From the moment Dan Brown, writer of The Da Vinci Code, announced that he had sold the film rights to his novel to producer Brian Grazer and eventual director Ron Howard, its fate was sealed. This would be the most talked about film of 2006, a controversial release which would divide the audience between those who accepted the film for what it was – a fictional movie, those who watched it and believed the ridiculous claims it was making (which is really the concern behind the protest of the Catholic church), and those who would be avoiding the film at all costs.

For me, the decision to watch The Da Vinci Code was an easy one – having read about 60% of the way into the book before stopping since the movie was coming out, I was already familiar with the claims Brown was making and able to enjoy the film as -– simply — a film. However, for a lot of Christian or Catholic people, the choice wasn’t so simple, as the novel, the film, and their claims, were viewed as blasphemous and offensive to the church, and to God Himself. While I was able to enjoy the movie on an entertainment level, the claims are ridiculous and need to be cleared up – but that will be for the next instalment of “What Flea Thinks”.

The Da Vinci Code starts off with the murder of Jacques Sauniere, curator of the Louvre and holder of a secret of massive proportions, and his subsequent (and remarkably elaborate) attempt to advise Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) of the secret he is keeping so it will not be lost forever. When Langdon’s name is found on the floor of the Louvre, where Sauniere has written it, Detective Fache (Jean Reno) instantly assumes he is the killer and attempts to get Langdon to confess. However, a plucky young cryptologist from the French Police named Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) catches on to what is happening, she helps Langdon escape and the chase begins.

Of course, the story is a lot more complicated than that – Neveu and Langdon are being chased by the Police, but also being chased by a self-mortifying albino Opus Dei monk named Silas (played brilliantly by Paul Bettany), as well as chasing the secret of the Holy Grail (or Sangreal). I would go into more detail but I really don’t want to ruin the story for you (for details of the more serious claims, check out the next instalment of “What Flea Thinks”).

The Da Vinci Code is really another quality film from Ron Howard (director of A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13, among many others) and it is easy to see that his class has been stamped all over this one. However, he has made 2 mistakes in translating this novel to the big screen.

Firstly, he has made an absolute dogs dinner of the first 30 minutes. For those who have read the book, the first third of the book starts at Sauniere’s murder and ends up with Langdon and Neveu escaping from the Dutch bank. However, for reasons I can only speculate on, Ron Howard decided to try and fit all these events into the first half hour of the movie, thus rushing them too much and glossing over a lot of the details shared in the book (for example, Det Fache is obviously after Langdon for the murder, but this isn’t really communicated very well).

After the first 30 minutes passes, the movie settles in, and The Da Vinci Code becomes a riveting treasure hunt movie which could probably best be compared to 2004 hit “National Treasure” (except without the humour and blatant Nicolas Cage action sequences – as per his contract). Theres murder, intrigue, car chases, ancient religious history and it comes together beautifully.

The second problem is the score. For me, the movie is as reliant on the music in it as it is on anything else and unfortunately, the score for The Da Vinci Code is weak, if not totally inappropriate at times. At least 3 times during the movie I thought about how much the music stood out as an ear-sore, rather than as an accompaniment for the more dramatic scenes in the film.

Despite this, the film had several really good points as well. The Da Vinci Code boasts an exceptionally strong cast: Sir Ian McKellen stands out as Grail expert Sir Leigh Teabing, stealing practically every scene he is in, Paul Bettany is brilliant (if not totally unrecognizable) as the Spanish albino monk/murderer Silas and Jean Reno is great too. Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou do pretty well in the lead roles but don’t really stand out (Hanks, in particular, seems to have pieced his performance together using outtakes from Castaway, Philadelphia, Apollo 13 and That Thing You Do). However, in saying that, I have to disagree with other reviewers who claim the two don’t work well together – I personally didn’t feel that there was an obvious lack of chemistry, and they work as well together as any pairing in recent memory.

Overall, simply as a movie, The Da Vinci Code is entertaining, keeping the viewer intrigued for the entire 2+ hours of the film with hardly a dull moment between. While not for everybody, it does place a lot of focus on historical aspects of the story line, and that can seem a little “teachy” at times, but this doesn’t harm the film in any way. I give it 6.5 out of 10 – it kept me interested for the entirety, but it wasn’t exactly a groundbreaking film by any stretch of the imagination, and while it did have its high points (Sir Ian McKellen, good overall casting, good story pace), the first 30 minutes troubled me for the duration.