Will ‘Code’ crack the box office?

Sony's vow of silence has only fueled build-up for pic

A week before it opens, “The Da Vinci Code” is enjoying a level of global awareness higher than any film released this year. So one might think Sony would be able to sit back and relax.

Not exactly. Just last week, “Mission: Impossible 3” proved that stellar tracking doesn’t always translate into stellar box office. And “Code,” which is based on Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, is hardly traditional summer popcorn fare. It’s an adult thriller that has drawn very public condemnations from Vatican officials and Christian orgs around the world.

Sony has, accordingly, planned the global rollout for “Code” with all the precision and tact of a political campaign, hiring a squadron of consultants and crisis-aversion experts.

The question is: Will it work?

Until now, Sony has maintained a keep-it-under-wraps approach to “Code.”

The pic premieres at the Cannes Film Festival on May 17. It unspools Stateside two days later on about 4,000 screens, opening in most foreign territories more or less day and date.

To the annoyance of critics and other members of the press accustomed to seeing films early, there have been virtually no advance screenings, though some of the foreign press have seen 30-minute sneak peeks of the pic. Exhibitors saw the film for the first time on May 5, and Sony is holding screenings for critics in Cannes on May 16.

As a result, “Code” is one of the few summer films not widely dissected on the Internet prior to its release. And it has not had the opportunity to build the kind of early buzz such scrutiny often yields.

Sony’s plan is to build as much anticipation as possible — considering the book’s plot is known to 40 million readers — and then mythologize the film on the Croisette, where the “Code” preem will be anything but a subtle event.

Sony nabbed the fest’s high-profile opening-night slot. The pic will arrive at Cannes via a “Code”-themed whistle-stop tour — a high-speed train that launches in London and will transport studio brass, filmmakers, cast and press to the south of France.

With its international cast — Tom Hanks, French thesp Audrey Tautou and Brits Ian McKellen and Paul Bettany — “The Da Vinci Code” is an apt fit for Cannes, and Sony is banking heavily on its global launch.

It’s likely not lost on the studio that last year’s “Cinderella Man,” another adult pic released in the summer popcorn zone, could have benefited from a European premiere. Cannes requested that pic but was turned down by Universal and Imagine. Box office grosses for the film, particularly overseas, were disappointing considering the pic’s pedigree.

It’s also not lost on Sony that “Memoirs of a Geisha,” another best-selling novel, didn’t meet expectations at the box office, particularly in the U.S.

“Geisha” is a reminder that with the exception of “Harry Potter,” film adaptations of popular books (“Cold Mountain,” “Angela’s Ashes,” “Snow Falling on Cedars”) have not necessarily done boffo biz at the box office in recent years. Going back a decade, another Hanks vehicle based on a bestselling novel, “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” was a bigscreen bomb.

The Cannes sendoff for “Code” will potentially drown out — though at the same time potentially ignite more — criticism for the pic, which has also been worldwide, coming from religious groups upset with the book’s assertion that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and spawned progeny.

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