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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

On The Da Vinci Code

I just noticed that Scott reviewed the movie of The Da Vinci Code, and began with the fact that he hadn't read the book. I just finished reading the book, but have not seen the movie. And I was planning to post anyway, to say why the performance this movie had doesn't surprise me in the least, just based on reading it. So I thought it would be cool to post this without reading Scott's piece (you'll just have to trust me on that), and then see how close our perspectives were, when approaching the material from opposite perspectives! If you haven't already, read his review as well. Order of the two shouldn't matter much. And I'll try to post a follow-up comparison of our opinions in the comments section.

Now, firstly a review of the film's performance. It had a big opening weekend, grossing $77 million domestically. From then on, however, the film dropped off dramatically, making only (the still sizable) $34 million the following weekend. It has also performed quite well overseas. Let me explain that the film is clearly a huge success commercially, but what I'd like to address are three points:

1. The film's drop-off
2. The discrepancy domestic to foreign
3. The poor reviews for the film compared to solid book reviews

I think that everyone knew this film would have a huge opening. They would have had to have truly botched the film to an epic degree to have destroyed that opening weekend. The book was a huge seller and had great word of mouth and fan base, along with a relatively short span of time between the book's release and the film's (unlike the less successful bestseller-to-film adaptation of The Celestine Prophecy). And I think the sustained positive performance overseas has to do with the fact that Europeans, in particular, face deeper connections (both positive and negative) to the Catholic Church, and also relate more to the locations involved.

But the main thrust of what I noticed when reading the book addresses the first and third issues -- the film's drop-off and the digressive reviews. After the booming opening, negative word of mouth caught up with the film, leading to the drop-off. And why would the book be much stronger than the film version of the same story? Here's what I came away with when I read the book (looking at it through similar eyes to the ones I cover books with all the time).

What people really loved about this book were the ideas underscoring the whole thing. The critique of the church, based supposedly in history. The underground societies. The symbology, and the art it was buried in. Most of which cannot be translated well to the screen. If it were, it would entail a lot of talking heads with little action.

On the other hand, the action within the book is entirely standard, with very little to enliven it. It is there simply as a plot device to move the story along in even dosages while more and more of the thematic material is revealed. So when it is translated to the screen, we get a second rate action thriller, with above average underpinnings. And those underpinnings will necessarily have to be trimmed and toned down to avoid a too-talky film. Further weakening the visual aspects of the plot is the fact that many of the better surprises in the book came from a simple artificial withholding of information, which is harder to accomplish effectively on screen.

Ultimately, it goes back to the standard concept that what makes a good book is centrally different from what makes a good film. And though I have not seen the film, my guess is that this is what happened. The film was less than effectively made, and this caught up with it soon enough. At the same time, Sony was perfectly intelligent (from a business perspective) for making the film, as there was little chance that this film would lose money overall.

Now, any of this match what Scott had to say? I'll see soon enough! And of course, I haven't seen the film or read any reviews, so my comments might be completely off base! But it was a fun exercise anyway.

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Blogger Fun Joel said...

Okay. Now that I've read Scott's review, I'd say I understand and agree with his points too. Sounds from his review that they screenwriters did attempt (albeit poorly) to maek some of the action a bit more visual, at least.

Still, two of Scott's last three points seem to echo my main concerns:

"-- The confrontations are all really rather generic and dumb, and Tom Hanks never has any real problem escaping."


"-- The religious stuff was superficially handled. No one in the movie really has an interesting conversation about what impact this would all really have, while the late attempt to convince us that it really shouldn't make any differences to Christians even if it were true just makes the movie seem even more pointless and muddled."

5:33 AM  
Blogger Sanne said...

Hi Joel. Not related to the review of DVC, I wanted to say many thanks for your post in my blog. :-)

11:44 AM  
Blogger Sanne said...

Re: The book The Da Vinci Code, it makes sense that one of the reasons people found it so intriguing, was because of things that were not part of the action. It sounds like you may just have nailed it, with that comment.

11:50 AM  
Blogger deepstructure said...

i don't think second weekend drop-off means all that much anymore. did you see the plummeting grosses for x-men on the second weekend? from box office mojo:

"Suggesting that fans rushed to see it as soon as possible, X-Men: The Last Stand devolved 67 percent to $34 million, the steepest post-Memorial Day opening drop on record."

but really, you can't shake a stick at the money any of these films is making.

3:41 AM  
Blogger Joshua James said...

I read the book but haven't seen the movie - it's a simple book, really (and structure wise a carbon copy of his earlier book, ANGELS AND DEMONS) but you hit on something, and that's the idea behind our religious history, added to it a mysterious group we know little about (Opius Dei) who actually exist as villians.

The book worked because it was a mystery, in a way, and a puzzle about the most ultimate puzzles - Jesus's divinity, which understandably struck a cord with folks on both sides of the debate.

Plus, the book was marketed really well.

That being said, while I enjoyed reading it, it certainlly wasn't the best written book out there and not much of a surprise for me because I had read HOLY BLOOD, HOLY GRAIL years ago which was essentially about the great reveal at the end of Da Vinci.

But the ideas behind the story of the book, they were strong and that's why I think the book worked.

5:19 PM  

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