THE DA VINCI CODE -- Sony Pictures Home Entertainment -- $29.96
Ron Howard's too-faithful film version of The Da Vinci Code serves as an engrossing travelogue and an intriguing exercise in faux history and even faux-er theology. That it never proves as cunningly compelling as Dan Brown's giddy pleasure of a book is less the fault of the story than of Howard's unwillingness to take the necessary liberties to make it more cinematic.
Tom Hanks, partnered with Howard for a third time (after Splash and Apollo 13), is Harvard symbologist-turned-reluctant hero Robert Langdon. When a colleague is murdered under suspicious circumstances in the Louvre (the scenes shot inside Paris' legendary art museum are the film's finest and most haunting), he becomes the prime suspect. Of course he didn't do it; we know that from the beginning. But Langdon's quest to discover who did - and, more important perhaps, why? - takes him (and us) through the French countryside, to ancient British churches and all sorts of mysterious, picturesque places.
It also initiates a theological journey that will eventually call into question everything the Roman Catholic Church has held dear for some 20 centuries.
With Hanks, who never seems entirely comfortable in the role, the movie also stars Audrey Tautou (Amelie) as a cryptologist who comes to Langdon's aid, Jean Reno as the police captain unshakingly convinced of his guilt and a scene-stealing Ian McKellen as an eccentric Brit who may hold the key to all sorts of riddles.
The Da Vinci Code, both book and movie, generated considerable controversy, especially among conservative Catholics who accused it of everything short of blasphemy. The only danger lies in taking the film too literally; it is, after all, a work of fiction, not a documentary. Certainly, the film as presented is meant to be more thoughtful than inflammatory. Perhaps too much so; a filmmaker more willing to go out on a limb might have made a more memorable, distinctive movie. As it is, newcomers to the film - and since it pulled in more than $217.5 million at the U.S. box office, there probably aren't many of you - may wonder what the doctrinaire fuss was all about.
Extras include some 90 minutes of cast and crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. In one segment, the ever-engaging Howard says one reason he took on the project was so he could film in the Louvre, at night with no one else around, and enjoy being surrounded by all those art masterpieces. The DVD packaging itself is said to include hidden messages only visible with a black light or magnifying glass. There are also hidden signs and messages scattered throughout the film, and finding them could win you a trip to Europe (details at unlockthe codes.com).
WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR? --Sony Pictures Home Entertainment -- 26.95
General Motors' EV1 seemed like such a great idea, a car that ran on electricity, thus cutting back drastically on air pollution, and had so few operating parts that routine maintenance was about all the servicing it would ever need. It also had the advantage of answering California's demand for cleaner cars. So why were all the cars eventually destroyed by GM, even though their owners thought the world of them? Chris Paine's thoughtful, if inevitably one-sided, documentary offers answers - many of them suggesting rampant greed and shady dealings between big business and big government - that should leave most people shaking their heads.