to totally disconnect them from the audience. We feel neither sadness nor satisfaction toward the fate that ultimately befalls them. Paul Bettany who appeared in Ron Howard’s Academy Award-winning film, A Beautiful Mind, can barely be understood when he speaks and looks nothing like an albino, his skin being barely pale. The depiction of Silias as a murderous fundamentalist Opeus Dei ‘monk’ is greatly distorted by both author Dan Brown and director Ron Howard. First off, Opeus Dei has no monks but rather laymen called numeraries who are advised to avoid practices that may be perceived as fundamentalist to the outside world. And while voluntary self-mortification is a startling tradition certain members of Opeus Dei do practice, it has been around since the 3rd century and therefore is nothing new, having been practice by Mother Teresa herself. Furthermore, the film and the novel which inspired it portray the relationship between the Vatican and Opeus Dei as being unusually close, something that is a complete fabrication. The official definition of personal prelature which the book emphasizes means specifically that they (Opeus Dei) are not linked to a territory but over persons. Alfred Molina’s performance as Bishop Aringarosa is even worse, so over the top as to be unintentionally laughable. Sadly, this is far more interesting then either Hanks or Tautou’s lackluster performances.
As far as history is concerned, it is slaughtered in both the novel and the feature film adaptation. The Last Supper, for example, was a mural commissioned by the Governor of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, in 1495 CE, to serve as a sense of grandeur on the refectory wall of the family chapel and burial place, Monastery Santa Maria della Grazie in Milan. It depicts the famous biblical event as found in the Gospel of John (13:21) in which Jesus Christ revealed to his apostles that one of them would betray him that evening. Sir Leigh Teabing inquiries about the absence of the Holy Grail or the chalice which, according to legend, caught the blood of Christ as he died on the cross the day of his crucifixion and has been sought by kings and nations for centuries. “A bit strange, don’t you think”, he says, “considering that both the Bible and our standard Grail legend celebrate this moment as the definitive arrival of the Holy Grail”. But in truth Sharan Newman says, “it would be much odder if Jesus and the Apostles had a Seder and there was only one cup, since part of the ceremony includes each person drinking four cups of wine – not all at once, I hasten to add”. Additionally, in Jesus’ time it would have been customary for the thirteen men to have been seated at a round table but in order for Renaissance observers to identify more with his painting, Da Vinci placed them at a horizontal table which showed off each apostle’s reaction to the news Jesus conveyed to them that evening. Teabing identifies the individual sitting to the left of Jesus as Mary Magdalene with her “flowing red hair, delicate folded hands, and the hint of a bosom”. The problem conspiracy theorists run into is that with the exclusion of Jesus and John/Mary from the painting, only eleven figures remain. Where is John if the figure next to Jesus is Mary Magdalene? Furthermore, no biblical account of the Last Supper makes any mention of anyone other then Jesus’ twelve apostles making an appearance. But then why the feminine-like feature for the apostle John in the painting? It was common practice. “Raphael and other Italian painters of the time also depicted young men as androgynous”, so it was not uncommon for Da Vinci to have done the same with the apostle John, who was the youngest of the twelve”.
And what about Mary Magdalene herself and how she had been identified by the Church as a prostitute? While it is true that Pope Gregory I erroneously connected Mary Magdalene with the prostitute who appears in the chapter prior to her formal introduction in the Gospel of Luke, it was a simple mistake which has been made numerous times by Christian followers and has since been corrected by biblical scholars. There is no evidence to suggest that this was part of a conspiracy by the Church to defame her character. The idea that Mary Magdalene was of the tribe of Benjamin is also misguided. The village of Magdala where Mary was born is located in northern Israel rather then the south where the tribe of Benjamin resided. Furthermore, Saul, the first king of Israel, who was of the House of Benjamin was killed along with his son and left no living heir, leaving the throne to David of the House of Judah. Even if she was of the House of Benjamin, as a woman Mary Magdalene would have no rightful claim to the throne.
But what of the Church’s abuse of women? Sir Leigh Teabing asserts that the Roman Catholic Church was responsible for the deaths of over five million women who were burned at the stake for being witches. There is no exact figure for the number of people who were killed as a result of the witch trials, estimates range from forty to sixty thousand people, twenty percent of which being men, but the idea that the Roman Catholic Church were responsible for these acts is preposterous. Witch trials were conducted by secular courts, many of which were of Protestant or Puritan denominations. They were a result of hysteria and paranoia, not a conspiracy by the Church to subjugate women. The Malleus Maleficarum or ‘The Witch Hammer’ which some argue is the Church’s official doctrine on witches never received the endorsement of the Roman Catholic Church.
As for the secret society called the Priory of Sion, that too was made up, though not by Dan Brown. The Priory of Sion was an organization originating in France and created by Pierre Plantard who claimed he was a descendant of the Merovingian king, Dagobert II, and rightful heir to the throne of France. His friend Philippe de Cherisey then created the Les Dossiers Secrets to show Plantard’s descent from King Dagobert II. Plantard later admitted under oath that it was all made up. There is historical evidence to suggestion that a secret society in the Middle Ages called the Priory of Sion did indeed exist but that it extended no further then the twelve century.
Historical inaccuracies however are the least of the project’s problems. First, director Ron Howard fails in making expedient use of his exotic European locations. Even though he shoots within the Louve, Rosslyn Chapel, Temple Church, and Westminster Abbey (a substitute was used instead of the actual site because officials refused to allow the filmmakers to shoot there), among others, the audience is left with no sense of grandeur about these historical sites. Second, the film is far too literal. While the book spent a good chunk of time developing its characters emotionally and placing them in extraordinary situations, the feature film adaptation is dialogue driven to the point of being overtly talkative. This leaves the characters feeling bland and uninteresting, especially Robert Langdon who is the lead figure of the picture. The film techniques director Ron Howard uses in The Da Vinci Code, in particular the one he uses to show Professor Robert Langdon deciphering the codes from Jacque Saunière’s cryptic messages, are passé. Fans of his work will quickly realize they have viewed this same technique before in his Academy Award-winning film, A Beautiful Mind. Hans Zimmer’s beautiful musical score is one of the few positive highlights of the film but given that the soundtrack could be downloaded or purchased on a compact disc without the hassle of going to the movie theatre, it is little consolation. In spite of being hailed as one of the most anticipated films of the summer, it is ultimately one of the bigger disappointments this year, something of which is expected to extend till the end of the year. Perhaps too much pressure was placed on Ron Howard and Brian Grazer to deviate too much from the source material lest they upset hard-core fans of the novel. Or maybe studio executives at Paramount were fearful of alienating Christian conservatives who had proven through the box office success of The Passion of the Christ to be an undervalued audience market. Whatever the case may be, The Da Vinci Code fails to live up to the hype placed on it by the mainstream media. Rest assured, the Catholic Church has nothing to lose sleep about if critical response to the film has anything to say about it.