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Published: Saturday, 5/13/2006

Divining the 'Code'

FILM boycotts have never fared very well in this country, and those that have been urged against The Da Vinci Code, which premieres in theaters next weekend, undoubtedly will be similarly unsuccessful.

Everyone needs to remember that the Tom Hanks thriller, based on the Dan Brown novel of the same name, is a work of cinematic fiction patterned more or less after a work of literary fiction. It's simply a movie, not, as some Vatican officials contend, a defamatory plot to undermine the Roman Catholic Church.

It's true that The Da Vinci Code's story line purports to reveal "the biggest cover-up in human history," the church's supposed 2,000-year effort to hide Jesus' alleged marriage to Mary Magdalene. But that's a novelist's dramatic license. It wouldn't have been such a provocative tale if it conformed strictly to church teaching.

The only plot we see stirring is one to make money at the box office. Lots and lots of money.

The book has been spectacularly successful - an amazing 162 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list - but if word gets around that the movie rendition is a dud, people will stay away. In the movie business, that's the ultimate boycott.

Outside the United States, Archbishop Angelo Amato, who holds the second-ranking post in the Vatican's office of doctrine, urged Catholics not to see The Da Vinci Code. So has India's Catholic Secular Forum.

A few Christian activists in this country have blistered the film as blasphemous and suggested that moviegoers boycott it.

But even harsh critics understand the "Banned in Boston" effect at work. The more strident the voices of denunciation against a book or movie, the more interest is generated.

As one conservative commentator put it, "If Christians protest too loudly, they can end up making the mistake of calling attention to a movie that otherwise may not do very well at the box office."

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