PictureThe Da Vinci Code springs onto Blu-ray with a 1080p image encoded using the AVC codec and framed in a theatrically correct aspect ratio of 2.40:1.
The quality of the narrative itself is open to debate and I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news but so is that of the picture. From the outset it is clear that this is a film that relies heavily on elements in the darkness. Half light and shadows abound and a high definition treatment of the source material should ideally make these features come to life. Unfortunately the resulting image is one that falls closer to the murky and drab, with shadow detail not being anything to write home about and much of the various locations feeling somewhat obscured. The scenes in the Louvre clearly haven't been helped by the necessity to use reflected light sources as they are some of the dingiest on screen.
Many complained of the softness of the previous DVD iteration of the film and this disc suffers the same fate in a roundabout way. The image is not consistently soft, rather it flits between states, the problem being that even when at its crispest it isn't quite as good as one would truly hope. Much of the footage that lacks distinction and delineation appears to be from a second unit camera, something Howard mentioned making use of for various moments to aid fluidity.
The general feeling one gets from this presentation is that of being distinctly under-whelmed. At times the picture positively springs to life, particularly when an exterior shot lit by sunshine such as those in England arises, but these instances are all too easily marred by the return to darkened interiors that lack the kind of detail one would hope to see when utilising such magnificent locations. Skin tones are a touch muted with a hint of yellow pushing in but alongside the excessive grain used for the flashbacks, these artistic intentions are very positive and well within the style of the story, giving a noir-esque feel to proceedings. The occasions when you may be glad of watching the Blu-ray rather than the DVD are surely those when the CGI elements are let out of the box. The vivid colours that accompany Langdon's imaginings and the Newton funeral scene try their hardest to rescue this image from mediocrity.
Ultimately though this falls down in many of the same places as previous disc versions, with a slightly murky visage and sporadic softness that if anything can appear heightened by the higher definition on offer to it. The argument can be made that the cinematography of the film was intended this way and as such this is a faithful reproduction of the original print. Whichever way, this is far from the best or the worst that you'll find and there are redeeming qualities to it, just be prepared for a sometimes less than pin sharp viewing experience.
SoundThe audio side of the presentation is far better though. Hans Zimmer's orchestration can be said to be a touch under-whelming but I feel this is a slightly unfair criticism as it stands as more a background score than one that gets the blood pumping. It is ever pervasive and insidiously creeps beneath the surface of the film, creating tension without ever appearing too bold and pushing out into the open. As such, it is faithfully reproduced here to a tee. The subtlety and high frequencies are ably handled by the Dolby TrueHD track whilst the bass, though never thunderous, can be felt to roll along in perfect cohesion with the rest of the mix.
As with any such wordy film that places so much emphasis on dialogue to move the plot forward, the primary concern is that of whether voices are distinct and clear enough. With the myriad of foreign actors and Englishmen donning far flung accents, the danger of such tones lacking clarity was always likely to be high. Thankfully even the thickest of accents such as Reno's gravelly voice, is clear and crisp and never hinders the viewer's comprehension of the convoluted plot. There isn't much in the way of utilisation of the rears but when they occasionally come to life the result is generally well produced and gives the required effect. The ensuing front speaker dominated sound stage could have been too flat but luckily the gentle swirls of Zimmer's score seem to broaden the field and I found it the perfect balance for such a film.
Two featurettes are downloadable via the BDLive site. The first of which is snappily titled “Go behind the scenes of Angels and Demons and learn about the illuminate” (2:43), which in truth amounts to little more than a standard preview of the film. The second again is labelled in a catchy way, “Exclusive highlights from the red carpet at the Angels and Demons premiere in Rome” (2:58). This is simply a montage of stars staring at cameras and the occasional soundbite. You get the option with the first featurette of the quality of the download, either HD/best quality or SD/fastest, whereas the second of the two is only available in SD. The final of the BDLive features is Cinechat, which offers you the chance to “send on screen instant messages to your friends around the world while watching the movie together!” Perhaps this is useful for teenagers who are denied use of their twitter accounts etc for a few hours but I doubt many others will make use of it.
