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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 May 2006, 23:40 GMT 00:40 UK
Film set to fan Da Vinci furore
By Neil Smith
BBC News entertainment reporter

The eagerly awaited film of The Da Vinci Code is the most controversial Hollywood movie since Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.

Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou in The Da Vinci Code
Tom Hanks co-stars in the film with French actress Audrey Tautou
But what can Ron Howard's adaptation add to the furore that has surrounded Dan Brown's best-selling novel since it first arrived in bookstores in 2003?

For a book revolving around a labyrinthine mystery, it is remarkable how many of its "surprise" elements have become common knowledge.

Indeed, even those who have not read the novel probably know more than they care to about its contents.

For the record, they involve a centuries-old cover-up to conceal the true nature of the Holy Grail, the clues to which are hidden in the works of Leonardo Da Vinci.

It is these that lead Harvard professor Robert Langdon on a cryptic quest that takes him from the Louvre in Paris and Westminster Abbey in London to Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland.

It is there the film reveals the secret behind the Code - a revelation that will already be known to many of this website's readers.

Media interest

Of course, knowing how the story ends did not stop audiences seeing Gibson's 2004 recreation of Christ's crucifixion in their droves.

And Howard can count on a massive audience keen to find out how much of Brown's text has made it to the screen.

Sir Ian McKellen in The Da Vinci Code
Sir Ian McKellen plays Sir Leigh Teabing, a British historian
Their numbers will be swelled by those whose curiosity has been piqued by the huge media interest in the film and the hostility it has provoked in some sectors of the Christian community.

It does not hurt, either, to have a two-time Oscar-winner like Tom Hanks in the lead role.

Sony Pictures has skilfully whetted appetites by keeping a tight lid on their $125m (67m) blockbuster - the only one of this summer's major releases that is not a sequel, a cartoon or based on existing characters.

Even the press have been excluded, with only 30 minutes of footage being shown to critics in advance of this week's world premiere at Cannes.

Whether the end result will justify the acres of newsprint and hours of coverage that have already been lavished upon it is open to question.

But there is no doubt the combination of Hollywood talent and a contentious and divisive subject is the new recipe for box office success.

Talking point

Last year saw a series of big-budget spectaculars find little favour with audiences, while the relatively poor performance of Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible III earlier this month suggests that trend may continue.

It appears cinema audiences are tiring of the special effects, explosive stunts and tent-pole franchises that have sustained the major studios for so long.

Jim Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ
The Passion of the Christ was one of 2004's most controversial films
With many choosing to wait for the increasingly speedy DVD release, apathy - even more than piracy - has left a major hole in Hollywood's pocket.

It is hard to be apathetic about The Da Vinci Code, however, a film about which most people already have an opinion.

There are those who will decry the film as an affront to Christian belief, a tissue of lies and fabrications and a lurid exercise in cynical exploitation.

The more they fulminate, though, the more they play into Sony's hands, unwittingly promoting the very movie they would have banished from our screens.

Far better, perhaps, to use the film as a springboard for constructive debate on the nature of religion and the way the Christ story still resonates after two millennia.

It is, after all, just a movie that - like Life of Brian, The Last Temptation of Christ and Gibson's Passion before it - is only as significant as we choose to make it.

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