Year Released: 2006
Directed by: Ron Howard
Starring: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian Mckellen, Paul Bettany, Jean Reno
(PG-13, 148 min.)
"If a man have a strong faith he can indulge in the luxury of skepticism." Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
For all the controversy, The Da Vinci Code goes out not with a bang but with a whimper -- like a celluloid version of Dungeons and Dragons, so adolescent that even the stars can’t really take their roles seriously.
Or maybe that’s the problem. They do take the screwy plot seriously, as does Ron Howard, who seems to project his perpetual bad hair days onto a lethargic Tom Hanks. What we really long for is the tongue-and-cheek touch of a young Harrison Ford, who swept us away in the vastly superior Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Now there was a professor for you. Hanks’ version of one seems confined to a receding hairline, a furrowed brow and ridiculous lines, such as “I’ve got to get to a library – fast.” Old Indiana knew when to abandon the books and bring out the bullwhip, at least.
In the interests of full disclosure, I must confess (no religious pun intended) that I belong to that lonely crowd who have not read the runaway bestseller. I tried on a number of occasions, but couldn’t get past the first few chapters. Maybe that’s because I was turned off by Brown’s stumbling prose, and as an avid mystery reader and writer, I found his didn’t measure up.
And yes, perhaps it was the allergy medicine, but I literally had to fight to stay awake during the middle of the film, and it was a matinee, not the midnight showing!
Not to stretch the Raiders allusion too much, but do you remember that great scene where Indiana is confronted with a sword wielding opponent who presents a dazzling display of showmanship with the twirling blades, I guess, to intimidate our hero. Only he doesn’t get a chance to move on to more lethal maneuvers, since Ford simply takes out his pistol, pins a condescending look at the guy, and shoots him dead.
Well that’s how I see the whole circuitous plot of The Da Vinci Code, a lot of spurious clues, symbols, and sword wielding that doesn’t really amount to much. Self-flagellating albino monks aside, we have the full dog and pony show, but for what?
The MacGuffin that gets it all started is so contrived as to be almost laughable when you think about it. The Louvre's ancient curator, Jacques Sauniere, is mortally wounded by an obsessed albino monk, but he isn’t content to leave a cryptic note behind, one that old Sherlock would have had enough fun with to fill a single issue of the Strand . No this guy wants to go out in style and generate a whole pulpy novel, so he strips himself naked, arranges himself in a parody of Da Vinci’s sketch of man enclosed in a circle, and writes some cryptic lines in his own blood.
Holmes would have trouble deducing here, since at its core, the logic is exceptionally faulty. Brown’s technique, apparently, is to take us to as many locations as possible – Paris, London, Scotland, and then back to Paris again –and fry our brains untangling the clues, so that we don’t really notice that the unraveling plot is just that – unraveled.
Why, for instance, do two secret and fringe Roman Catholic groups, the Opus Dei, in reality, a “rather conventionally devout” group sadly maligned here, and the Priors of Scion, work so hard to protect and maintain a secret that, if revealed, could destroy 2000 years of faith? As Roger Ebert has suggested, why not dispose of the secret to begin with rather than preserve and then hide it.
And how can it be that, if we are to swallow the X Files secret here, that Jesus was indeed married to Mary Magdalene, who bore his child some 20 centuries ago, that there exists only a single living descendent? For all his fun with scholarly and cryptic messages, Brown doesn’t seem too informed on either mathematics or genetics. And why would Da Vinci want to leave all those clues behind, if indeed, he, as well as sir Isaac Newton, was in on the Big Secret?
In the end, I ask myself, what was all the fuss about? It is neither the full-fledged attack on the Church, as some would have you believe, nor an exceptionally rousing thriller, but rather an anemic puzzle that distracts only an adolescent mind. What that says about the “reading public’ I will leave to you.
Harvard Prof Robert Langdon and his comely French Sleuth, Sophie, Neveu, are so busy chasing clues and staying ahead the entire French police force, it seems, as well as the deranged albino monk, that they don’t have a minute to sample the food in any of the exotic locales that race across the screen.
