Los Angeles — Controversy, if nothing else, sells newspapers and movie tickets.
It worked with Ron Howard’s first film adaptation of a Dan Brown novel, 2006’s “The Da Vinci Code,” and Hollywood is hoping it will work again for their second collaboration, “Angels and Demons,” which opens nationwide on May 15.
Howard recently stoked the fires with a terse op-ed in the Huffington Post, responding to calls for a boycott of the film by Catholic League President Bill Donohue.
“Let me be clear: neither I nor `Angels & Demons’ are anti-Catholic,” Howard wrote. “And let me be a little controversial: I believe Catholics, including most in the hierarchy of the Church, will enjoy the movie for what it is: an exciting mystery, set in the awe-inspiring beauty of Rome.”
Maybe, maybe not. But either way, in Round 2 of the battles with Brown, many church leaders are taking a new approach by trying to ignore the new film, hoping that the less attention they give it, the quicker it will go away.
“Be careful not to play their game,” a top Vatican official, Archbishop Velasio De Paolis, said in the Italian newspaper La Stampa on March 20. “Dramatizing the question unintentionally gives publicity.”
The Rev. John Wauck, a priest in the controversial Opus Dei movement that was a target in “The Da Vinci Code,” agreed.
“Some people have called for a boycott but no one at the Vatican is speaking in those terms,” said Wauck, who teaches communications at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. “And I don’t think there’s any need to boycott this movie — particularly after the scathing reviews that `The Da Vinci Code’ received.”
It’s no secret that there’s no love lost between Brown, Howard, and the Catholic Church after the runaway success of “The Da Vinci Code,”
which centered on a church cover-up of a sexual relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
This time around, Howard’s team had to build a small-scale replica of St. Peter’s Square after church officials denied his request to film in the plaza.
“We were scheduled to film in particular locations all over Rome, with the Vatican and other churches in the background,” Howard told reporters during a recent media blitz. “Three days before we were to begin filming, we were told, (there) was a meeting between the film commission and some Vatican officials and in the wake of that, our permits were rescinded.”
Howard said he filmed in some of the locations anyway, using “guerrilla” tactics of hidden cameras and lightening-fast takes.
Although the film starts at a real-life residential science community in Switzerland, most of the action happens in Rome.
Symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is called in to investigate the murder of a scientist-priest. Clues lead him and a beautiful scientist, Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), to Rome and a nefarious secret brotherhood called the Illuminati.
The Illuminati have kidnapped four cardinals during the conclave to elect a new pope, and kill them in creative and symbolic ways, giving Langdon one day to decipher the clues, to save the cardinals and to stop a catastrophic plot to destroy the Vatican.
The end result is like the TV show “24,” only with a host of clerical collars and cardinal’s crimson.
Howard admitted he took “a lot more creative license” with this adaptation of a Brown thriller, changing both the ending and an assassin, who is Muslim in the book. They also toned done some of the book’s more explicit religious content, trying to make the film version more of a traditional thriller.
One theater trailer, however, claims the church “ordered a brutal massacre” to silence scientists, and another focuses on the “war”
between science and religion, a key theme explored in the book.
For now, church leaders say they’re not worried — at least not publicly.
“The truth is I don’t think `The Da Vinci Code’ or `Angels and Demons’ is going to do much harm to Christianity,” Wauck said. “The real impact has been on tourism. Dan Brown has brought a lot of people to Rome and they come looking for that mixture of history and mystery and religion and art and beauty that I really think is the reason why those books sell.”
By Rebecca Kelley and Francis X. Rocca
Religion News Service
(Kelley reported from Los Angeles; Rocca reported from Rome.)
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