Here’s a question for you. What could possibly go wrong when a renowned film maker directs an adaptation of one of the worst books ever written by one of the worst authors of all time?
Well, quite a lot, actually.
The film maker was Ron Howard and the book was the Da Vinci Code and its author is none other than the king of the adjective himself, Dan Brown.
But before I get on to that, let me tell you about this:
In 1963 my mother took me to the Odeon cinema twice. The first time was to see a re-release of Hans Christian Anderson, a completely fabricated biopic of the famous writer of fairy tales starring the annoying Danny Kaye which contained lots of jolly songs and bad acting coupled with a puerile and inane story which told the audience absolutely nothing about the man himself. Since then, the only film I have had the misfortune of seeing that told me nothing about the central character was Ron Howard’s grossly overrated A Beautiful Mind, a supposed true story about the mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr. At the start of the film you know that he is a mathematician and a schizophrenic and at the end of the film you know that he is a mathematician and a schizophrenic. In between you find out absolutely nothing whatsoever about him, and as I left the cinema listening to the hordes of cretins going on and on about how clever it was I couldn’t help thinking about how much it reminded me of Hans Christian Anderson.
The second film my mother took me to see was Summer Holiday starring Cliff Richard, Una Stubbs and the Shadows and their Guitars. Cliff Richard was once touted as the British Elvis. My mum thought he was actually better than his hip-swinging rival across the pond. She was, of course, incorrect. Cliff was too clean cut to be anywhere near as interesting or as down and dirty as the King of Rock’n’Roll and apart from one or two catchy tunes the songs in Cliff’s films were rubbish. Let’s compare Summer Holiday with Viva Las Vegas – well, actually, let’s not, because there is no comparison. Like Hans Christian Anderson, Summer Holiday is puerile and inane, whereas Viva Las Vegas is puerile and dynamic!
You can probably see a pattern emerging with the types of films my mother liked. Have you spotted it yet? That’s right – she liked musicals. As a child I had to sit through My Fair Lady, The King and I, South Pacific, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, Calamity Jane, Annie Get Your Gun, Carousel, Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, Oliver, and countless others. At the time I didn’t appreciate the films my mother made me watch with her. In fact, I thought they were stupid – what reason did the characters have to burst into song and why did they sing so many? Where was the orchestra hiding, and what the hell was the point of it all? I must, at this point, admit that none of them were as painfully awful as the film version of Les Miserable, a musical that is sung throughout its interminably overlong 158 minutes by actors who can’t sing. It’s also really depressing. I don’t know about you, but when I watch a musical I expect to be cheered up by it. For that reason, credit must go to Pierce Brosnan, who hilariously (and, I suspect, intentionally) demonstrated his complete inability to sing a single note in tune in the gloriously over-the-top Mamma Mia.
I was around thirty before I began to appreciate what had drawn my mother to these films. The film that changed my opinion is still not only my favourite musical but also one of my favourite films. It was the marvellously funny and superbly choreographed Singing in the Rain starring Gene Kelly, which was remade brilliantly (and silently) in 2011 by French director Michel Hazanavicius as The Artist. As I started to rediscover and enjoy the films I had watched with my mother all those years ago I started to wonder if I was turning gay. My fears were short-lived when I discovered that there was a whole strata of straight men who secretly loved musicals and while we argued about which were the best musicals ever made we were all unanimous in agreeing that Summer Holiday and the rest of Cliff Richard’s films were pointless, puerile and piss poor.
You’re probably thinking at this point, “But what has this got to do with The Da Vinci Code?”
Trust me, I’m getting there. It takes time to relive the horror of it.
Back when I was a child I preferred going to the cinema with my granddad. He took me to The Tivoli to see real films. We went to see grown-up films, and by grown-up films I mean war films like Lawrence of Arabia, The Longest Day, The Great Escape, Zulu, Guns at Batasi, The Hill, Khartoum and my personal favourite, Ice Cold in Alex.
The Tivoli on Talbot Road was established as a cinema in 1913 and the interior was redesigned with a sound system in 1930 following the release of The Jazz Singer in 1927. A fire on 8th October 1964 caused the Tivoli to close its doors and Granddad and I had to go to the Odeon, where it was plusher and therefore more expensive. It even had a stern looking doorman, who wore a military style red coat and cap and was there, presumably, to throw out patrons who were enjoying themselves too much.
Odeon cinemas were set up by the English businessman Oscar Deutsch and his publicists throughout Britain often claimed that Odeon was an acronym for Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation. This was a fabrication as the Odeon name had been used in cinemas in France and Italy in the 1920s. It’s actually an ancient Greek word used to describe a building built for singing exercises, musical shows and poetry competitions. Nickelodeons began to appear in the United States in the first decade of the 20th Century and were small, cheap cinemas that charged a nickel for a ticket.
I was ten years old when Granddad took me to see a film at the Odeon that has stayed with me all my life. It was an ‘A’ certificate, which meant that I could go and see it as long as I was accompanied by an adult. It was the best film I had ever seen but Grandma was shocked when she found out that Granddad had taken me to see it. “What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing taking him to see a film that’s full of sex and violence?” Grandma complained. “How do you think his bloody mother’s going to feel about that?”
