Da Vinci Code's first review
DA VINCI CODE'S A CRACKER
JOHN HISCOCK IN L.A. IS FIRST TO SEE DA VINCI FILM. HIS VERDICT..
IT HAS been at the centre of months of fevered anticipation, condemnation and worldwide debate.
But at last the veil of secrecy shrouding the movie based on author Dan Brown's best-seller The Da Vinci Code has been lifted.
The Mirror has been given an exclusive first look at the religious suspense thriller. And I can report that it Is destined to become a huge hit when it is released next week.
Although some special effects and Hans Zimmer's musical score had still to be added when I saw it, the movie races along at breakneck pace.
In the dramatic opening scenes, a terrified Louvre curator runs through the museum's dark galleries, pursued by a homicidal albino monk, Silas, chillingly played by Paul Bettany.
Director Ron Howard graphically depicts the curator's dying moments as, with bloodstained hands, he feebly struggles to leave the clues that draw Tom Hanks's character Robert Langdon into the murder mystery.
Hanks, with long hair swept back, ideally suits the role of the unsuspecting college lecturer drawn into a murderous conspiracy - while Bettany will give audiences nightmares as the limping, murderous monk.
He has some particularly grisly scenes in which, stripped naked and bleeding profusely from self-inflicted wounds, he viciously whips himself while wearing a pain-inducing barbed strap on his thigh, muttering: "I chastise my body."
ALTHOUGH the film closely follows Brown's storyline, Howard delivers something the book doesn't.
He goes back in time to show Brown's controversial theory that, for 2,000 years, the Catholic church has been covering up the fact that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and fathered a daughter, whose bloodline has survived into present-day Europe.
As well as scenes of the Inquisition and of women being tortured, burned and drowned, Howard shows Mary fleeing the Holy Land for France and giving birth there.
Action fans will revel in a hair-raising car chase in which Langdon's French cryptographer friend Sophie Neveu, fetchingly played by Audrey Tautou, careers her little Smart car backwards along the streets and pavements of Paris with the police, led by Jean Reno's Bezu Fache, in hot pursuit.
Surprisingly, Hanks is the only American in the large cast, which features Sir Ian McKellen in a strong supporting role as the manic Holy Grail historian Sir Leigh Teabing. In a gripping scene set at his mansion in the French countryside he reveals the secrets of Leonardo Da Vinci's famous painting The Last Supper.
Then he explains what he describes as "the greatest cover-up in human history" to an incredulous Sophie, while Langdon expounds on the meaning of certain historical and religious symbols.
But his lecture is cut short in a stunning and unexpected fashion.
The trio, taking with them a bound Silas, travel by private plane to London, where more clues add to the mystery and Silas stages a final assassination involving Bishop Aringarosa, strongly played by Alfred Molina.
Set mainly at night, the film has a sinister look which adds to the brooding atmosphere of suspense and conspiracy.
The film-makers were refused permission to shoot in Westminster Abbey because the novel was deemed "theologically unsound" by Abbey officials.
But Lincoln and Winchester cathedrals co-operated, as did the Temple Church in London and Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland.
FRANCE'S President Jacques Chirac gave his personal stamp of approval to the Louvre being used as a location.
But the Mona Lisa, which plays a key role in the story's opening, was ruled off-limits and a replica had to be used. With the film due to have its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, the controversy surrounding the story continues to grow.
A Papal official, Archbishop Angelo Amato, last week denounced the book as "stridently anti-Christian" and called for a boycott of the film.
The Catholic organisation Opus Dei and the Catholic League have also protested and unsuccessfully petitioned for changes to the movie. Even an albino rights group has added its voice to the clamour.
But Sony Pictures and Howard have resisted all attempts to change the plot or to screen a disclaimer over the credits, and rightly so.
As it is, the film stands as a superb thriller which cleverly blends action and intrigue with some thought-provoking theories.
If anything, Howard has improved on the book by some judicious pruning and by going back into history to depict scenes that the novel referred to only briefly.
There is no mystery about The Da Vinci Code's future at the box office.
It will be a massive hit.
But I, being poor, have only my dreams
I have spread my dreams under your feet
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams