Friday, May 19, 2006

Leonardo (DaVinci) and Me

Before I talk about seeing "The DaVinci Code" today, I want to share a piece of my personal history.

My mother was a red-headed Irish lass, and my father was a first-generation Italian. They met in fairy tale fashion in the melting pot that is New York City. When they announced their engagement, both families were horrified.

My father grew up in Little Italy and, to my stolidly Irish grandparents, was a strange, exotic creature. By the same token, my paternal grandparents regarded Mom with enormous unease. I can still remember her sitting in a chair in the dining room at my father's parents' house looking utterly lost. Daddy--and, later, I-- acted as her translator.

When I was born--the first granddaughter on either side of the family--everyone wanted to be the one to name me. Mom and Daddy were scared to death of offending anyone. Daddy hit on the solution of naming me "Mona Lisa." I'm sure, to his mind, I was the most beautiful child ever born and deserved the name. Mom waited until he left the hospital for dinner to call the nurse and substitute her choice of name on the card. Thank you, Jesus!

All this is to say that I have a love-hate relationship with Leonardo DaVinci. While I appreciate his genius, I still get cold chills at the thought of going through life as Mona Lisa.

Perhaps that was why I had so much trouble reading "The DaVinci Code" (TDVC). It took me a solid year to get past the first fifty pages. Once I did that, however, I speed-read the rest of the book. My assessment was that, while Dan Brown was not great shakes as a writer, he was one hell of a fantastic plotter. I've been anxiously awaiting the movie ever since I finished the book last summer. I took the day off today to see the film.

In the last two weeks, I've seen Ron Howard doing guest appearances on several talk shows. He said that, during the filming of TDVC, strangers would walk up to him and say, "Don't screw that movie up." I'm guessing all those admonitions made him nervous, and his nervousness made him cautious.

The beauty of "The DaVinci Code" was its audacity in weaving together lots of different strands from history, religion, art and architecture in a glorious and sensational tapestry. It was FUN! I suspect Ron Howard was trying: (1) too hard to avoid offending people and (2) to make sure he included everything in the book.

In contrast, look at the "Harry Potter" movies. The Rowling books are so long that it's impossible to make films that include every incident. The three directors wisely chose the most important events to focus on.

By trying to include every puzzle from the book, Howard never is able to build sufficient suspense around any one puzzle. In addition, instead of creating a fast-paced thriller, every time TDVC seemed to be picking up steam, Howard inserted a flashback. One or two would have been okay, but I got really tired of them after a while.

The soundtrack annoyed me. More than once, I was knocked out of the story by its loud intrusion into a scene.

The supporting cast was superb, but I was disappointed in Tom Hanks. His expressions seemed exaggerated and out of character, especially in the scenes with Ian McKellen as Sir Leigh Teabing. McKellen just chews up the scenery. He is so obviously having a great time that Hanks seems wooden in comparison.

A group of about ten teenagers were sitting behind me in the theatre. As they left, one of the boys said, "What a dog." In a chorus, the girls immediately said, "Oh, you have to read the book." I think that's going to be a common reaction.

A friend asked me this evening to rate the movie on a scale of one to ten. I gave it a 6.5. It wasn't awful, but neither was it the glorious ride I was hoping for. In my opinion, Nick Cage and Jon Turteltaub did a better job two years ago with "National Treasure."

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