DaVinci Code: OK, so what did you think?

Dud. Bomb. Flop. Disaster. Nightmare. Stinker. Train-wreck. Travesty.

Pick your favorite euphemism for a cinematic “Oops!” and chances are it was deployed by a film critic late last week to describe “The Da Vinci Code,” which opened over the weekend.

That near-unanimous rhetorical ravishing prompts the question: What’s it like to see a film that’s already been dismissed by those in the know as a gigantic plantar’s wart on the nation’s sole (not to mention, as some contend, an even bigger blemish on that other kind of soul)?

The sooner removed, that is, the better.

“The Da Vinci Code’ did fine at the box office — reaping some $77 million through Sunday, surpassing most estimates — but earlier, many critics who screened it at the Cannes Film Festival took it to the woodshed.

The Tribune’s Michael Phillips pronounced it “utterly clueless.” The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern found the two protagonists “extremely, inexplicably dull.” The headline in the Hollywood Reporter dubbed the movie “an unwieldy, bloated puzzle.” In his blog from Cannes, Time magazine movie critic Richard Corliss called it “long and mostly inert.”

And check out the editorial page in your Sunday Tribune: Even cartoonists are getting in their licks at the film.

So what’s it like to pay good money to see an instant national punch line? The search for the answer — much like the search for the Holy Grail itself, only with a less portentous soundtrack — leads us on to other questions.

The Da Vinci Code

So error-laden is The Da Vinci Code that the educated reader actually applauds those rare occasions where Brown stumbles (despite himself) into the truth. […] In the end, Dan Brown has penned a poorly written, atrociously researched mess.
Source: Dismantling The Da Vinci Code By Sandra Miesel, Crisis, Sep. 1, 2003

Questions about shifts in critical authority as a million bloggers bloom. About the relationship between artistic merit and box office success. About just what it is we truly desire from our entertainment: diversion or enlightenment?

To attend an opening-day matinee of “The Da Vinci Code” was to be in the presence of a large and expectant crowd that nonetheless seemed just a tad somber. Having read negative reviews, is it appropriate to pity a film before the conclusion of its first full day of release? To feel a certain wincing sorrow for star Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard? To sigh deeply on behalf of author Dan Brown?

So: On with the show.

The people who sat in my immediate vicinity Friday at the AMC River East, and who were kind enough to share their reflections before and after the film, were undeterred by the critical brickbats. Tailor-made for a focus group, my seatmates hailed from city and suburb, and included young and old, male and female.

“My dad read the book and really liked it, so it made me really want to see the movie,” said Becky Herbert of Tinley Park. Her companion, Chris Foley of Lamont, nodded: “It sounded good. And I’m into religious stuff, into big ideas.”

Were they aware that major critics everywhere loathed “The Da Vinci Code”?

Randy Wiggs of Crystal Lake cracked, “Whatever the critics say, I do the opposite. And we set this up a year ago. We were going to come, no matter what.”

The man next to him, Mark Murray of Woodstock, added, “I just loved the book.”

In the end, my makeshift jury pronounced itself well pleased with “The Da Vinci Code” and its fidelity to the source material (Brownian, not biblical).

Because taste is not a math problem, there is no “right” or “wrong” on the question of a movie’s merit.

Box office receipts can’t settle it, either, because quality and profitability get together these days about as often as Brad and Jen.

The best critics, moreover, aren’t in the business of telling you what to do. Their job is to suggest that if you do go, you might look for this or that. Criticism is a conversation, not an edict.

But with so many critics lining up to box “The Da Vinci Code” on its expensive little ear, why did Elaine Kitteridge of Chicago — another member of my impromptu squad — show up? What makes her select a movie to see?

Her answer reminds us of the glorious ineffability of the arts, of the fact that even mass-market entertainment comes down to touching, one by one, individual souls.

“Passion,” she instantly declared. The lights had yet to come up in the theater, so you couldn’t see her eyes, but you could hear the gleam in her voice.

Vacation? Short break? Day trip? Get Skip-the-line tickets at GetYourGuide.


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Chicago Tribune, USA
May 22, 2006
Julie Keller, Tribune cultural critic

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday May 22, 2006.
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