Unlocking the code interactive picture in picture
Interviews, storyboards, prop talk, B-roll footage, photos, symbols and codes, Langdon's journey and location trivia are all accessed from a bar across the top of the screen which highlights an icon when pertinent information is available. Unfortunately they have not implemented this in such a way that the top bar is matched to the top border of the 2.40:1 image and as such it annoyingly actually cuts off part of the screen. Were it a case of not having enough room, one could understand such a trade off, but in this case there is more than enough space for the highlighted icons, they have simply been laid on a background that is too large and mismatched to the black borders. The information contained within is quite good but if anything there is too much and unnecessary filler has been added for the sake of it. Such gems as “admission to the Louvre is free on the first Sunday of every month” could surely have been omitted as being non pertinent?
Selected scenes commentary with director Ron Howard (38:25)
A total of 27 separate scenes are covered by Howard as he gives us his views and insights into everything from the actors involved and the narrative pacing to the locations used and the history behind them. He skims a little on the historical side as most of his knowledge seems to come from Brown or something someone has told him but at least he fills the time well. Though less than a full commentary of the film itself, this stands as a handy bite sized version of the director's thoughts on a range of subjects.
First look at Angels and Demons
This comprises an approximately one minute intro by Howard saying a few words, followed by a sequence from the film played out in full (7:26). Pleasingly it is in 1080p and the fact that it isn't simply pieces edited together gives us a far better idea of what the finished product will be like.
First day on the set with Ron Howard - 2:13
Essentially a small montage of different shots of the start of production in the Louvre and a few talking heads espousing the merits of the book.
A discussion with Dan Brown - 4:52
The author of the book tells us a little about his passion for writing and hidden histories as well as the price of success. As I'm less than interested in his writings I'm afraid I was more drawn by the fact he never appears to blink but I'm sure fans will relish the chance to hear him speak on the given subjects he covers.
A portrait of Langdon - 7:18
Brown tells us a little about the type of character he wrote Langdon to be and what inspired this creation. Hanks, Howard et al wax lyrical about the character with Howard putting particular emphasis on what an extraordinary human being he believes Hanks to be. It elaborates to a good degree on a characterisation that was arguably functional in the film itself rather than well rounded, but the feature veers off into Howard's admiration for Hanks a little too much for my liking.
Who is Sophie Neveu - 6:58
Along the same lines as the A portrait of Langdon featurette but with the focus instead being the female lead. We don't learn much about her other than Howard's assertion that she was a strong character.
Unusual suspects - 17:58
An array of talking heads fill us in on the peripheral characters who populate the story. There seems to have been a fairly unified approach to the type of actors needed and the necessity for an international cast. It is nice to hear from other people than simply Howard, Hanks and Brown, with the actors, writer, casting director and producer Brian Glazer (who you'd be forgiven for mistaking for an Iggy Pop impersonator who's put a fork in his toaster) all enthusing over the all star cast and the intrigue these extra players add to the mix.
Magical places - 15:58
Howard seems genuinely excited about the sheer amount of brilliant locations they have managed to squeeze into the film and rightly so. One of the more in-depth featurettes as this delves into the logistics of shooting in England, Scotland, France and Malta. Director of photography Salvatore Totino pops up to clue us in on the problematic nature of lighting in such vast spaces and how refracted light was necessary in the Louvre. From crowd participation to a quarry in Leyton Buzzard doubling for ancient Jerusalem, this made for fascinating viewing.
Close-up on Mona Lisa - 6:37
Essentially a collection of the Americans involved enthusing greatly about the impact the painting had upon them, with each experience seemingly seeking to top the last until Glazer admits to buckled knees and almost crying. Thankfully Sir Ian McKellen saves this from descending into cringe-worthy territory with the marvellously droll and matter-of-fact statement “I've never quite seen what the fuss about the Mona Lisa was”.
The film maker's journey part 1 - 24:40
This takes us through the early part of the filming process, from location scouting to the prosthetic body used in the Louvre and Langdon's reaction to it, given the filming of Brown's books is out of order. It also touches upon scriptwriter Akiva Goldsman's need to compress the story, Brown's pleasure at the faithful nature of the adaptation as well as various aspects of casting and appearance.
The film maker's journey part 2 - 12:20
Slightly shorter than part 1 and somewhat less interesting, it tends to place the emphasis on the enthusiasm generated by those involved and comes across as a bit of a love-in as opposed to informing us of any great untold information that may shed new light on a given subject.
The codes of The Da Vinci Code- 5:33
A short feature that looks at the little codes and in-jokes put into the film for the eagle eyed viewer to decipher. Some are quite clever such as the use of a particular Caravaggio to highlight Langdon's fear of enclosed spaces. Others meanwhile fall into the category of nonsense and alarmingly seem to be depicted as facts, such as Botticelli and Victor Hugo being members of the priory of sion, carefully omitting to mention the society was a hoax. I love a good yarn, but when it is presented as factual I'm afraid I find it a little distasteful and had hopefully assumed those involved with the film accepted it was fictional.
