Yup, It’s a Turd

So, it’s bad.

I bet you dollars to pesos that ten years from now we might catch a rerun of this movie on TBS or TBN or something and find ourselves scratching our heads and thinking… “What exactly was the big deal?”  With a $77 million opening weekend, the joke’s on us, present company included.  In time, I sincerely believe the joke will be at the expense of the creative forces behind this project.  I am sure they will sooth the stinging pain of our laughter by curling up in a warm bath next to a fireplace where they are burning stacks of hundred dollar bills. 

The biggest problem with the book is that it is essentially an overglorified airport novel.  You know… one of those novels with names like, “The Shadow Matrix,” or, you know… ”Tribulation Force.”  Airport novels are about 400-500 pages long, long enough for you to look at it at the newsstand and think that it will sustain you to your trip to Honolulu / Des Moines / Federal Prison.  

You are incorrect. 

You will finish it as you’re waiting for your connecting flight in Houston which is for the best, because Sgt. Azzkicker doens’t allow new inmates to have outside reading material.   

Airport novels have characters with names like Rock Blackwell, or Black Rocksoff, or Rayford Steele.  Rock Blackwell will not be able to form a coherent sentence, but chances are that he will have some pretty hot sex and most likely save the government / universe / hot chick.

When I first heard about “The DaVinci Code,” people were talking about it as if it were a serious, historical novel.  I was underthe impression that it was something like a Michener piece.

The DaVinci Code makes Tom Clancy’s latest technothriller read like Tolstoy.  Dave Barry writes more believable characters.  If you think about it, there’s not really a story in DVC.  There is zero character development, in fact, the characters are there only to serve one purpose, which is the Big Reveal. 

No one changes, or really makes a serious choice.  The only character who undergoes any sort of shift is the character of Sophie Neveu, and, frankly, what passes for character development with her is essentially the big reveal of her true family of origin.  She’s completely passive in the whole process.

Robert Langdon?  Leigh Teabing?  Bishop Arreggllaggalaraggah?  Nothin’.  They believe the same things at the end of the story that they do at the beginning, except that they’re either now dead, in jail, or still sporting silly hair. 

Ironically, the one character who experiences anything resembling an actual story arc is Silas, the murderous nekkid uber-honkey monk with a whip fetish.

Now, the screenplay adaptation for The DaVinci code was written by one Akiva Goldsman.  He won an Oscar for his adaptation of A Beautiful Mind.  Good for him.  A Beautiful Mind, if you remember, was a very well written, twisty, delicate piece of work.  It set up the big “gotcha” twist in a way that I found compelling. 

Unfortunately, most people do not realize that Mr. Goldsman also wrote the screenplay for a small, independant art house film named Batman and Robin.  I cannot miss this opportunity to type the following phrase for the second time since I started blogging here. 

Bat nipples.

Which Mr. Goldsman showed up for this gig?  The latter, I’m afraid.  The screenplay does nothing other then reveal the inherent flaws of the source material.  Dan Brown should send Akiva Goldsman a giftbag filled with poisonous scorpions.  

After the first 25 minutes, which are actually pretty good, The Explaining starts happens.  The Explaining will continue to happen until Tom Hanks’ Big Speech at the end of the film.  Oh sure, The Explaining will be paused for a moment or two for more whipping, or diabolical priests, or corrupt Catholic police officers, but don’t worry, it will return soon.  Your new worldview will be explained in just a few more minutes.  Ok, maybe a few more.  Just a few more.  Good grief… how long is this thing?!?!

Audrey Tautou’s Sophie is the person on the business end of the vast majority of The Explaining.  The one upside to all this is that Audrey Tautou makes confusion look sexy, which is good, since her main job is to ask leading questions in comically French-accented English.  Her delivery is so stilted, that after about the first hour, she started reminding me of the sidekick on infomercials:

“You mean…  zee ginzuu weel cut zee carrots AND zee celery with only one stroke… and I am zee offspring of zee Messiah?  Sacre Bloo!”

Author’s note: I neither know the correct spelling or actual meaning of the expression “Sacre Bloo!”  But it’s damn funny.

Hanks does his best with what is a terribly thankless, lackluster hero.  I honestly don’t have much to say about his performance.  I think it could have been much worse had he not been there.  His character displays, for a brief instant, a little spunk when he is arguing with Teabing in one scene, but it’s all show.  He’s back to Explaining in no time. 

