'Da Vinci Code' opens in theaters, sparks controversy

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Moviegoers around the world are expected to queue into movie theaters during the opening weekend of the movie "The Da Vinci Code," despite the disapproval of both critics and clerics.

The film, directed by Ron Howard, is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Dan Brown, which has sold over 60 million copies worldwide. Officials at Sony-owned Columbia Pictures, which distributed the film, expect the film to gross US$50 million to US$80 million during its first weekend in the United States, based on figures from early matinees on Friday. "The early matinees are very strong and extremely encouraging," said Steve Elzer, a spokesman for Columbia.

Outside the United States, the film is also proving controversial, as long lines formed outside theatres in China, while the movie's release has been postponed indefinitely in India and banned outright in the Philippine capital of Manila.

"The Da Vinci Code" stars Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou, who respectively play a Harvard professor on religious symbols and a French cryptologist who become involved in a murder mystery revolving around the works of Leonardo da Vinci, a secret that could rock the foundations of the Roman Catholic Church if revealed, and a society formed to protect that secret.

The film was previewed at the Cannes film festival to mixed reviews, and critics have generally given the film a cool reception.

Certain thematic elements in the film and novel have caused a religious backlash, as Catholic officials call the movie blasphemous. "'The Da Vinci Code' gratuitously insults Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church," said Vincent Nichols, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Birmingham, England. "It deliberately presents fiction as fact."

The Catholic Church in China called on its followers to boycott the film, while a Catholic lay group in the United States plan is planning rallies outside 1,000 theatres nationwide. Francis Slobodnik, who is coordinating the campaign for the Pennsylvania-based group, called the film "an insult directed towards God."