The music of The Da Vinci Code - 2:54
In a little under three minutes Howard and composer Hans Zimmer give us a small idea about what the music reflects and what was needed.
Book to screen - 11:06
The story of how the book came to make the transition to the silver screen. It looks at the nature of the two different media, Brown's involvement, the selling of the rights to the adaptation, the process of hiring, casting and, perhaps most telling, the writing relationship between Goldsman and Brown.
The Da Vinci props - 9:43
A truly fascinating piece about the myriad of different props used throughout the film and just how they were initially created. We learn of the expertise of the departments involved and just how far they went to ensure accuracy whilst balancing it against cinematic impact.
The Da Vinci sets - 9:10
Over 140 different settings were used, between sets that were constructed and filming done on location. Production designer Allan Cameron and the reported several hundred in the various departments associated with the task of creating and decorating the locales have done a sterling job as they are one of the best aspects of the film. This featurette gives us a great glimpse behind how the various sets were built and just how much green screen was used in conjunction with the physical world constructed.
Recreating works of art - 6:03
Allan Cameron alongside head scenic artist James Gemmill explain to us the necessity behind having to make various copies of some of the world's most impressive works of art and the process of how this was achieved.
The visual effects world of The Da Vinci Code - 15:03
Visual effects producer Barrie Hemsley and others explain to us the methods used to recreate ancient Rome and Jerusalem, the feel of the flashback footage and the ghostly figures of Newton's funeral. Very interesting and it is just another example of the expertise that lies behind the visuals on display.
Scoring The Da Vinci Code - 9:44
Hans Zimmer tells of how he came to work on this project as well as the challenges that faced him when trying to create a work of subtlety and strength. A little dry but it is always a pleasure to see an orchestra at work and hear of the enthusiasm that a skilled composer has for his work. There are a few minor titbits of information in there that might still be of interest to those less enamoured with the process of marrying a film with music but generally this is one for the score fanatics.
Comprising three trailers for Blu-rays, Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind: 30th Anniversary Ultimate Edition (1:34), Damages Season 1 (1:35) and Seven Pounds (2:16), all presented in 1080p.
Overall a fine set of extras that I can't imagine leaves much on the cutting room floor. That the film is already the extended edition leads me to think that this is about as much as we are ever likely to get. Just about every topic of conversation for a fan of the film is covered and more besides. Though I may quibble with the way some of the “facts” are presented, the wealth of features on offer is bounteous and among some of the best I've seen on any format.
VerdictThe end package of this Blu-ray is one that relies quite heavily on personal opinion. Taking into account the low score I've given to the film itself and the lacklustre visuals, you may be forgiven for automatically writing this disc off. The problem is that the film's score is entirely that of my own take on things and as the massive profits and rabid fan-base for this movie and Brown's works will attest to, there are those for whom this view is likely to be held as inaccurate. Once you factor in the problems with the softness of the DVD and the arguments over cinematographic styles utilised in the making of the production, the visual score may also be seen as somewhat open to interpretation. Ultimately, in many ways, this disc highlights the perils of scoring on a scale of any kind rather than simply informing via textual reviews.
What cannot be debated is that the audio perfectly recreates Zimmer's subtle and often wistful score. The sonics may not punch the viewer with any real heft during the few occasions of genuine action but the cohesion of the front speakers and gentle roll of LFE all combine as they should to create an atmospheric experience that is intended to push towards the cerebral and unknown danger rather than the thrill a minute style of the average chase movie. The extras also mirror this strive for excellence by giving the consumer just about all they could wish for and some more besides. A dedicated director's/cast track would have been nice but Howard covers most topics in his scene selection commentary. The only omission is perhaps the now oft included feature of storyboards and concept artwork as it would have been interesting to see what Brown's initial visions for some of the settings, prior to viewings and the work of the cinematographer, were like.
For fans of the film, who are already familiar with the softness and lack of dimensionality that affects the image, this will definitely be seen as one to consider double dipping for. For the rest who are used to buying discs on the recommendation of sure fire filmic treats to show off your system with, this is perhaps one better to investigate first, though the cheap list price, lossless sounds and wealth of extras may be all the enticement needed.
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