23 May, 2006

The Da Vinci Code - Movie versus Book

According to Mark Kermode, a turgid and boring book has been made into a turgid and boring film. Harsh but fair. However props need to be given to the screenwriter of the film, Akiva Goldsman, for doing so well given the source material.

Goldsman is best known for his majestic Oscar-winning A Beautiful Mind screenplay – although as with the Da Vinci Code , there was controversy regarding the truth and what really happened.

Many new writers approach writing screenplays as they would writing novels but this adaptation highlights the differences. Firstly the Aristotelian dramatic principles have been brought into effect. By minimising locations, losing unnecessary characters, deleting repetitive plotting, and contracting time, Goldsman makes Dan Brown’s story easier to digest. What Goldsman can’t change too much are the ingredients of the novel’s plot but he can try and make them more palatable.

For example, a bad guy is captured and transported hundreds of miles from ‘A’ to ‘B’ for no reason whatsoever in the book - except to help the plot later. In the movie Goldsman gives a reason, ‘we might need him’. No, you bloody well won’t! For what? Eh? For what possible reason on earth could he possibly be needed for? Just dump him in the woods for god’s sake! Problem solved! But at least Goldsman tried.

It’s the improved characterisation and motivations of the characters where Goldsman really shines. Dan Brown wouldn’t know a character arc from Noah’s Ark but Goldman’s throughlines are clear and satisfying.

The success of the book is that it is a page-turner despite the plot being quite convoluted and contrived. Although I was happy to suspend disbelief while reading, it just got too annoying by the end and the film magnifies the flaws. Too much of it consists of plot coming before character when plot should arise out of character.

While the thriller aspects were ultimately disappointing, like most readers, I was quite happy to suspend disbelief due to the sheer audacity and originality of Brown’s story. I prefer stories to be about something, whether it's the saving of the world or the saving of a relationship.

Brown’s ‘something’ is so big that countries are calling for a ban; churches and mosques are calling for a boycott. Its Christian Feminist perspective is something that challenges the religious patriarchy and points out that the misogyny they enforce isn’t god-given but man-made.

I really loved the ending of the film. Not in a “thank god, it’s over” kind of way but the ending in the book has the resurrection of people previously thought dead. That was just fake feel-good foolishness. How cheated would you feel if Harry Potter’s parents were really alive after all and had no reason whatsoever for pretending to be dead?

Goldman keeps the essence of that storyline but ignores the dumb details and makes it more poignant and true to the characters. You just know Brown was kicking himself thinking: “Of course that’s much better. What was I thinking? What an idiot I am. An extremely popular and rich idiot but an idiot nonetheless. I wish I was a proper writer like Goldsman rather than just a novelist. Screenwriters rule, I merely drool.”

Akiva Goldsman interviews:

Toronto Star

LA Times


Dom Carver said...

The only book I've read before I've seen the movie has been Patriot Games. I loved the book and I loved the movie even though about 50-60% of the book was cut.

Robin Kelly said...

Yes, you end up with just the main plot points and lose the depth and details. But I think as long as there is some depth and the action is character-driven then they can still work.

Although I should say that character-driven adaptations of novels which are all depth and no story are incredibly dull and annoying. The most recent I saw was Thumbsucker. Avoid.