Then there’s Ian McKellen.  Sir Ian is not exactly sympathetic to Christianity.  I would guess he relished the thought of taking it down a few pegs.  His delight is his undoing.  He has been given the most amount of Explaining to do, and he is so painfully obvious in his disdain for Christianity, that it undermines his performance.  Anytime he utters the word, “The Church,” it is in a manner that should be followed immediately with a tight zoom on his face and scary music.  I am a fan, Sir Ian.  I am.  You can act your ass off, and I give you props.  Don’t let your idealism interfere with your art; it’s beneath you, sir.  

Opie’s direction is pretty good, with one exception.  This movie is flashback happy.  We get flashbacks of young Silas, young Robert, young Sophie, Knights Templar, burning of witches, ancient pagan rituals, and so on and so forth.

I’m going to take a wild guess here.  I bet these shots were among the last to be completed, and I bet by that point the budget was mostly blown on Hanks’ hairdresser.  The flashbacks look like heaping piles of dog vomit.  The flashbacks on America’s Most Wanted are more believable.  Dear Imagine Entertainment, using After Effects to add the ”Grainy” look in post is not going to change the fact that it looks like you shot ancient Rome in ancient Burbank. 

I’m not just being nit-picky here.  These scenes are supposed to help us get the big picture of The Church’s History of Horror.  Instead, it kind of looks like band dorks going to the Reinassance Faire.   

Look, The DaVinci Code is a book with an agenda.  So is Left Behind Part 45 : Still Here, Still Tribulating.  Stories that favor agenda over character will fail, every single time.  I don’t care if Billy Graham or Satan himself is producing. 

Aly and Ash joined us for a Mother’s Day lunch, and she said something that I think is really true, so I’m going to reprint it here without her permission.  I think she was elaborating on an idea Brian MacLaren has been discussing publically, but I don’t know that for sure.  Aly has, in the past, had an original idea or fifty, so I have no doubt that she may have come up with this one on her own.  I’m sure she’ll articulate further.

She said something to the effect that the only really interesting thing about the DaVinci phenomenon is not the question, “Is it true,” but “Why do people want to believe it’s true?” 

I totally agree.  The historicity of the book is a total farce.  I didn’t want to believe it at first, but the more I look into it, the more I am convinced Brown was just gleefully messing with us.  Erica wondered if there was some sort of intentional irony in the statement at the beginning of his book regarding accuracy.  Perhaps it’s some sort of statement or… symbol… in and of itself.

No friends, the debate about accuracy is quickly over.  The History Channel spent the entire weekend running debunking specials. 

The only interesting question left, the only one that really matters, is why it’s struck such a chord.  The Church can get all giddy about the lack of quality of this piece of pop art, but the truth is that we have a larger problem that must be dealt with. 

Fundie Christians like to say that the Gospel is inherently offensive, and that’s why the world doens’t like us.  They’re halfway right.  The Gospel is still marvelously offensive.  If we were to actually live it out, our entire social order could be upset, and we would again see Christian martyrs being executed in the public square as the government tried to restore it’s power.  I believe this with every fiber of my being. 

But that’s not the reason most of the world hates us.  I think a lot of the world hates us because a lot of us are insufferable assholes. 

Jesus was many things, but the only people who found him to be an insufferable asshole were people in power who had a lot to lose and they had to silence this guy who told their customers to sell everything they had and give the proceeds to the poor.  Or, they were religious leaders who were offended by Jesus’ claims of divinity and the threat to their own status in the religious order.  Or, they were the unwashed masses who were pissed off at Jesus for not leading a violent revolt against the oppressive, occupying foreign military force in their promised land. 

Most of the people who dislike us feel so because they feel oppressed by us.  They don’t even have a chance to be offended by The Gospel, because they don’t really have any idea what it really says, because we’re not really living it out.  What we tend to be, is afraid.  We feel like our “Christian” nation is being stolen from us, so we’re clamoring for power, relationally and politically.  Are there organizations and individuals who are determined to destroy our faith, and faith in general?  Sure.  Without a doubt.  But they consider themselves liberators, people. 

Please, pastors of the world, candidly ask yourselves and your congregations the question “why.”  Please, Christians of the world, ask yourselves if The Gospel is offensive, or you are.  Please, Dan Brown, pick on Islam next.  Their response will make us look like we have the righteous wrath of grammar school crossing guards.  I am sure that, “The Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi Code,” will be another big hit for you.   

Oh, by the way, if there are any Christians out there who are offended by my choice of the phrase, “Insufferable asshole,” you may be one; so, do try to relax. 

