Warning: This post contains spoilers for The Da Vinci Code.
I read about fifty pages of The Da Vinci Code before hurling it across the room. I sat through the stupid movie – the whole thing – and hated every miserable moment. It now faces some stiff competition from Twilight, but before this year I would have been hard-pressed to come up with a less interesting pop culture phenomenon. At least for a non-Christian like me, who has no reason to be stunned by the notion of Jesus Christ having procreated, The Da Vinci Code simply had nothing to offer.
I don't consider myself a masochist, but I don't mind being a guinea pig. So I thought doing Angels & Demons in this column would be fun, in a way.
It would have been great to be able to say that Angels & Demons was some sort of revelation (no pun intended); it certainly would have made this post easier to write. Alas, it ranks among the dumbest things I've ever read: an adventure book for fourth-graders, seemingly written by a sixth-grader. In an effort to make itself "accessible" to absolutely everyone, it makes its characters into nitwits – which is problematic since its characters are Harvard professors and world-class particle physicists. Dr. Robert Langdon, played by Tom Hanks in both films, has never heard of a particle accelerator – or maybe he has, and is just astounded to learn that it's an enormous underground structure. Antimatter is a new concept as well. At one point, the novel helpfully explains who Galileo was. You get the idea. Brown's writing makes Michael Crichton seem like Stephen King and Stephen King like David Foster Wallace. It's beyond graceless. Some variation on the "little did he know" thriller cliché appears every few pages. Information is withheld in the most artificial ways imaginable. The two protagonists, Dr. Langdon (the Harvard symbologist) and Vittoria Vetra (the beautiful particle physicist) feel all manner of burning in their loins until they finally lock in "an impulsive, longing kiss filled with thankfulness."
The plotting is admittedly more dynamic than The Da Vinci Code's, putting at stake the lives of several cardinals and possibly the whole of the Vatican. But the puzzles Brown cooks up for his protagonist are impossible to solve the way Langdon solves them (think National Treasure-style free association), and aren't very interesting anyway; is it the tenuous historical connections that people find so compelling? Brown ultimately concludes that Christianity and science are compatible (though he does so by stripping Christianity of all specificity, in the "God is in all things" sense), but is still oddly technophobic – a group of prominent physicists is portrayed as gleeful over the potential destruction of Vatican City. There's a fascination with ambigrams that's downright weird. And the Talking Killer scenario plays itself out again and again.
The awfulness of the Da Vinci Code film now makes perfect sense. Dan Brown adapted by Akiva "You're the Champion of My Heart" Goldsman – a.k.a. the Devil, a.k.a. the worst working mainstream screenwriter – is like a perfect storm of banality. Goldsman wouldn't be caught dead having an interesting turn of phrase or line of dialogue in one of his screenplays, and so The Da Vinci Code became even more bland and austere than Dan Brown's prose. I gather Brown is still to blame for the clunky exposition and inert plotting.
Angels & Demons, set to be released on May 15, 2009 and again directed by Ron Howard, may be somewhat less dire. First of all, Akiva Goldsman's screenplay reportedly got a once-over by David Koepp, who is Goldman's opposite: an expert mainstream screenwriter with a flair for lively dialogue and pacing. His work is many things, but it is never clunky. Second, and more importantly, things happen in Angels & Demons. They may be dumb and boring things, but that's still a step up from The Da Vinci Code, where nothing happened at all.
I love my zeitgeist-capturing pop phenomena as much as the next guy. Well, okay, maybe a little less, but I'm an avid Harry Potter fan and I've seen all of 24. I really think the masses whiffed it on this one. The justification I often hear for Dan Brown's horrid writing is that the books are intense, plot-driven page-turners, but I found Angels & Demons boring and hard to slog through. Under no circumstances will I ever read another Dan Brown novel again. I guess I've committed myself to Angels & Demons the film.