“She’ll be all right wi’ it?” Granddad said, rolling a cigarette and showing no concern whatsoever.
“It were bloody brilliant Grandma!” I enthused. “It were fantastic! It had a car that had machine guns and an ejector seat in it! Can we see it again, Granddad? Can we?”
“See what you’ve done,” moaned Grandma, “don’t be surprised if he ends up murdering someone when he gets older.”
“Get away with ye,” said Granddad.
“You’ll see; he’ll be in court and the judge’ll ask him if he has any extenuating circumstances and he’ll tell him that it all started when his granddad took him to see James bloody Bond before he were old enough.”
Granddad finished rolling his cigarette, lit it and blew a ring of smoke into the air. “Aye,” he replied, “and he’ll say that just before he sees all them pink elephants flying round his bloody head.”
The film my Granddad took me to see was, of course, Goldfinger. It was exciting and funny and sexy and it even managed to make golf look interesting. It also contained the best exchange of dialogue of any Bond film in the history of Bond films. You know the one:
You don’t expect me to talk, do you?
No Mr Bond, I expect you to die.
The newly refurbished Tivoli re-opened in April 1965 with a reduced seating capacity and it continued to avoid, for the most part anyway, big budget releases and although it was still a dump (mum would never have taken me there) granddad liked it because it showed old films as well as new ones. It was there, as a teenager, that I began to notice and become more interested in the directors of the films I went to see than the actors who were starring in them. I enjoyed the experience of the cinema – sitting in my seat, watching as the film flickered into life and that rectangle of moving images took me to another place, another world, another person’s vision of reality. Enveloped in the darkness of the Tivoli, I saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, Rear Window and Vertigo, Jacques Tourner’s Night of the Demon and Out of the Past, John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The African Queen, Roaul Walsh’s White Heat and High Sierra, Michael Curtiz’s Angels With Dirty Faces and Casablanca, Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot, Ace in the Hole and Sunset Boulevard, Howard Hawks’ To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep and Bringing Up Baby, John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath, The Searchers and The Quiet Man, Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out and The Third Man, Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, Kiss Me Deadly and The Flight of the Phoenix and Jacques Tati’s Jour De Fete and Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday.
“OK, OK,” I hear you saying, “So, you’ve mentioned all these films and appear to be saying, not in so many words, that you have an encyclopaedic knowledge of films and their directors. But what about The Da Vinci Code? When are you going to say anything about that film”
It’s coming. I’m getting there.
Despite its dinginess and uncomfortable seats, I still prefer the Tivoli over the modern multiplexes of today, which can often be ghastly experiences, especially if you are accompanied by small children who want popcorn and coke. I don’t know whether it’s true or not but apparently the multiplexes don’t make any profit from the films they show; they make their profits from the overpriced popcorn and coke and other sundries they sell. A bottle of water, for example, costs £2.50 in my local multiplex. This is the same water that I can buy in the Pound Shop for (surprise, surprise) a pound. But I don’t pay a pound for just one bottle. I pay a pound for four bottles. That’s right. You heard. Four bottles. That’s a price hike of 1000 percent. No wonder they don’t like you smuggling your own drinks and sweets in.
It saddens me when I look at the lardy patrons of the average multiplex with their oversized tubs of popcorn and cokes, their hot dogs and nachos, and their big bags of sweets. Popcorn, the biggest seller, comes in a variety of sizes and prices, as do the cups of coke. Below is a handy table which will help you understand the difference in the scales of measurement used by the multiplexes and the real world.
HOW MUCH IS IN IT
Too much for one person. You will have finished your coke and your mouth will be dry before you get to the bottom of the tub.
If you’ve eaten all the pies and are still hungry then this is for you. Otherwise, this is enough to feed a family of five.
Roughly the size of a household bucket, there is enough popcorn in this container to feed an entire village in East Anglia for a whole day.
Why anyone would want to eat that much popcorn and drink that much coke is beyond me. More importantly, how can anyone can afford to pay for these ridiculously overpriced items? A large popcorn and a large coke costs you almost as much as the GNP of an insignificant third world country.
“Yes. Yes,” I hear you say, “we all know about the extortionate prices of drinks and sweets in cinemas. Why don’t you stop digressing and get onto The Da Vinci Code?”
I’m nearly there.
When I saw Goldfinger with my Granddad in 1964 cinemas were staffed by people who wore crisp uniforms and were knowledgeable about films and new releases. Compare that to 2006 when I went to the Cineworld multiplex in Yeovil and didn’t buy any popcorn and coke. Instead, I bought drinks, chocolate and sweets from the Pound Shop and then smuggled them in using the secret pockets of a specially altered raincoat. As well as going to see one the many brainless blockbusters they were showing I wanted to find out when Letters From Iwo Jima was going be released.
A spotty faced youth wearing a badge that declared that his name was Craig was at the receiving end of my enquiry. He gave me a gormless look and asked, “Ermm . . . is it a . . . Bollywood film?”
