It's one thing to arouse the ire of Christian groups with indie films like Dogma or Priest. It's quite another to gamble with Sony's big-budget adaptation of Dan Brown's mega-best- seller The Da Vinci Code, starring Tom Hanks (and possibly Julie Delpy), directed by Ron Howard, and produced by Brian Grazer. So, months before cameras even begin to roll on the thriller which proposes, among other things, that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene had a child together and that the group Opus Dei is downright evil the filmmakers are already approaching Christian scholars like Notre Dame's Father Richard McBrien to be consultants on the project. But how much ''consulting'' will be needed to make the story less blasphemous to the Catholics who have found the book so offensive? ''I don't know how you can change anything about the novel and still maintain the premise,'' says Amy Welborn, author of Decoding Da Vinci: The Facts Behind the Fiction of The Da Vinci Code. ''Good luck to them.''
Sony wouldn't comment, but the filmmakers are considering one easy change: calling the insidious cult that houses a psycho priest something other than Opus Dei, a laical organization devoted to celebrating God's presence in everyday life. Its U.S. communication director Brian Finnerty won't say if he's heard from the producers, but he admits, ''we would be very interested in having them change the name.''
According to the Catholic League's William Donahue, the filmmakers are looking for God in the wrong details. ''Why not have a disclaimer at the beginning of the movie that this is based on a novel [and] does not purport to be fact?'' he says. ''Then I'd have zero problem.'' Does that mean no hullabaloo? ''We may protest,'' he adds. ''I haven't committed.''