34 thoughts on “Yup, It’s a Turd

  1. michael lee

    “This is really only one question — why did so many seem to think this version of the Christian faith was believable? — and it is for me the central and only genuinely abiding question that this book provokes.”

    From Scot McKnight, posted here.

    And may I say, you are the funniest person ever when you dislike something. Thank you for saving me $10.50, and providing more entertainment value than the movie itself.

  2. Chad

    And thanks for your compliment. I confess that it’s movies that are so-so that annoy me the most. I love and praise the good ones, and I looooovvvveeeee blasting thecrap ones.  Especially crap ones that take themselves oh-so-seriously.

  3. june

    The tragically sad thing is, there are people (I’m thinking of my crazy old grandparents) who, having been hostile to Christianity for ever and ever and ever, will watch this movie and feel smug. And then, just as sad and mean and miserable as ever, simmering in their own ignorant juices. (How loving grand-daughtery of me.) Maybe they should promote the crappy flick with a tagline such as: “If you’re already dumb and mad and just want to be more so…”

    Don’t mean to be a downer. (Did enjoy the post Chad…yer funny AND smart!) There are just so very many dense people out there who are easy prey. I guess that’s why we’re told to be transformed by the renewing of our minds…so we’ll have even half a clue about anything.

    Sorry…I feel like I should say something silly or vaguely amusing about my kids…

  4. june

    Ok, that sounds really bad…”so many dense people out there.” I’m a jerk. And apparently, a snob.

    At least, thanks to Chad, I’ll be a jerk-snob with an extra $10 in my pocket.

    Sorry again. I’ll limit my posts to the toddler-inspired drivel I usually compose.

  5. aly hawkins

    Yeah, I wasn’t the first person to ask “Why?” I’ll try to credit non-original ideas in the future. Plagiarism is a bad way to start a writing career.

    Great review, Chad. I agree that you’re funniest when you passionately hate something. (Which is great, because I just get earnest and inarticulate when something chaps my hide. I envy you your ability to comically Explain why a thing is crap.)

    I have to confess I read the book in one night. I hated myself, but I couldn’t stop. I simultaneously wanted to keep reading and track Dan Brown down and slap him with my glove for making the end of EVERY CHAPTER a cliffhanger. That’s just mean.

    Something I’ve never really understood is making a movie out of a book that 60 million people have read, especially if said book has a big twist or reveal, and especially if the entire plot is based around the big twist or reveal. Um…I already know how it’s going to end, but go ahead and try to entertain or provoke me. Go ahead…I dare you.

    Wow, this comment is really rambly. Poop.

  6. Chad

    Oh… there’s no doubt the book is a page turner. I read through it over the course of one weekend… while I was leading our evangelistic youth choir on mini tour. Quite a juxtaposition.

    And… if you haven’t looked into the things he’s talking about, they read terribly plausibly. In fact, when Tim, the interim pastor started debunking some of it, I thought to myself… “Surely the answer isn’t that simple. It reads sooo plausibly!”

    Tim was saying… “He’s a liar!”

    I found myself thinking, “Whoa… is he a liar or is he working with alternate historical records or… something else?”

    I hate to admit it, but I think Tim was right. I think he made it all up and put the preface on it as an act of irony. I really think that’s the reality. I doubt he ever thought he was writing what was to be the most read and scrutinized novel in history. I think that’s the reason he’s become a bit of a recluse, and trying to get straight answers out of him has proven difficult.

    I almost wish he’d just come out and say… “It’s all crap! And so is the Bible! Suckers!!!”

  7. Chad

    Oh, and Aly, thanks for your compliment, as well. I guess I just don’t want to be one of those people who hates everything and then can’t explain why.

  8. corey

    Interesting read, Chad. Thanks much.

    (Unrelated: I met with darren king today- says he knew/knows you. He had very nice things to say about you.)

  9. Jeremy

    I didn’t think the movie was total crap, just partial crap. Like food that is half way between vomit and crap…which I guess is even worse than crap because it’s probably really hard to clean up. I digress….

    Anyway, I had a rather interesting experience with the movie. I saw it with a group of people like you described…They find the gospel offensive, but in reality they find Christians offensive and I don’t think have never really been presented with the actual teachings and life of Jesus. I tend to hang out with people like this. I consider it my ministry. I love the look on their face as we’re enjoying a martini (a real martini…no fruit here!) and I tell them that I follow the teachings of Jesus. Shock and awe.

