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Did Cannes kill The Code?

With the worldwide simultaneous release today of THE DA VINCI CODE across the globe, a question lingers in the air: Did Cannes kill The Code? Or more specificially, did the buildup and hype surrounding the Cannes opening create such a high expectation that the film will suffer from disappointed critics and viewers?

While the mass hysteria over THE DA VINCI CODE has passed into memory in Cannes with all the subtlety of a hangover after too much champagne, the industry waits with bated breath the box office results of one of the first Hollywood blockbusters out of the gate. So far, based on the internet websites and newspapers I've read, the film is receiving poor to middling reviews across the board, which may be reflected in the film's underwhelming box office success in the weeks to come.

Of course, this is a film that comes with its own considerable built-in audience, namely the millions of readers around the world who have read the original book. These Code fanatics will not be swayed by negative press or lukewarm reviews. In addition, the various controversies surrounding the book (if not the film) over novelist Dan Brown's alleged plagiarism (which was settled in a London court two months ago) and a rash of bans in such countries as India, Greece and Spain (all since revoked) has kept the visibility of the film percolating.

In the US, which still regards all things French as vaguely hostile (remember "freedom fries"?), Cannes has never been a big story for the mainstream media to cover. This year, because of THE DA VINCI CODE, the visibility has been a little more obvious, with photos of Tom Hanks and Ron Howard appearing in newspapers and on news websites this week.

However, the nightly entertainment news shows (including such stalwarts as Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, E! Entertainment Television and Extra)have devoted under 30 seconds of their 30 minute broadcasts to the world's most glamourous red carpet. In fact, the news story about the breakup of former Beatle Paul McCartney's four-year marriage dominated the entertainment news coverage. There's been more speculation about the ex-Mrs. McCartney's divorce pay day than the potential box office results of THE DA VINCI CODE. Based on the negative reviews being published today, the ex-Mrs. McCartney's $400 million settlement may well overshadow the film's international box office take.

In retrospect, perhaps the writing was already on the wall. The film's distributor, Columbia Pictures in North America and Sony Entertainment everywhere else, raised eyebrows when it did not offer advanced press screenings for film critics before the Cannes press showing. Usually that is the strategy for films that the distributor senses will get a major drubbing from the press. In this case, it is uncertain if the Cannes honchos insisted on this secrecy, in order to create the maximum buildup on the Croisette itself, or if this was the strategy all along for the distributor and the film's producers.

Hollywood is currently biting its nails in nervous anticipation of a repeat of last summer's disappointing box office results. So far, two major releases, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3 and POSEIDON have underperformed in the their first weeks. THE DA VINCI CODE may continue the trend, as the almost uniformly unenthusiastic film reviews are absorbed by the public.

"I certainly can't support any calls for boycotting or protesting this busy, trivial, inoffensive film. Which is not to say I'm recommending you go see it".....A.O. Scott, The New York Times.

"For a purported thriller, the film is practically bereft or suspense, or thrills, or anything resembling fun".....Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald

"This divinely uninspired adaptation is a story without a whisper of passion. Given the furor surrounding its opening, The Da Vinci Code is an embarrassing nonevent"......David Edelstein, New York Magazine

So, did Cannes really kill The Code? Probably not. The film, in the end, needed to live or die based on its own merits and the expectations of its audiences. In fact, the desire for the Code cult to see the book on the big screen may be strong enough to attract the massive numbers needed for the wildly expensive film (over $200 million) to become a box office performer. But raising the stakes and expectations by focusing all the attention on the Cannes hooplah may have pissed off critics, turned off reviewers and generally hampered the film out of its starting gate. This will be abundantly clear (or not) by Sunday, when the worldwide box office tallies will tell the tale.

Sandy Mandelberger


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