Wednesday, May 31, 2006

DaVinci & Galileo 4 EVA!!!

Well, it took me a little under a month but I finally did it... and now I feel like I need to take a shower. As promised earlier, I ventured into the precarious (how's that for a vocabulary word? Wynne? Andrew? Is it O.K?) territory of today's dime store novel and read the two 'Robert Langdon' novels written by Dan Brown: Angels and Demons & The DaVinci Code. And I... well, I... (Father, forgive me for I... eh - never mind) I actually kind of liked them.

Now, stop right there. Yes, you, my "culturally elite" friend who's frowning right now thinking, "Eric actually READ that refuse? My goodness gracious. How... how utterly bourgeois!" Whatever, Reginald. Go back to your Khaled Hosseini and Yann Martel and then wax philosophical about the underlying motif's. I'll be here playing trailer trash to your Yale pedigree seeing absolutely no reason to explain myself... but I'm going to anyway.

A couple of things pointed me towards these books actually, but the main one was The DaVinci Code film. It was one of those films I knew I was going to see... not because I particularly wanted to but because it seemed interesting enough. Tom Hanks and yon chiquita from Amelie whose name I forget? Good cast. Oh, and don't forget about that guy who plays the assassin with a good heart in The Professional and Magneto from X-Men. To top it all off, Opie from Mayberry directed it so it had all the makings of a winner. But first, I had to read the books.

I'm kind of anal like that. If there's a soon to be released blockbuster and it's based on a best selling (or even marginally good selling) book, I feel some obsessive need to read it first before ever seeing the film. This is a relatively new development actually, and I can't quite explain where it came from. Among some of the films I've done this with: The Lord of the Rings (whoa... huge ass read with lots of big words and flowery Auld Englishy type descriptions), all the Harry Potter films (the 5th one of which I'm currently rereading. Yes, RE-reading. I started on the latest one - the 6th - and got twenty pages into it before realizing that I had completely forgotten everything that happened in the 5th. I mean COMPLETELY. I remember reading it, but the plot seems all new to me. Honestly, it's astounding. I mean, how the frig do you forget a whole book? An 870 page one at that. I must have had a stroke somewhere along the line and nobody told me), The Shawshank Redemption (based on a Stephen King novella - both were superb), Mystic River, and Beach Blanket Bondage (that book sucked - nothing but random dialogue consisting of a bunch of vowels thrown together. I didn't get it.) You get the point. The list is a long one, and The DaVinci Code is now a part of it.

It took some self-convincing though. Having bought the books for $.50 each at a used book sale where I work (spoiled rotten British school children doing their part to help Tsunami victims), they sat on my bookcase for close to a year until I picked them up again at the beginning of this month. As I mentioned, I'm sort of anal when it comes to these things, so it wouldn't do to have simply read The DaVinci Code. No, no - the book before it - Angels and Demons - might be filled with interesting and relevant back story, so it had to be read first. As it turns out, it really didn't matter all that much. Both books followed almost EXACTLY the same formula, you'd think they were written using Mad Libs. Without giving too much away...

Both books involve our hero, Robert Langdon, getting woken up in the middle of the night by some random important person who has just stumbled upon a murder scene, and could Mr. Robert come and help? But of course, monsieur. Investigating the scene he is met by the female protagonist (different one in each book) who ends up being instrumental in both plots and helps him weave his way through the maze he is about to enter. Oh, and he also wouldn't mind banging either one of them, but he's too polite a guy, and he really really relishes his bachelor lifestyle. Whatever... like the chair of Harvard's "Religious Symbology" department has a choice in the matter. He's a capital T, that rhymes with D, and that stands for Dork. Anyway, moving on...

The aforementioned "maze" he enters in both books is pretty much a scavenger hunt in both cases. In Angels and Demons, he and the lovely Vittoria Vetra (I swear, I'm not making that name up) go traipsing across Rome trying to find a bomb made of antimatter (yes, antimatter - like Captain Picard and Data discussed ad nauseum on Star Trek: The Next Generation) placed somewhere in Vatican City by the Illuminati - a centuries old secret society determined to bring about the fall of the Catholic Church. Actually, sorry - my mistake, they are not looking for the bomb. They're trying to determine the location of four Illuminati churches because every hour for the four hours preceding the bomb's explosion, an influential Cardinal will be killed at each one of them. If in fact they happen to find the bomb along the way, so much the better. They try to determine the locations of the churches using ancient clues provided in writings by Galileo and sculptures by Bernini, both of whom were Mac Daddy Pimp Illuminati members back in the day. Along the way they are hindered by an assassin who receives his orders from some unknown power figure, the identity of whom we are not supposed to find out until the very end of the book.

As it turns out, The DaVinci code is pretty much the exact same thing with some key differences. In this book, the Catholics are the bad guys. The antagonists are an albino monk named Silas who flogs himself with a barbed whip, the sucker (He's your assassin, by the way, who, yes, gets his orders from some unknown power figure, the identity of whom... yeah, yeah you already read that sentence once. Get the picture?), a well-meaning but ultimately misguided Catholic bishop, and the police who this time around actually want to arrest Robert Langdon for the murder that takes place in the beginning. Rather than try to stop the Vatican from blowing up this time around, Langdon and new female companion Sophie Neveu go in a mad dash around Europe looking for the Holy Grail. I know, I know - another Holy Grail story, but in this one the grail is not at all what you think it is. It's something completely different, which is why the Catholic Church is in such a hurry to keep the secret hidden. The secret society this time around is the Priory of Sion (the keepers of the Grail) and the ancient scholar providing the clues is... couldn't be Leonardo DaVinci, could it? Yeah, it could.

Both books really require stretching your imagination quite a bit. Both books have endings that are borderline laughable. Both books are just a little too long, and both books are very very cleverly written. I'll admit it. I got sucked in. They were definite page turners. Easy to read, and not much thought required, but hey, give Dan Brown credit. He can tell a story. Even though reading one story makes the other one fairly predictable (and these were both fairly predictable to begin with), they still held my interest long enough for me to see through to the end. Grade: B for both books.

Oh yeah, the film. The film, the film, the film. I tried to put off writing about it for as long as I could, but... Alright, I'll just say this. Don't bother. It had the potential to be excellent but it just fell far, far short of the mark. Part of that is the story they were trying to tell. So much of what's written in the book are thoughts running around in people's heads. You read what they're thinking as they try to piece the puzzle together. It works in the book, to fairly good effect actually, even if the pieces do come together just a little too easily. Unfortunately, it doesn't translate over into the film at all. You can't film a thought process... well, you can, I suppose, but then you start looking all Kubrick-like and fucked up. That wouldn't do for a DaVinci Code audience. Instead, you just see the pieces fall together nicely without any clear knowledge of how they came to be that way. It's all very muddled, kind of like this post. The acting was subpar, even for such a stellar cast as this one. You get the feeling that the actors realized how badly it sucked while they were filming it, that they just decided to say, "Screw it" and mail it in. And the story, simplistic as it is at it's core, involved enough tangential twists and turns that you'd need half a day to tell it correctly. The filmmakers stuck to a whopping two and a half hours and it still didn't get the job done. They cut too many corners where they really shouldn't have, and they took too many liberties with the plot that were both unnecessary and served to denigrate the story. So, if you're a Tom Hanks junkie, pining for a return to form a la Bosom Buddies, I'd say avoid it at all costs. The rest of you, wait for a rental... or better yet, read the book. You may not like it, but it's the best version out there. So sayeth Reginald. Ta.


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