    Shock and awe because I think that most people have a very legitimate view of Christians that is less than admiring. A large portion of our society sees us as condemning, ultra-conservative, judgmental, hating people. And the sad thing is that that stereo type exists in a lot of places. So when they find out that I have gay friends, that I enjoy an adult beverage, that I occasionally use foul language, that I slip up, make mistakesand own them, that I try not to be judgmental while at the same time go to church, study the Bible, have a faith and friendship with God and try to live my life by a standard even when people aren’t looking, it just doesn’t jive with what they expect out of a Christian. And to me that is the power of this movie. I got an opportunity to talk to people who might otherwise not be open to big questions and big ideas.

    Basically the discussion revolved around my statement that I have no problem with what Dan Browns story says. (Again, shock) It’s fiction and I think hope people get that. My problem is that his fiction is based on what he calls fact which is in reality fiction. And let’s face it, for a lot of people this is one of the few books that they will ever read and they for sure aren’t going to go investigate Brown’s accuracy on the First Council of Nicea. (thankfully my parents forced me to attend a Christian private school so somehow I actually remembered some of that stuff.)

    My friends couldn’t really understand why I would have a problem with this until I had an epiphany. I told them I have the same problem with people reading this book and not questioning a thing in it as I do with people reading the Bible and not questioning a thing in it. It was like a shaved monkey came in the room and started quoting Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. No one could believe what they just heard. I told them that I’m human and I struggle with my faith all the time. Some people can accept everything on pure faith and I admire that but that is not me. That some nights I lay in bed and wonder if it all just is made up to keep the idea of goddess worship in check and the people in line. I told them that to me this makes my faith even more powerful. I’m not an idiot, I’ve researched the history of the church, why each book in the Bible is considered inspired and why some were not. The list goes on and on. It was great. I wanted to tell them that I don’t believe in a literal translation of the story of creation and that I really have no problem with the idea of evolution since I believe in a all powerful and all loving God, but I didn’t want their heads to explode.

    So basically, I loved this movie. Not because it was a good movie because it wasn’t, but because I snuck in and actually had a deep conversation with friends and all they were expecting was a popcorn thriller. Planting the seeds and all that. And I guess I loved seeing albino ass…..a lot of albino ass. You cannot pass up on an opportunity to see albino ass. Worth the $10.75 right there.

    p.s. Chad, good write up. I started coming to this blog because I know Mike and he begged me on bended knee to check it out but I stay because you all have great things to say in an intelligent and humorous way.

  10. Paul

    OK, that really was a funny writeup, but also very thought-provoking. Why so many spiritual quests have apparently been fulfilled by a MacGuffin-driven airliner novel is a question worthy of pondering, but not tonight, at least by me. I would for now like to ask whether this site might become the home of more film reviews that are funny, free-wheeling, well-informed and also biblically-informed without the usual constraints imposed on Christian reviewers.

    I know of what I speak, having spent a few years reviewing some very obscure films for a conservative Christian periodical. To their credit, they tried to cover every release, including all of the indies, and because they were based in Atlanta and I was within a few gallons of West L.A., I was often asked to trek into the night to report on such gems as “Boxing Helena,” Vanilla Ice’s stunning debut “Cool As Ice,” or Ken Russell’s masterpiece, “Whore.” (I also discovered a few pleasant surprises that would have passed me by, such as “Hear My Song” – good luck finding that one on DVD.)

    I had to do an exact “cuss count” – how many profanities and obscenities were uttered in the film, which was in many cases a real challenge. (Try making scratch-marks on a note pad in the dark, while balancing your popcorn and not spilling your Pepsi, for every bleep word when they’re coming thick and fast.) If my pager went off or I had to go potty, I’d hand the cuss-count sheet to my wife or one of my kids (they were of age) and then try to decipher their scratch marks after the credits rolled. I also had to describe in non-offensive detail all of the elements of the film that the average conservative Christian viewer in Minnesota might find offensive. Worst of all, I couldn’t say how much I liked a film unless it was squeaky-clean. I reviewed Lawrence Kasdan’s “Grand Canyon,” which dealt with many of the same issues as “Crash” but with much more grace and finesse, but because of its R-rating and a little nipplage I couldn’t give it the big thumbs up.

    But this looks like a site where you can recommend something that doesn’t exactly fit the evangelical party line but has something to say, or perhaps is worthy of being ripped using terminology that you can’t post at the Voice of Prophecy. Just a thought. Needless to say, this site deserves a larger audience.

