In the mid-2000s, Dan Brown gained popular acclaim with his controversial thrillers “Angels & Demons” and “The Da Vinci Code,” in which his lead character, symbolism expert Robert Langdon, got tangled up in twisted and earth-shattering plots involving the largely unknown history of the Catholic church. While the works are purely fiction, the novels were entertaining and thought-provoking reads that eventually were made into movies.
While “Angels & Demons” was published first (2000), “The Da Vinci Code” (2003) gained more popularity and was the first to be adapted to the big screen. Ron Howard took the reins on the project and, in 2006, a movie version of the story came out. It stars Tom Hanks as Langdon, French actress Audrey Tautou as cryptologist Sophie Neveu and Ian McKellen as Holy Grail expert Sir Leigh Teabing.
Both versions of the story have their flaws. The dialogue in both is incredibly stilted. Characters in the book casually speak as though they are in a movie, in which concepts and backstory can only be told through what is spoken on screen. Constant allusions to historical references and explanations also slow down the plot, and having every small piece of symbolism explained to the reader makes it seem at times like the author is treating the readers like children. The movie is mostly hurt by forced action scenes that were added in to fit the conventional thriller mold and by a lack of chemistry: Hanks and Tautou don’t play off each other very well, and Hanks for the most part seems bored in the performance, a contrast to the fairly eccentric Langdon of the book.
The Langdon characters are different in many ways. The book version believes all along the theory that the Holy Grail is actually the sarcophagus of Mary Magladene and that she and Jesus were married and had a child. In the movie, Langdon plays the “it’s just a myth” role, someone who knows the story but is skeptical about its accuracy. The movie also portrays Langdon as a kind of puzzle genius who can solve the anagrams that lead from one clue to the next. In the book, it is mostly Sophie who does this — seeing as it is her job and her grandfather had basically raised her by solving puzzles — which leaves her character in the movie with not much to do. She is mostly there to tag along, though her story does still play a key role in the film.
Perhaps the film’s brightest spot was its side characters. McKellen is terrific as always in his role. The assassin monk Silas, played by Paul Bettany, is devoted enough time early on to depict the full scope of his character, showing his haunted past and how he came to be with Opus Dei. Because most of the movie takes place in Paris, several French actors were used to fill some of the key roles, giving the film a sense of authenticity. The bishop, played by Alfred Molina, was downplayed in the film, but when he is given time, Molina shows he is well suited for the role.
Both versions take plenty of liberties with actual history. The two can’t even agree on certain “facts”: When discussing Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” the book states, accurately, that each disciple has a cup of wine, while the movie claims there are none on the table (alluding to the fact that the Grail is absent, but still). Historical accuracies aside, both versions are well-executed thrillers that won’t disappoint fans of the Indiana Jones-style treasure hunt.