Monday, May 29, 2006


Pass in Review

My wife and I, among the half dozen or so people left in America who have not read the book, went to see "The Da Vinci Code" last night. I think I can sum up the movie as follows:

It didn't suck.

A brief mention of the actors: Tom Hanks seemed preternaturally calm for an academic who is suddenly accused of multiple homicides, chased by sinister characters as well as by the police and shot at by all and sundry. Perhaps he saw his character as heavily sedated, which would also explain why he was so avuncular with the beautiful young lady by his side who, for no discernible reason, insisted on saving his life multiple times. As for Audrey Tautou, she admirably fulfilled the part of the beautiful young lady by Tom Hanks side. That's not quite fair; she certainly brought more fire to the movie than Mr. Hanks but, unfortunately, she only seemed able to express it by pouting. Needless to say then, Sir Ian McKellen neatly tucked the movie under his coat and, with a sly smile, stole away with it. It is only partially the fault of the plot that the movie crashed to a halt when Sir Ian's character left for good.

And about that plot . . . The late great Alfred Hitchcock, who knew a thing or two about creating suspense on the screen, used to speak of "the McGuffin." This was the plot device that set up the human interaction that truly drove the suspense. What the McGuffin consisted of was ultimately unimportant, as long as the audience could believe that the characters cared enough about it to make them do what they do in the movie. As a McGuffin, the Holy Grail should work, as Indiana Jones recently demonstrated in a slightly different genre. That the Grail is (and I hope this isn't revealing too much) a living person, should enhance its uses in the plot, if anything.

The problem, it seems to me, is that the McGuffin ate the movie. Even someone who hadn't read the book could hardly escape the hoopla about the plot. The anticipation became less concerned with the characters and their reaction to the McGuffin but the McGuffin itself; how was it going to be set up and how scandalous (in all the meanings of the word) was it going to be? Also, while Hitchcock proved repeatedly that surprise is not the same as suspense, it certainly didn't help the movie any that the two major plot twists were telegraphed well in advance.

Another indication of how the McGuffin warped the movie is that, after all the action had been decided and all the suspense had drained out of the evening, the movie insisted on limping along, for what seemed as long as the secret had been kept by the Priory of Sion, in order to tie up loose ends that were already obvious.

A great director on his game might have been able to overcome all that but, Ron Howard, as good as he has been on occasion, was not that director or didn't have that game this time.
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