But they do settle down for some wonderful Earl Grey tea – lemon, no milk – with eccentric Grail chaser sir Leigh Teabag, I mean Teabing, a connoisseur of that distinctly English potion.
Wars have been fought over the beverage – remember our own Boston Tea Party over two centuries ago – yet the proper making of such is something that most Americans have not mastered.
Follow these directions, and the “perfect cuppa” –complete with British attitudes as well as spelling -- won’t be a disappointment, even if the accompanying movie is.
The Perfect Cup of Tea
How to Make a Perfect Cuppa
Many people ask no more than that their tea be "wet and warm", but in the hunt for perfection in a tea cup, a scientist has created a formula for optimal temperature, infusion and imbibation. Oh, and when to put the milk in.
There are 11 rules for perfect tea making, rules from which nobody should dare depart, said George Orwell.
The great critic of Hitler and Stalin, was not above a bit of teatime Totalitarianism himself, it seems. Orwell said that tea - one of the "mainstays of civilization" - is ruined by sweetening and that anyone flouting his diktat on shunning the sugar bowl could not be called "a true tealover".
GEORGE ORWELL'S TEA RULES
- Use tea from India or Ceylon (Sri Lanka), not China
- Use a teapot, preferably ceramic
- Warm the pot over direct heat
- Tea should be strong - six spoons of leaves per 1 litre
- Let the leaves move around the pot - no bags or strainers
- Take the pot to the boiling kettle
- Stir or shake the pot
- Drink out of a tall, mug-shaped tea cup
- Don't add creamy milk
- Add milk to the tea, not vice versa
- No sugar!
Aside from sweet-toothed tea drinkers, the author also displayed a distaste for scientists. So to mark the 100th anniversary of Orwell's birth, the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has decided to look at his 11-point formula - and rubbish a good many of his supposedly "golden" rules.
Dr Andrew Stapley, a chemical engineer at Loughborough University, has brought the weight of his scientific knowledge (and shameless personal preferences) to bear on the question of the perfect cuppa, and found that Orwell was wrong on a number of points.
Orwell's six-spoons of tea per pot - mightily extravagant when the author set down this rule during post-war rationing - is still far too strong today. The RSC endorses no more than a single spoon of leaves.
As for adding milk to the tea after it is poured, the RSC issues a stern scientific warning against the practice. It seems that dribbling a stream of milk into hot water makes "denaturation of milk proteins" more likely. And who would want that?
Don't spoil the milk.
"At high temperatures, milk proteins - which are normally all curled up foetus-like - begin to unfold and link together in clumps. This is what happens in UHT [ultra heat-treated] milk, and is why it doesn't taste as good a fresh milk," says Dr Stapley.
It is better to have the chilled milk massed at the bottom of the cup, awaiting the stream of hot tea. This allows the milk to cool the tea, rather than the tea ruinously raise the temperature of the milk.
Also, unlike in Orwell's rules, science seems to bear no grudge against those who would take sugar with their tea - provided it's white sugar.
“Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea.”
Indeed, the addition of sugar is praised since it "acts to moderate the natural astringency of tea" - which translated into unscientific terms means that it makes tea, wait for it, less bitter.
This is heresy to Orwell. "Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter," he said. What would he have made of the alcopop suggested by the RSC?
Avoid slurping, warn scientists
He would recognise and appreciate some elements of Dr Stapley's perfect cuppa. The RSC brew uses Indian Assam tea leaves, which falls within Orwell's tight stipulations. He said no other nation's tea made him feel "wiser, braver or more optimistic".
There is no real scientific reason for Assam winning out over other leaf varieties, it just happens to be a strong tea to Dr Stapley's own taste.
"While some things are backed by science, others - like the choice of Assam - are based on my own preferences. I'm sure there are going to be plenty of people coming up with better methods to make tea and it's good that we have that debate," says Dr Stapley.
“I'd rather have a cup of tea than go to bed with someone - any day.”
Finally, the RSC recommends that the perfect cup of tea made by following its formula should be drunk while reading George Orwell's account of 1930s drudgery and vagrancy Down and Out in Paris and London.
Recipe Source: BBC News