    Is there any way to get a link for Chad’s review to rottentomatoes.com? Few of the writeups of “DaVinci” posted there are as colorful or incisive.

  11. Swoosh

    the book was at BEST a freshman attempt at cryptology and a grammar school attempt at theology, with kindergarten history thrown in.
    Why would the movie be any different?
    If it fails to hold wait as a “story” then it seems the damn well better be some good special affects or else its a big F….but again, given the kind of junk that the book was, can’t really be surprised at the movie.

  12. aly hawkins

    Paul (Reisser), do you remember that the first time we ever met was when Chad brought me along to see Swimming with Sharks, which you had to review for one of the previously mentioned Christian periodicals? I’ve never squirmed more in a movie…that was the first time I’d ever been to a film with that many f-bombs, in the company of a parental unit. I thought I was going to die of shame.

  13. Paul

    Aly, I must confess that I don’t remember the film being “Swimming With Sharks.” – perhaps it was someone else’s parental unit… In fact I can’t recall seeing that film, but some of my less satisfying reviewing experiences have happily faded from memory. To my recollection, the first time we met was when Chad brought you to the first of the UCLA “Sneak Preview” nights in the fall season of 1994, and the film was “The War” with Kevin Kostner. It wasn’t exactly memorable, and in fact it was a bomb of sorts, but not of the f-type. (Check with Chad – he has the movie-memory gene solidly in place.)

    I do have a vivid memory of you joining us for “Event Horizon” in 1997, and (quite properly) referring to that film as “feculent.” What a great adjective! I have since applied it to a number of distasteful films and situations.

  14. aly hawkins

    Paul – I think you’re right! (This does not surprise me, since the Reisser Family entire has the memory of elephants when it comes to movies.) I think Chad and I went to see Swimming with Sharks when he had to do a review (perhaps for that same magazine?).

    Anyway, you didn’t miss much. And yes, Event Horizon was feculent. It ranks right up there with Mission to Mars and The Postman.

  15. Paul

    Actually “Mission to Mars” wasn’t exactly feculent. It was just hilariously awful, like “Exorcist II.” To be feculent, a film needs a pervasive, off-putting malignant attitude, such as the relentless misanthropy of “A Clockwork Orange” or the bald prejudice of “At Play in the Fields of the Lord,” which had bonus attributes of pretentiousness, bone-headed dialogue and exasperating length.

    I can’t speak for “The Postman,” having never sat through it. I heard it was just long and dull.

  16. Trevor Carpenter

    Wow. Reading a genuine dissection of a movie or topic, by Chad, can be hard on my brain.

    I feel like using short, two syllable words, just for therapy.

    Chad, great review. This is one of the most honest reponses to a film I’ve been exposed to in a long time.

    I interviewed the pastor from Calvary Chapel Oxnard on a recent episode of my podcast and we discussed some of the same topics.

    Great job!

    Oh, and, poop.

  17. june

    OK, just when I had vowed to stop referring to my children in each and every single comment I make on this blog, I find that Paul Reisser is here! (Sorry if you’ve been here for awhile…as previously mentioned, I come out of my cave only occasionally and am always amazed at the big, wide world.) Approximately five inches from my laptop, at this very moment, sits my highly valued copy of the “Complete Book of Baby and Child Care” which has Dr. Dobson’s name on the cover (“foreward by…”) but the primary author is Mr. Reisser. Paul, you rock my world!

    And now, having said that, here, in the midst of a discussion that’s in no way related, I can never meet you and I may well never post again. Clearly, I’m blogially inept. Feel free to shake your heads, roll your eyes, and get back to what you were talking about as I walk away…

    (I hope you’ll use “nipplage” and/or “feculent” in your next book.)

  18. Paul

    Small world! I am indeed happy that the book has been useful. Believe it or not, the 10th anniversary second edition is coming out at the end of next year, so I’m madly working on revisions/updates/new material. The above-noted words will not be included, however, even in connection with nursing or diaper-changing.

  19. Sharolyn

    I saw the movie tonight.
    My favorite line, rarely uttered in a chase: “We’ve got to get to a library. Fast.”

  20. sharolyn

    Chad, I looked up this post because of the promotions for “Angels and Demons”. I was too tired to have a reaction to them, and wasn’t sure as a Christian how I’m supposed to feel about this new movie. Thanks for keeping it real.

  21. Chad

    Haven’t seen it yet… may wait until Blu-Ray. Erica still hasn’t seen Star Trek, and a second look at that seems like a better use of my $12, which is never a good sign for an opening film. :(

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