Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Da Vinci Code - Dan or Ron?

So the film is finally out! Is it good? Does it live up to the hype?

Everyone who has seen the film will tell you that the book is better. Of course it is. But does that necessarily make it a bad film? Not at all, but let me try first to analyse why the book seems better.

When was the last time you watched a film that was as good as (if not better than) the book it was based on. For a moment let's forget about The Godfather or the LoTR trilogy (though some people do feel that these films could not capture the spirit of the books – I disagree). I think that books and films are very different media: what works in one does not necessarily work in the other. In a book, the author can easily delve into the minds of its characters; all he needs is some good imagination and a way with words. But how can one capture that on a visual medium like film? There are a few time tested techniques for that, but they don’t always work. Let's take two examples – a dream, and the thought process a person goes through while, say, cracking a code. While a good, imaginative director can visually depict a dream very well, it's quite a challenge to portray a person’s thought process on screen, no matter how good the actor is. That's precisely where The Da Vinci Code, the film, cannot live up to the promise of the book.

The other constraint that a film has is that of time. While Dan Brown could take his own sweet time to go into the details of how Robert Langdon cracked the codes, Ron Howard does not have that luxury. He had to condense all of it into 150 minutes (which by itself is quite longer than an average Hollywood film). So we have Tom Hanks quickly cracking all the codes from 'The Vitruvian Man' to the 'pinnacle' to the 'Fibonacci Sequence' to 'The Mona Lisa' to 'Madonna of the Rocks' in a matter of just 5 minutes of screen time. Agreed that Robert Langdon cracks the code fairly quickly in the book as well, but the whole process of putting the jigsaw together is explained through many pages. So it sounds much more believable in the book than in the film.

Now let's come to the most important reason. Why was the book so popular? It's true that it was written in a very racy style, but I think the reason for its unprecedented popularity was something else. It was shocking (an extremely clever juxtaposition of fact and fiction)! So when you read the book, you were hooked on because of the shocking twists and turns that came up with alarming (at times also a little predictable) regularity. Now when you've read the book and borne the shocks, what else can you expect in the film? So I don't blame the people who feel that the film is not as engrossing as the book. However, I would love to hear the views of someone who knew very little about the book before watching the film. I doubt if I will find anyone like that, though.

Back to my original question, Is it a bad film? I don't think so. If a film can engross me for 150 minutes, despite the fact that I know exactly what would happen next, it has to be the work of a competent director. So Mr. Ron Howard, you get my thumbs up!

Before I end, I must quote what my favorite critic, Roger Ebert writes about 'The Da Vinci Code':

'Dan Brown's novel is utterly preposterous; Ron Howard's movie is preposterously entertaining.'

Touché.