FIRST-PERSON: Film critics' views on 'Da Vinci' speak volumes
Posted on May 19, 2006 | by Kelly Boggs
ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)--“The Da Vinci Code,” the film adaptation of the controversial book by the same name, is now in theaters. The early reviews of the movie are rolling in, and to say that critics are disappointed would be an understatement.
Below is a sampling from reviewers less than pleased with the movie:
-- "The movie is so nervous about offending anyone that it's hardly any fun." -- Jamie Bernard, New York Daily News.
-- "If there’s anything to be learned from this dud, it’s that when you decide to adapt an explosive property like ‘The Da Vinci Code’, playing it safe isn't safe ..." -- David Edelstein, New York Magazine.
-- "... Mr. Howard and Mr. Goldsman handle the supposedly provocative material in Mr. Brown's book with kid gloves, settling on an utterly safe set of conclusions about faith and its history, presented with the usual dull sententiousness." -- A.O. Scott, The New York Times.
-- "Stripped of its so-called revelations, this is an awfully silly thriller." -- Jeffrey Westhoff, Northwest Herald (Crystal Lake, Ill.)
-- "Holy controversy, it's ... underwhelming!" -- E! Online
The consensus among critics, according to the movie mega-review website RottenTomatoes.com, is that the element that made Dan Brown's novel a best seller is evidently not present in the movie adaptation of “The Da Vinci Code.”
“Though it retains most of the complex twists and turns of Dan Brown's bestseller, some of the elements that have sparked protests among Christians -- questions about the divinity of Jesus Christ and his lineage -- have had their edges smoothed,” Claudia Puig of USA Today observed.
What is it about “The Da Vinci Code” that has left the overwhelming majority of reviewers cold? Quite simply, the movie is not strong enough, nor does it go far enough, in its attack on the historic tenets of the Christian faith.
For the uninitiated, “The Da Vinci Code” movie is based on the best-selling novel by Dan Brown. In the book, the author argues that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and that their relationship even produced children.
Brown’s book also asserts that Jesus’ earliest followers believed Him to be nothing more than a prophet and it was a pagan Roman emperor that deified Jesus as part of a political ploy. Furthermore, the book claims, the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life have been perverted and the real story can only be found in the so-called “lost gospels.”
The movie departs ever-so subtly from the book in a way that somewhat mutes the attack on Jesus’ divinity that Brown puts forth in his novel.
In the film, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, played by Tom Hanks, says, “History shows Jesus was an extraordinary man. Why couldn’t Jesus have been divine and still have been a father?”
While Christians will still have a problem with the line, it is not found in Brown’s book. Critics obviously felt that it softened the questioning of Jesus’ divinity. Also, contrary to rumors, the movie contains no scenes of Jesus and Mary Magdalene romantically involved, which I am sure some reviewers found disappointing.
Near the end of the movie the filmmakers further soften the question of Jesus’ divinity when they have Langdon say, "What matters is what you believe."
Had the movie remained true to Brown’s strong attack of Jesus’ divinity, the critics would have been falling all over themselves to praise the courageous effort. However, the muting of the book’s challenge to historic Christianity left most reviewers dissatisfied.
Over the past two decades, every movie that has sought to denigrate the person of Jesus Christ has been lauded by critics. For example, the 1988 film “The Last Temptation of Christ” that depicted Jesus as self-loathing, fallible and fallen was lauded by reviewers.
“It is simply the first movie to fully realize the drama at the heart of the Christ story,” is how one critic described “The Last Temptation." The movie included a scene in which Jesus imagines having sex with Mary Magdalene.
Critics expected “The Da Vinci Code” to be a Christ-bashing, Christianity-crippling blockbuster. They feel deceived, and it shows in their reviews.
One critic wrote, “‘The Da Vinci Code’... will hold audiences in the moment but leave them unmoved and unchanged."
It seems a majority of reviewers agree. As a result, they are disappointed “The Code” is not more forceful in casting doubt and derision on the divinity of Jesus, the lynchpin of Christianity.
Boggs is editor of the Baptist Message newspaper in Louisiana.