The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tatou, Paul Bethany, Alfred Molina, Jean Reno, Ian McKellen
Extras: Commentary Track, Video Commentary, Featurettes, CineChat

Based on Dan Brown's suspenseful novel, "The Da Vinci Code" made its way to movie theaters, accompanied by huge acclaim as well as the expected controversy. Just in time for the theatrical release of "Angels & Demons," another one of Brown's novels following the fictional exploits of Harvard professor Robert Langdon, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is now serving up a Blu-Ray version of "The Da Vinci Code" and I was exited to take a look.

The curator of the Louvre Museum in Paris, Jacques Saunière, is killed inside the Grand Hall of the museum one night. With the last of his strength he creates a series of clues that confound the police, but he also leaves a written note, scribbled on the floor, implicating Harvard Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks).

Captain Fache (Jean Reno) of the French police is convinced that in his last moments Saunière meant to name his killer and brings Langdon to the scene of the crime, hoping he would implicate himself and set himself up for a quick arrest. But Langdon is being tipped off by Cryptology agent Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tatou), who believes in Langdon's innocence. She helps him escape and eventually reveals that Saunière was actually her grandfather. Together they try to solve and follow the many clues that Saunière has left for them, realizing slowly that the curator of the Louvre must have been much more than anyone thought. Jacques Saunière seemed to have been a member of the Priory of Sion, a secret society that has been protecting one of the greatest secrets of the world for centuries. A secret that could in fact challenge and crumble all Christian beliefs.

The book "The Da Vinci Code" challenged established religious beliefs and as such it was a tight rope walk to begin with – a calculated challenge Dan Brown took upon himself and successfully mastered. It is clear that to fanatic Christians a story like this must appear blasphemous. Free thinking has never been one of Christianity's virtues and so it is hardly surprising that the book – as well as the film created an uproar in the Catholic society.

Now, I have to admit the religion does nothing for me, not in any form as it exists in our world. The breeding ground for fanaticism, fanning flames of hatred and separatism instead of teaching people actual virtues and love, religions to me have always been excuses for people to justify their Mr. Hydes. A such a story like "The Da Vinci Code" fills me with glee, to be perfectly honest as it expresses in many ways how I feel about the Catholic church, an institution built on deceit that continues to exploit people with false promises.

Many people have supposedly dissected the story, shredded the evidence laid forth in the story, claiming it is all a lie. While I can't vouch for the story's correctness it is very obvious that there is some truth to it no matter how you turn it. The core of the story is that the church has been misleading its members since the invention of the Bible and will go to great lengths to make sure the lies it is built upon will not be revealed. Just like politicians or businessmen try to maintain their positions of power at any cost sometimes, so does the clergy. After all for 2000 years the Christian religion has been a never-ending cash cow that has given the people in charge more power than any other position in history, dictating to world leaders and having the masses bow to their wishes. Clearly no one would give up such power easily.

So, while there might be some minor factual errors or oversights in the plot that Brown has developed – after all, let us not forget that this is a work of fiction – the essence of the story remains true and poignant. And the same is true for the movie, which I found was an incredibly well done adaptation of the novel. Moving ahead at a furious pace, the murder mystery becomes trickier and trickier, the characters increasingly unpredictable as the plot unspools. Halfway through the film it is hard to decide, who is good and who is bad, throwing surprises at the viewer, obliterating expectations and preconceived notions.

Tom Hanks and Audrey Tatou make a great on-screen couple as they race through the streets of Paris, desperately trying to get a breather. Sadly everyone else is pretty much relegated to a supporting cast with the exception of Paul Bettany, playing the executive villain. As such, great talents, like Alfred Molina, Jean Reno, Ian McKellen and Jürgen Prochnow may seem wasted, but at the same time, it is their deliberate, understated performances that help make the film work in the end and give it the necessary weight to make it all believable.

I know many readers will disagree with me or may even take offense in what I said, but to me "The Da Vinci Code" is a great story that should be thought-provoking for even the most devout Catholic. Simply asking yourself "What if?" and allowing your thoughts to wander was not yet a mortal sin in Christianity the last time I checked, so why not go on an open-minded excursion and play a mind game with what he have come to take as historic truths. What if it was all arranged?

The dark imagery of "The Da Vinci Code" is the perfect playground for Blu-Ray and on this 1080p high definition transfer you will truly appreciate the format's capabilities. Sharp and well defined throughout I found particularly the color reproduction and black levels impressive – more so than the sharpness, as a matter of fact. When the filmmakers throw the screen into darkness there are blacks like you have never seen them before. When they render the orgiastic colors of the clergy, they do so with such vibrancy that they seem to leap off the screen. And in between, the transfer reveals such incredible subtleties that it will take your breath. Take the close-up shots of the master pieces in the Louvre for a taste, and you know exactly what I am talking about, as you can see every brush stroke, every crack in the century old paint.

To give the experience the proper sonic impact, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has added a Dolby Digital 5.1 TrueHD audio track to the release. I want to point out once again that TrueHD is a completely lossless high definition audio format and that its output is absolutely identical to that of a DTS HD Master Audio track, no matter how you turn it – and no matter how much some pundits may want (you) to believe otherwise. As expected, the track reveals incredible fidelity and has a wide frequency response that runs form the lowest basses to the highest audible registers. Aggressively mixed, the track makes very good use of the surround channels and has a wide sound stage that creates an active experience full of action. Subtle ambient effects are coming through every bit as nicely as the explosive gunshots zinging over your heads, while dialogues remain perfectly integrated without ever being drowned out by the action.

"The Da Vinci Code" also comes with a series of bonus materials, starting off with an interactive picture-in-picture video commentary track that gives you the opportunity to go behind the scenes of the production as you watch the movie. It is filled with information, snippets and footage, giving you a good sense of the scale these productions have and what the particular challenges were, filming this movie.

A commentary track is also included, offering up director Ron Howard's thoughts on selected scenes.

The meat of the release is a series of 17 featurettes, covering virtually all aspects of the film's production, while also looking at the novel and its adaptation to the screen, as well as the impact the film has had. Of course ,the majority of the featurettes are covering the production itself however, giving you a close look at the sets, the props, the costumes, the music and many other aspects.

Being BD Live enabled, the release also contains a CineChat feature, an instant messaging option that allows you to have a live chat with your friends while watching the movie. I am not entirely sure about the value of such a feature, but it definitely shows how Blu-Ray's capabilities are being put to use, and how the studios are actively working on new ideas to create new, exciting features, using these technologies.

"The Da Vinci Code" on Blu-Ray allows you to experience the movie in all its awesomeness. An impressive visual presentation that is coupled with roaring audio and supplemented by a wealth of bonus materials, this is a release that should go into every Blu-Ray owner's collection.