The murder of a curator at the Louvre reveals a sinister plot to uncover a secret that has been protected since the days of Christ. Only the victim's granddaughter and Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), a famed symbologist, can untangle the clues he left behind. The two become both suspects and detectives searching for not only the murderer but also the stunning secret of the ages he was charged to protect.
Like many of you, I am a big fan of Dan Brown's 'The Da Vinci Code' novel, which became an international bestseller back in the early 2000s. I was a late-comer to the novel, however, not reading the book until a few months before Ron Howard's theatrical adaptation was released in 2006. At the time, I really liked the movie, believing it did a good job of adapting Brown's novel. However, it's been a number of years since I sat down and watched 'The Da Vinci Code'. Did I still enjoy the movie? Well, yes...and no. While the film is technically well made, I must confess to seeing a lot more problems in it with my latest viewing than I did originally.
As a quick recap for those familiar and as an introduction for newbies, the plot of 'The Da Vinci Code' is basically as follows. Symbologist and Harvard Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is giving a speech in Paris promoting his latest book when he's asked by the local police to come to the Louvre museum. There, lies the dead body of one of the museum's curators, who has left mysterious clues behind, including a pentagram on his chest and messages scrawled on the floor. Also called to the scene is Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), a police cryptologist, whom viewers will soon learn was also the curator's granddaughter. Langdon thinks he's been asked to help investigate the cryptic messages left behind, but what he doesn't know is that a message saying "find Robert Langdon" was also scrawled by the victim and removed before Langdon got there – and the police's chief investigator, Captain Bezu Fache (Jean Reno) actually thinks Langdon may be involved in the murder.
At this point in the film, viewers already know the curator was killed by a monk named Silas (Paul Bettany), whose white albino appearance adds an extra layer of spookiness to his character – in addition to the fact that he continuously flogs himself and wears a metal device around his leg that digs into his skin, constantly causing him pain. Silas is working for another, but that secret won't be revealed until later in the movie. What is known is that he's looking for a keystone that will lead to one of the most covered-up truths in church history. Meanwhile, Robert and Sophie's quest to uncover the same mystery leads them to the home of Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen) and eventually the three make their way to London, where the truth about who is behind the mystery...as well as the truth of the mystery itself...is finally revealed.
I've been kind of vague about the religious quest in 'The Da Vinci Code' just for the benefit of those who have never read the book, seen the movie, or heard about the plot (as small as that audience may actually be at this point). Because 'The Da Vinci Code' is a movie that focuses primarily on unlocking clues and putting pieces together, it doesn't work nearly as well the second (or third) time around, and I don't want to spoil that experience for anyone. However, it's upon multiple viewings that one begins to see the problems with the presentation.
Has there ever been another film that has relied so heavily on exposition to propel its plotline? Robert Langdon doesn't seem so much a living, breathing, human being as he does an encyclopedia of historical knowledge. I'm guessing about 80 percent of his dialogue in the movie is simply the character muttering about this ancient religious story or that one. That's something that works in a book, but doesn't work up on the big screen...where "showing" something is always much more effective than talking about it. To make matters worse, when Ian McKellen's character arrives in the film, he basically does the same thing that Hanks's character does – lines and lines of exposition. All of it necessary, of course, but you wish Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman would have diverted from their loyalty to Dan Brown's novel a little bit more in order to avoid so many scenes that just have characters standing in a room talking about a part of history or a bit of religious theory.
Thankfully, the final half hour of the movie redeems a lot of what comes before by giving us an ending that – instead of going for a lavish action sequence – has our two main characters learning the truth about their quest and addressing their own personal beliefs about God and faith. That truly is a rarity for a mainstream movie, and Ron Howard and his actors are able to hit all the right emotional buttons so viewers come away from this film probably feeling that they've seen a better movie than they actually have.
Still, despite its problems, 'The Da Vinci Code' is a well-made film and certainly part of a genre we don't see a lot of at theaters these days – an adventure where the lead character primarily uses his mind and not his muscle to take on the bad guys. So while the movie is not as good as you probably remember, it's still good enough that I'm giving it a solid recommendation.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Da Vinci Code' reveals its secrets in this special 10th Anniversary Ultra HD/Blu-ray/Digital HD combo pack. The three discs are housed inside an oversized (slightly thicker than normal) black keepcase, with the two 50GB Blu-rays placed on the left and right inside cover and the 4K disc held on a plastic attached hub. There are two inserts inside – one containing a code for an UltraViolet copy of the movie, and the other a folded advertisement for 4K Ultra HD from Sony. A slipcover matching the artwork of the keepcase's slick slides overtop.
There are no front-loaded trailers on the 4K disc, whose main menu design is similar to other Sony releases, allowing the user to navigate through menu options, including 'Moments', 'Languages', 'Scenes', 'Cast & Crew', as well as the main 'Feature' screen. The Blu-ray's main menu (on the feature disc, labeled as "Disc 3" in this set) is a still image of stars Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou, with menu selections across the bottom of the screen. Disc 2's (a Blu-ray that holds the majority of bonus features) menu consists of a montage of footage from the movie, with menu selections across the bottom of the screen. There are no front-loaded trailers on either of the Blu-rays.
The Blu-rays in this release are region-free, and of course, the 4K Ultra HD disc is not region coded.
'The Da Vinci Code' was shot on 35mm film, using a combination of Arricam LT, Arricam ST, Arriflex235, and Cine SL 35 equipment (according to IMDB.com). The film is presented on home video in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. For its 10th anniversary, Sony created a 4K digital intermediate taken from the original 35mm film elements, meaning that this is one of a handful of Ultra HD releases of a catalog title that presents the movie in true 4K, rather than an upconvert of a 2K digital intermediate, which many of the current "catalog" releases are.
As far as the 4K presentation goes, this is really a tale of two cities. The scenes shot in Paris (and also a stop in Zurich) almost exclusively take place at night and/or in dimly lit rooms. So while the black levels in these scenes are solid (although perhaps not as inky deep as one would expect in a 4K presentation), a lot of details get lost in the murkiness, and only a few shots provide the 4K "oomph" that one would expect to see. On the other hand, once the characters in the film make their way to London, there's a whole lot more outdoor scenes and a whole lot more that takes place in the daylight. Here, viewers can really appreciate the benefits of both 4K and the HDR (high dynamic range) of the disc. Just take a look at the police cars in the city, which have some wonderfully deep reds and yellows on them. Furthermore, some establishing shots of the city and its various locales are shown off with tremendous detail.
Fans of the movie will be happy to hear that grain has not been scrubbed away with this new 4K transfer. It's present in every shot, and arguably a little more intrusive than it needs to be in some of the movie's darker moments. However, it's important to note for those not familiar with 'The Da Vinci Code' or who are seeing it for the first time here, that there are flashbacks to historical events in the movie where grain is intentionally boosted. This is not an glitch in the transfer, nor are these scenes overly "noisy" – this is the way the film is supposed to look.
The bottom line here is that while watching the first-half of 'The Da Vinci Code' on Ultra HD, viewers may not feel that it's a whole lot more impressive than the accompanying Blu-ray (also sourced from the new 4K digital intermediate). However, those feelings will change once they get to the later parts of the movie. Whether that warrants paying a more premium price for this set over the Blu-ray release will be up to you, but if you're a fan of this film and have a 4K home theater, I think this version is worth it.
The featured track here is an English Dolby Atmos one, which is Dolby TrueHD 7.1 compatible for those without an Atmos set-up. For a movie whose sound wasn't really designed for Atmos, this release does a pretty good job in providing a fun aural experience. While I can't say the track is ever aggressive (which isn't necessarily a bad thing), what is noticeable almost immediately is the range and distinctiveness of the audio. A simple thing like Langdon pouring water into a glass before giving a speech has a very life-like quality to it that I appreciated. And while this reviewer doesn't have an Atmos set-up in his home theater, I've read that this track does provide good use of the overhead capabilities.
It's also worth noting what a great job this track does with Hans Zimmer's score, which is nicely mixed with the rest of the movie and also has a distinct sound/feeling to it, allowing listeners to be able to appreciate it even more. The spoken word, as expected, is equally clear and crisp, and the mix overall is well-done, with no instances where sounds are unrealistically louder than they should be.
In addition to the Atmos audio, the 4K disc also includes an English Audio Descriptive Service, 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks in French (Parisian), German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish (Castilian), and Spanish (Latin American), as well as 2.0 Dolby Surround tracks in Czech, French (Quebec), Hungarian, Polish (Voice Over), Portuguese, Russian, and Turkish. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, Arabic, Chinese (Traditional), Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian), Portuguese (Classic), Russian, Slovak, Spanish (Castilian), Spanish (Latin American), Swedish, Thai, and Turkish.
Note: The 4K disc contains no bonus materials. All the bonus materials are contained on either Disc 2 or Disc 3 as detailed below.
Blu-Ray Disc 2
Note: Disc 2 of this set is the exact same disc that was part of the Extended Cut release, which contains materials taken from the earlier DVD release as well as materials that were new for that Blu-ray release. In other words, there's nothing new on Disc 2 of this release.
Blu-Ray Disc 3
Ten years later, 'The Da Vinci Code' probably isn't as good as you remember it, but still holds up as a solid, well-made adventure. This 4K version of the film suffers a bit due to the poorly lit and darker sequences that take place in the first half of the movie, but really shines during the London sequences that occur toward the end of the presentation. A solid Atmos track only adds to the quality. The movie still has some problems, but not enough to prevent me from putting this release firmly in "Recommended" territory.