I read a lot of movie reviews, and one of my favorite critics is A.O. Scott of the New York Times. One of his lesser reviews, I thought, was 2007’s annihilation of The Da Vinci Code. I noticed that the normally even-handed Scott had devoted an entire paragraph to bashing Dan Brown’s sentence structure:

 It seems you can’t open a movie these days without provoking some kind of culture war skirmish, at least in the conflict-hungry media. Recent history — “The Passion of the Christ,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” — suggests that such controversy, especially if religion is involved, can be very good business. “The Da Vinci Code,” Ron Howard’s adaptation of Dan Brown’s best-selling primer on how not to write an English sentence, arrives trailing more than its share of theological and historical disputation…

To their credit the director and his screenwriter, Akiva Goldsman (who collaborated with Mr. Howard on “Cinderella Man” and “A Beautiful Mind”), have streamlined Mr. Brown’s story and refrained from trying to capture his, um, prose style. “Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino with long white hair.” Such language — note the exquisite “almost” and the fastidious tucking of the “which” after the preposition — can live only on the page.

Wow, I thought. This guy is jealous. This is elementary-playground-type bashing. He’s reviewing a movie, and he took time out to criticize the prose of the book? Grow up.

I’ve always thought of “envy” as a feeling of wanting what someone else has, be it fame, success, a promotion, or a romantic interest. “Jealousy” comes in when you want and feel like you deserve what someone else has, and therefore develop a certain malice toward him or her. Scott obviously feels he is a better writer than Dan Brown and was, at the time, probably shaking his head at how Dan Brown had become perhaps the most famous contemporary author in the country.  

I’m not saying A.O. is wrong. I think he’s a better writer too. But, really, YOU’RE REVIEWING A MOVIE, NOT A BOOK. I was disappointed. I was watching Superman throw a tantrum on his mother’s kitchen floor.

We come, now, to yesterday, when the NYT review for “Angels & Demons” came out. A.O. Scott again took the assignment, and once again, could not focus on what he was reviewing.

Since “Angels & Demons” takes place mainly in the Vatican, and is festooned with the rites and ornaments of Roman Catholicism, I might as well begin with a confession. I have not read the novel by Dan Brown on which this film (directed, like its predecessor, “The Da Vinci Code,” by Ron Howard) is based. I have come to believe that to do so would be a sin against my faith, not in the Church of Rome but in the English language, a noble and beleaguered institution against which Mr. Brown practices vile and unspeakable blasphemy. 

The blast this year is slightly more applicable to the review; it is appropriate to mention that he’s reviewing the movie independent of reading the book. But he still insists, in the film review, on disparaging the novel’s language, which is kind of  like writing a book review and criticizing the font or writing an art-exhibit review and criticizing the cab ride there.

I would love to weigh in at the NYT website, but they don’t have a real “comments” section. So I’ve taken it out on you librarians. Hope you don’t mind.

-David

A.O. Scott is totally jealous

Category: Musings
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  • He really doesn’t like Dan Brown. I’m with you – stick to reviewing the movie and leave the book alone. Is there not an editor at The Times that might delete those lines? Now I’m seriously going to see the movie.

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