According to the IMDB, Joel Surnow, the creator/producer of 24, read The Da Vinci Code and thought it would make a great storyline for the third season. He approached his boss, producer Brian Grazer (who also produced The Da Vinci Code), with the idea, and Grazer approached Dan Brown, who rejected their bid.
If I am to believe the IMDB (their record can be a little spotty) this means I have good reason to be pissed at Dan Brown.
Don’t get me wrong: in the interests of full disclosure, let me admit that had I been in Brown’s shoes I would have done the same thing. I’m sure he’s proud of his novel and having netted Tom Hanks for the lead role and Ron Howard behind the camera, I’m sure he watched every frame of this movie with glee.
But man, this really would’ve made a great season of 24. All the ingredients are there – a gigantic conspiracy, narrow escapes and betrayals that make no sense. By the time the action element abruptly wraps itself 75 per cent of the way through, there’s easily a novel’s worth of material remaining. 24‘s writers would have had no trouble expanding it, and it wouldn’t have had such an anticlimactic ending. As is, we get a movie that’s solidly acted, really well directed, and frankly, about as good at delivering thrills as two or three solid episodes of 24.
My complaints with the movie lie with the writing. Watching The Da Vinci Code dredged up memories of reading R.L Stine and Michael Crichton’s potboilers in middle school, the kind where the plot moves at a breakneck pace and one solid event in someone’s past counts as character development. Again, full disclosure: I haven’t read The Da Vinci Code (I’d like to), and in 99 per cent of cases (Jurassic Park‘s the only exception that comes to mind, and maybe last year’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) the movie is either vastly inferior (the first two Harry Potter films, the Lemony Snicket film from a couple years ago) or, if it’s lucky, equal to (The Lord of the Rings, The Silence of the Lambs, The Godfather) the book. I usually try to read books before seeing the movie, so I’m not proud of this. I’ve read/heard most of the criticism, however, and recall reading the prologue and laughing. From what I can tell Brown wrote a typical potboiler with a really good premise, and I’m willing to bet the movie follows his plot reasonably faithfully.
Which means I can probably blame him for the awful dialogue, especially painful when characters are talking about that one event from their past. I can probably blame him for the paper-thin characters (Robert Langdon has to be one of the most boring protagonists in bestseller history; far more engaging is the wonderful Audrey Tatou – whose name, incidentally, should be on posters right next to Hanks’; she has more lines than him – as leading lady Sophie Neveu). And I can probably blame him for the way characters’ pasts and moments in history are abruptly dredged up during the action (Ron Howard handles it well, though – it ends up coming off like the PS2 game God of War, and that’s a compliment).
Of course, bad dialogue, thin characters, and bald exposition are forgivable if you’re telling a ripping good story. And I may not have the time or interest anymore to read potboilers, but I’m all for hearing a shopworn tale if it’s done really well. Again, though, I think I can blame Brown for the way the movie derails itself 75 per cent of the way through. And from what I could tell overhearing a pair of critics in the bathroom afterward, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman changed just one or two minor details that relate to Sophie’s back story (you get to know her better than Langdon). Ron Howard directs this movie very well – lots of scenic pans, on-location shooting, close-ups where necessary, and the camera’s always moving – and the acting, with strong turns from pros like Ian McKellen, Alfred Molina, and Jean Reno, seems to be as good as it gets given the material. For a large part of the way, The Da Vinci Code is quite involving. But I’m guessing Dan Brown’s prose is pretty thin material, and because it’s been adapted this well the thinness has only been accentuated. Even Tim Burton wouldn’t have been able to make one of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books a classic. It still would have been watchable; that’s basically what we get here.