Saturday, May 20, 2006

Early `Code' risers


Saturday May 20, 2006

Early `Code' risers
* Does 6 a.m. seem a little extreme for taking in a screening of the `The Da Vinci Code'? Not to this crowd.

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

USUALLY, when obsessed fans line up for an early-bird premiere, it's the cape-and-tights and light-saber crowd. But these were book people -- and grown-ups at that -- who showed up at 6 a.m. Friday for the first screening of "The Da Vinci Code" at the Hollywood ArcLight. Fanaticism was not required.

Or was it?

Janan Jem, a 26-year-old advertising student, traveled all the way from London to catch this showing -- yep, you read that right -- and dubbed the big-screen version of the bestselling novel by Dan Brown a raging success. The overseas trip, she said, bobbing her head giddily, was well worthwhile.

Early indications from multiple sources outside Sony, the film's distributor, suggested that midday attendance figures were strong but unlikely to set any records, despite book sales that have surpassed 60 million copies. Steve Elzer, senior vice president of media relations for Sony Pictures Entertainment, said business was "very encouraging," adding that "matinees are strong."

Opening-day tracking also suggested the movie might hold more appeal for younger adults than earlier research indicated.

The ArcLight crowd seemed to bear that out. Consider Corey Jovan, a 26-year-old L.A. video game tester who normally doesn't rise before noon. Period. "I'm lazy," he says. But there would be no waiting until after work to see this film, so Jovan and his fiancee joined some 800 bleary-eyed Angelenos who packed the lobby before sunrise, collecting free T-shirts emblazoned with the movie's motto -- "So dark the con of man" -- and choosing between popcorn and soda or the breakfast foods (juice, pastries) made available at the concession stand.

Lauren Ocean looked quizzically at the offerings. "Orange juice just doesn't seem like legitimate movie fare," said the film producer from Hollywood. "I guess I have to get a soda." Ocean had stayed up late Thursday night, racing through the last few pages of Dan Brown's international bestseller, the basis for the film. The book was a Mother's Day gift, but even so, Ocean left her kids and husband slumbering and arrived solo.

"It was my turn," Ocean said, grinning. "My husband got to see the midnight showing of 'Mission: Impossible III.' "

That critics generally disliked the movie didn't seem to faze a soul.

"I'm my own person," Jovan said. "We've come to see the best movie of the year." Nearby in the lobby, Marlene Picard, a writer from Santa Monica, chimed in: "The critics have had their say, now we're going to have our day."

The ArcLight wasn't alone in betting that Angelenos would trade sleep for an early showing; the AMC in Santa Monica rolled back its curtains at a brazen 5:15 a.m. In Hollywood, at least, the bet was a good one: The ArcLight's Cinerama Dome filled to capacity by the time a Gilbert Gottfried sound-alike asked the audience to refrain from text-messaging during the film, gestured grandly toward the screen, paused for applause, and the lights dimmed.

For such a passionate bunch, the next three hours were surprisingly sedate. Little discernible laughter, hissing, cheering, crying. The applause before the film was far more spirited than after, and few people stuck around to hobnob or catch breakfast, touted as "The Last Breakfast," in the theater's cafe.

"It was pretty good," said Sandarsh Kumar, 26, rushing to his job as a biomedical engineer at USC. "At times, though, they compressed the timeline. When I watched the movie I was left hanging. When I read the book, I was never left hanging."

There was some criticism from the crowd. Donnie White took issue with Tom Hanks' physique. "In the book, his character was in better shape," said White, a personal trainer visiting Southern California from New York. "He's a swimmer, and that's a lot of cardio. His lats would've been very defined."

And then just 15 minutes after credits rolled, the theater and the lobby were empty, save for employees and a few journalists trying belatedly to document the hype.

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