“No,” I replied, “it’s Clint Eastwood’s latest film; you know – the one that’s been nominated for several Oscars.”
“Oh . . .” Craig said vacantly, “it’s a western, then.”
“No, the clue to the type of film is in the title.”
I briefly considered using the word genre instead of the more protracted type of film, but I quickly realised that Craig would probably have thought that it was some form of tropical disease. He looked at me vacantly.
“Iwo Jima!” I said.
Craig continued to look at me vacantly.
“It’s a war film.”
“Isn’t Clint Eastwood a bit old to be in war films?”
“He’s not in it.”
Craig looked confused. “But . . . you just said he was.”
“No, I said it was a Clint Eastwood film. He’s not in it but he directed it.”
“Clint Eastwood has directed a film? Really?”
I was beginning to lose my patience with Craig. “Look, do you know when it’s going to be on or not?”
He looked up at the ceiling and rubbed his chin. “Mmmm, April,” he said. “Probably April.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, it’ll be on in April.”
“That’s good,” I said, “because the multiplexes don’t show that many foreign language films.”
A look of horror passed over Craig’s face. “What?”
“It’s in Japanese with English subtitles.”
“But you told me it was a Clint Eastwood film.”
“It is a Clint Eastwood. It’s about the Japanese defence of Iwo Jima.”
It was at that point that a thought struck me; as gormless, ill-educated and badly dressed in his colourful uniform as he was, this wasn’t Craig’s fault. This was the fault of management employing people like Craig who haven’t the faintest idea about the product they’re selling or the rich history behind it. I mean, you wouldn’t employ a librarian that didn’t know anything about literature, would you.
“Can I help you with anything else, sir?” asked Craig, without a hint of irony in his voice.
“One for The Da Vinci Code, please.”
Little did I know when I walked into Screen 1 with my secret stash of drinks and sweets that my brief exchange with Craig would be nothing compared to the crushing disappointment I would experience over the next two and a half hours in the unbelievably dull company of director Ron Howard and star Tom Hanks.
There, I told you I’d get to it in the end. You may remember as you read the following section that I mentioned a really bad Ron Howard film in the first paragraph so I could tie it in with the next paragraph where I talk about another bad film of his.
See how clever I am.
|The Da Vinci Code Poster|
Now, don’t get me wrong here – I’m usually a fan of Ron Howard’s output. Parenthood, Backdraft, Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon and Rush were all excellent. He’s made a few middling to good films (Far and Away, The Paper and The Grinch) and he’s also made some awful ones – three to be exact - The aforementioned A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. The latter two were so terrible that they made me feel ill, and I would have considered asking for my money back after I saw Angels and Demons if I hadn’t watched it on an illegal download. And now he’s about to release his third Dan Brown adaptation, Inferno (or Dan Brown’s Inferno as it egotistically proclaimed on the cover of the novel), the worst book of the lot and quite possibly the worst book I have ever had the misfortune of reading. With a wafer thin plot that would struggle to fit into a short story, huge chunks of unnecessary and boring travelogue and more adjectives than you can shake a Thesaurus at, Inferno (the book) manages to be a carbon copy of his three previous Robert Langdon books, whilst at the same time being more dull, pointless and utterly unbelievable than all three of them put together. I can’t wait for the film to come out.
Terrible as I thought A Beautiful Mind was, it wasn’t nearly as excruciatingly awful as the abysmal film versions of the badly written Dan Brown books that feature the most boring central character in recent fiction, Robert Langdon (played in the films by a hopelessly miscast Tom Hanks), because they are in a class of awfulness all of their own. Every copy of those films (along with the books on which they were based) should be sealed in a lead container full of the stuff Gilbert and George use in their art and then thrown into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, where they could lie at the bottom of the seabed forever. I thought the books were bad enough but the films surpassed even their level of total, mind-numbing stupidity, and I was amazed to find that the wafer-thin, zero-dimensional characters of the books were transferred to the screen with even less charisma than they had on the page. I have every confidence that a member of the Women’s Institute could knit more believable characters than Dan Brown can write. Watching Tom Hanks as the internationally renowned (and dumbest) symbologist (a made-up profession if ever I heard one) in the world, racing around with a ridiculous haircut struggling to solve puzzles that a five year-old could have worked out before him was worse than having to stand on my head for two hours in a bucket full of shit. When I went to see The Da Vinci Code I had this vague notion that Ron Howard would somehow improve the book – but I was wrong, and I quickly came to the conclusion that the only way you could ever improve a Dan Brown book is by burning it. If Dan Brown’s books had been available in Germany in the late 1930s, I like to think that they would have been the first ones tossed onto the bonfire by the Nazis. But, they probably wouldn’t have because the Nazis burned intellectual books and that’s the very last thing a Dan Brown book is.
And just to show that I’m not a lone voice crying in the wilderness, I’ll leave you with the words of Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post who summed up The Da Vinci Code perfectly when she wrote that it was “as exciting as watching your parents play Sudoku.”