I saw the movie this morning with a couple of pastor friends of mine.
As most of you know, the movie has gotten many poor reviews and only a few positive ones. Overall, the movie is below average and well below expectations, given the many strong actors and the fact that Ron Howard was directing. For what is supposed to be a suspense thriller, there was little suspense and few thrills. There is a car chase, but it manages to be boring. There is some gunplay, but you never really feel like the main characters are in any danger. There are mysteries and puzzles to be solved, but they fail to draw you in or to challenge you intellectually. In fact, they are solved so fast by Langdon that if you blink you will miss them.
One reason people like mysteries and thrillers, is because they let you play at detective in your own mind. What could the code be? How will this be solved? The book does a better job of walking you through each puzzle, whereas the movie just zips through one after the other. I do not think much of Brown's literary efforts but he does effectively use the puzzles to reveal the bigger story going on behind the scenes. Not so in the movie.
Tom Hanks is not value added. Rather, he simply fills in a cardboard character shuffling from scene to scene. The French actress damsel in distress also fails to impress and simply manages to look annoyed with the world in most scenes. Other reviewers have liked the French police captain, played by the venerable Jean Reno, but he also seemed to be a cardboard cutout. Other reviews also liked Ian McKellen's character, but I thought he too was just biding his time on screen. Sure he was a little more lively, but he did not come across as someone truly obsessed with the Grail. His motivations were never really explored.
Having read the book and so many responses, it is hard for me to put myself in the shoes of someone who watches the movie but has not read the book. I suspect, though, that such a person would be scratching his head a lot. The book is very "talky" and the movie, despite coming in at over two hours, has had to chop a lot of that out. As a result, the barest thumbnails are sketched of many important parts of the various conspiracies and much information is left out altogether.
I have read many reviews that complain about the ending of the movie. Or rather, the many endings that have little meaning. It is true that there are more ending-seeming scenes than even in The Return of the King, but it is hard to blame Ron Howard for this. The book was the same way, with several potential endings that move to the next scene.
Much the same is true about the lack of a climax. After all of the searching and evading and puzzling, you'd think there would be a point to it. But there is not. Nothing is revealed to the world. A grand total of two people learn the truth and they apparently do not intend to let anyone else know. The book tries to end with some point about it being the search that matters, but considering how much evil the other 95% of the book blamed on the Church's suppression of this truth -- including the deaths of millions -- it rings disengenuous. The movie kind of suggests that the the truth is within us, whatever that may be, and that is what we should focus on. The point is not made with much conviction and will hardly inspire anyone hoping to find some enlightenment in the adapation.
The music is intrusive and is so overly dramatic that it succeeds only in emphasizing the failed drama of the narrative and acting.
Now, the big question is whether the movie softened much of the anti-Christian rhetoric and simply atrocious historial claims made in the book?
Yes and no, but mostly no.
Professor Langdon plays more of a counterweight to some of Sir Teabing's claims about Christian history. For example, when talking about Constantine's response to Christianity, Teabing blames Christians for starting a civil war in Rome, whereas Langdon says the pagans may have started it. The "who started it though" is of little consequence because the flashback shows Christian mobs beating pagans to death with large wooden crosses. This matches the worst historical misinformation in the book. Dan Brown may be upset he did not think of it himself. It is ludicrous to suggest that Christians were involved in any civil "war" with the pagans before Constantine, much less that they initated it. Christians amounted to about 10% of the Empire at the time and were a hunted, persecuted minority. There is no evidence that any Christian ever raised a sword against the Empire during these times, much less started a civil war in Rome itself. Such a war would have lasted about 5 minutes, with Christianity wiped out in its infancy.
It was obvious that someone had read some of the responses to the book. The fact that the Priory of Sion is a modern day hoax is mentioned, but swept away with the ultimate weapon of all conspiracy theories: "that's what they want you to think." The rest of the movie proves Teabing right, of course. Langdon puts the number of "witches" killed in the middle-ages at 50,000, though Teabing uses the books's widely rejected "millions" toll. Both make a major error by saying this occured during the Inquisition, when it was a very different occurrence that is sometimes called "the Burning Times." Teabing says most Christians did not believe Jesus was divine until the Council of Nicea, and Langdon challenges him on that by saying many did.
Other parts of the movie come off as even more anti-Christian than the book. The Bishop and Monk who are hunting the grail are depicted as knowing the truth about the Grail and the Church, but attempting to suppress it. In the book, both of these men think that they are hunting down fake documents and lies. They want to keep people from being deceived, whereas in the movie they want to keep people from learning the truth. Also, in the book the Bishop and Monk are penitent about their crimes after learning the truth about what they were doing. In the movie, they are not. The Bishop in particular is depicted as an even more evil and even cowardly figure. In fact, not one Christian in the movie is depicted in a favorable light. They are all depicted as worse characters than their counterparts in the book.
It does appear that Howard tried to portray Langdon as somewhat symphathetic to Christianity, since he one time as a kid prayed to Jesus for help. Langdon felt that Jesus "might" have helped him. But this just underscores how biased Hollywood really is on matters religious. It is okay to think that Jesus "might" have been more than a mere man, and it is certainly okay to think the Church is evil and based on a fraud, but it is truly dangerous to be sure that Christianity is true.
Definitely a thumbs down as a movie and for its history.
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I saw the movie this morning with a couple of pastor friends of mine.