A glittering worldwide premiere at the prestigious 59th annual Festival de Cannes showcased the blockbuster release from Columbia Pictures and Imagine Entertainment, “The Da Vinci Code.” The compelling mystery thriller took in a record-setting $231.8 million during its impressive worldwide weekend opening.

Adapted from the best-selling novel of the same name by author Dan Brown, the feature-length motion picture of note quickly commanded a number one position at the nation’s box offices. The novel, a best-seller, has sold over 60 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 44 languages.

Not since the publication of the novel “Gone With The Wind” has a work of fiction so quickly commanded such widespread attention. Producer John Calley, former chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment, quickly optioned the film rights. Across the film colony at Imagine Entertainment, Oscar-winner director/producer Ron Howard and his partner Oscar-winner Brian Grazer were already convinced the explosive and riveting novel was material that could result in a blockbuster motion picture. Quickly creative talents throughout Hollywood began work on a cinematic version of “The Da Vinci Code.”

Only 20th Century Fox’s “Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith” has grossed more on an opening weekend ($253.9 million). Distributed by Sony Pictures Entertainment, “The Da Vinci Code” represents Sony’s biggest début opening ($147 million) and, interestingly, is Sony’s sixth film this year to debut as the number one film.

Wrapped in the silent but arresting Harvard aura, two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (“Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump”) portrays the central figure Professor Robert Langdon. A contrasting portrayal is the one played by Sir Ian McKellen as Sir Leigh Teabing. Sir McKellen certainly makes the most of the material from Dan Brown’s phenomenally-successful novel.

Directed by Ron Howard, “The Da Vinci Code” stars Tom Hanks (Prof. Robert Langdon), Audrey Tautou (Sophie Neveu), Sir Ian McKellen (Sir Leigh Teabing), Jean Reno (Capt. Fache), Paul Bettany (Silas, the monk), Alfred Molina (Bishop Aringarosa), Jurgen Prochow (Vermet) and Jean-Yves Berteloot (Remy Jean).

Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, who received an Oscar for his screenplay “A Beautiful Mind,” adapted the material from Dan Brown’s novel, “The Da Vinci Code.” He may well receive an Oscar nod for his brilliant adaptation.

In our 30 years of film reviewing we are happy to state that the press kit for “The Da Vinci Code” is the most attractively-packaged one we’ve received. Resembling the box in which a major key to the breaking of the code itself is found, the gold-etched, cherry wood-like case contains the production notes recorded in script on paper resembling parchment.

“The Da Vinci Code” as a motion picture is a masterpiece like the painting itself. The film, as well as the novel, has received limited criticism. The novel and resulting motion picture, we should note, are works of fiction. As in all works of fiction, particularly in the mystery-thriller genre, touches of verisimilitude are injected to empower the momentum of the story line that projects a central conflict. Within “The Da Vinci Code” we find the mystery surrounding a real person from the pages of church history, the presence of Mary Magdalen.

The references to the Priory of Scion and to the Opus Dei inject reverberating mysteries.

The monk, as portrayed by Paul Brettany, is an unforgettable portrayal. His abuse of his person in self-flagellation is jarring, especially for those of us who are traditional Catholics reared and educated in the more temperate times of the late Pope Plus XII.

Leaving Hollywood for the world premiere in Cannes, France, director Ron Howard pointed out that “The Da Vinci Code” is a work of fiction. He added, “It’s not meant to offend. It’s not theology.”

At the heart of the story line is the central murder investigation. A curator at the Louvre Museum has met with violent death, ritualistic in nature. A major cover-up takes shape.

A mysterious trail of symbols and clues becomes of interest for famed symbologist Prof. Robert Langdon (Hanks). Aided by the French police cryptologist Sophie Neveu, Langdon unveils a secret society dedicated to guarding an ancient secret that has remained hidden for 2000 years. Following Langdon and Neveu is well worth the effort.

The Last Supper was painted by Da Vinci between the years of 1495-1498. The Last Supper is a mural painted directly onto the refectory wall of a Milan monastery. The painting, 15’ X 29’, portrays the moment after Jesus informs his apostles that one of them is about to betray him.

A major strength of the film is the cinematography. “The Da Vinci Code” filmed at historic locations throughout Europe as well as on carefully-constructed sets at studios near London.

The Mona Lisa, painted in 1503, is on display in the Louvre and is the museum’s most popular attraction.

Rated PG-13, “The Da Vinci Code” is now showing in local theatres.