Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Code Enforcers

Ladies and gentlemen, America is under seige.
The barbarians are at the gate and they will not rest until every single one of our fellow citizens are firmly in their grasp.
The enemy is not jihad-crazed terrorists, the religious right or the liberal media. It's not even Walmart or Starbucks.
No, this assault is being launched by author Dan Brown, actor Tom Hanks director Ron Howard and a cast of thousands who intend to make "The Da Vinci Code" bigger than Elvis, the Beatles, "Gone With the Wind" and "Desperate Housewives" all rolled into one.
Get ready for a promotional orgy.
Just in case you weren't one of the 43 million souls who already bought a hardcover copy of Brown's mix of catholic theology, crime thriller and conspiracy theory, Random House will be raining 5 million softcover copies down on us just before the release of the movie in May, according to published reports.
If you want to avoid being exposed to this onslaught, I suggest you avoid television, radio, the Internet, bookstores, movie theaters, supermarket checkout lines and airport gift shops.
Even that may not work.
Sony Pictures will be launching a campaign tied to the March 28 paperback publication date, according to the Los Angeles Times. As the books appear in the stores, a trailer for the film will appear; it will be supplemented with billboards.
But wait, there's more. On May 19, the day of the film's release, Doubleday and Broadway Books will release "The Da Vinci Code Illustrated Screenplay: Behind the Scenes of the Major Motion Picture."
You can bet that Oprah, Jay Leno and Dave Letterman are arm wrestling to be the first in their neighborhood to fawn over the co-stars.
It's hard to believe why a book that sold 43 million copies needs this kind of promotion. But when it comes to selling the sizzle as much as the steak, you can't beat Hollywood.
For you literary nonbelievers, Brown's book involves a conspiracy by the Catholic Church to cover up the true story of Jesus, implying that the Vatican knows it is living a lie, but does so to keep itself in power. This involves the speculation that Jesus and Mary Magedline married and had a child which in turn led to the creation of endless conspiracies and secret societies not to mention the supression of women and...well, you get the idea. A real page turner.
Strangly, many readers took all this as gospel. Brown didn't exactly dissuade that nation by noting in the forward of the book that "all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate," a claim that has been endlessly debated among historians.
The novel has also attracted criticism in literary circles for its supposed lack of artistic or literary merit. Acclaimed author Salman Rushdie called it "a book so bad it makes bad books look good."
And the Catholic League is planning full-page newspaper ads demanding that director Howard tell audiences that his film and the "historical secrets" in it are fiction.
In the meantime, Brown is being sued in London on grounds he stole the central themes for "The Da Vinci Code" from another book, "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail." While the outcome of the trial is in doubt, we have learned a few things about the sometimes reclusive Brown during his testimony. Such as that he often writes his last chapter first and his wife, Blythe Brown, does most of his research though he doesn't always read the things she tells him to read.
In the meantime, the book has spun off an entire cottage industry of "Da Vinci Code" tours to the historical sites it mentions as well as study guides, related publications and satirical spinoffs such as "The Givenchy Code" and "The Dick Cheney Code."
All of this in total adds up to Buzz, the kind of word of mouth publicity that is priceless. Combined with the marketing machinery that is poised to fire up, it's hard to imagine that this book/movie collaboration won't break the bank. And test our patience.
Be forewarned: Brown has another book in the works, "The Solomon Key" which reportedly deals with the "secret society" known as Freemasonry, the Masonic connections of the Founding Fathers and the fact that the most recent U.S. Presidential election was a choice between two members of the quasi-Masonic secret society, Skull and Bones.
I can hear the cash registers now.

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