MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

'Da Vinci Code' barbs span the globe at warp speed

April 17, 2006
Whew, that was close! Here. I was thinking of flying to Bahrain or Iceland yesterday to get a head start on forming my own opinion on the mysteries revealed in “The Da Vinci Code” — as recommended by director Ron Howard — but no one at LAX seemed interested in accepting my maxed-out credit cards. I had even gone to the my local used-book store to get a copy of Dan Brown’s novel, which, I was assured, could be read before the flight attendants came around with the hot towels.
Blessedly, upon powering up my laptop Wednesday morning, I was greeted by the news that I hadn’t missed much. In fact, the boys and girls at Cannes seemed to suggest, it would be quite all right for me to wait for the DVD edition. Even better, I wouldn’t even have to waste 50 cents Friday morning to read the reviews in the newspaper.
All the evidence I needed could be found on the Internet, gratis, and within seconds of the completion of the end credits. According to a headline on My Yahoo!, “Laughable ‘Code’ Kicks Off Cannes,” and, on My AOL, “Da Vinci Code Secret Is Out: Most Critics Hate It.” Another rang, “ ‘Da Vinci Code’ Seen As Cursory and Rushed.”
Laughable? I hadn’t seen that one coming. Echoes of “Howard the Duck,” perhaps?
The media-fueled hype parade rolled on throughout the day, only in reverse. In the meantime, I found something more important than, “Albinos Condemn ‘Da Vinci’ Assassin,” on which to focus. Instead, I was free to mourn the tragic deaths of the Man Who Was Clarabell and the McCartney marriage. Truly, a day that will live in infamy.
Later, I decided to peruse Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. By 8:30 p.m., a consensus had already been established on both sites: phooey.
Only Lou Lumenick, of the New York Post, gave “The Da Vinci Code” an unqualified rave. I’m only guessing here, but it smelled of a plot on the part of his editors to ensure the deployment of the nutty headlines: “YOU’LL LOUVRE IT!” “INTRICATE THRILLER ENOUGH TO MAKE MONA LISA SMILE.”
Lou couldn’t resist joining the pun parade, topping his commentary with, “Ron Howard’s splendid ‘The Da Vinci Code’ is the Holy Grail of summer blockbusters: a crackling, fast-moving thriller that’s every bit as brainy and irresistible as Dan Brown’s controversial bestseller.” A few paragraphs later, however, the critic stumbled over his own wry wit by commenting, “The exciting pursuit of nothing less than the Holy Grail — whatever that may be — takes Langdon and Sophie across France, England and Scotland.”
“Whatever that may be,” indeed.
I doubt that the publicists at Sony will pull Lou’s second reference to the Holy Grail for the full-page ads in Friday’s papers. By this time tomorrow, though, kudus from more grammatically consistent sources – including the ever-reliable lapdogs in the junket press – probably will be plentiful.
For those of us who make our entertainment choices based solely on the headlines over pun-filled reviews, the next big rush of excitement comes in waiting for the weekend box-office estimates. That way, on Monday morning, bomb or boffo, we can always say, “I told you so.” Factor in the international day-and-date box-office, as was done with “M:I-3,” and it’s suddenly possible to be right and wrong simultaneously.
Newspaper editors, whose minds should be on more important matters, will insist on something a bit more precise. Depending on which way things go, or are spun, Monday’s headlines likely will read, either, “Hollywood breaths sigh of relief” or “Slump: the sequel.” If it really tanks, look for the New York Times to declare the end of show business as we know it.
It’s easy to understand why Sony elected to open “The Da Vinci Code” in theaters around the globe within hours of opening night at Cannes. One, it was a way to short-circuit pirates, and, two, critics carry a lot less weight in markets outside North America and western Europe, thumbs up or thumbs down. Even without strong legs, a high-profile picture can do a lot of damage in an extended weekend.
The question remains, however, why would Sony risk bombing – and not having seen the movie, I can’t pass critical judgment on it – on such a brightly lit public stage? Did the studio see its product as critic- and blog-proof, based on book sales and the bleating of publicity-hungry priests? Were focus groups unanimous in their enthusiasm for the finished project? Was Cannes too big an ego trip to resist?
All I know is that few, if any, critics actually enjoy investing two or three hours of their time watching a turkey, and several more writing about it. But, when pressed, there’s nothing a mainstream critic relishes more than destroying an outrageously over-marketed picture with their razor-sharp prose. After all, given the speed of the Internet, those bon mots now can be admired, within seconds, around the globe.
A tease on the AOL News front page described the run-up to Cannes as, “The Perfect PR Storm.” The Reuters piece that it linked to speculated that several events came together simultaneously and independent of Sony’s hype machine. They included the furor raised by prelates, zealots and albino-rights activists, as well as a vastly expensive timed-release marketing campaign that limited exposure to stars other than Tom Hanks. Last night’s stroll along the red carpet was expected to provide the icing on the cake.
Apparently, someone forgot to share the dessert with the party-poopers gathered at the critics’ screening. – G.D.

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