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"Da Vinci Craze" thrives thanks to cardinal, judge

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, May 12 (Reuters) Forthcoming blockbuster ''The Da Vinci Code'' has received the kind of publicity money can't buy thanks to a real-life cast including a cardinal, an archbishop, a judge, and countless art historians and religious scholars.

Pre-release hype is normal for a big Hollywood production.

But in the case of Dan Brown's fictional hunt for the Holy Grail the headlines have been dominated by events apparently beyond the control of studio Sony Pictures.

Stars like Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou have been largely hidden from the media spotlight in the runup to the film's premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on May 17.

Instead, the Vatican has protested loudly against the novel and now the film, culminating in a cardinal calling for legal action against a story that says Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had a child by her whose descendants are alive today.

Opus Dei, the Catholic group portrayed as a secretive sect behind a murderous conspiracy to hide the truth about Jesus and his bloodline, has demanded a disclaimer on the film making clear it is fiction, not fact.

This week a senior official in the mainly Catholic Philippines has called on the government to ban the film.

Commentators say such pronouncements, and the stories they generate, are bound to backfire by generating extra interest in the film and lending weight to the argument that the church has something to hide.

After the uproar over Mel Gibson's ''The Passion of the Christ'' in 2004, seen by some as potentially anti-Semitic, the film went on to gross 2 million worldwide.

''At one end of the spectrum you have Mel Gibson and 'The Passion of the Christ' saying: 'We know what happened 2000 years ago and we are going to compel you to believe it','' said Dan Burstein, editor of Da Vinci Code guide ''Secrets of the Code''.

''At the other extreme you have Dan Brown saying: 'Guess what? Everything you were told about what happened 2000 years ago is probably wrong.'' People seem to be looking for alternatives to organised religion at a time when fundamentalist Christianity and Islam have gained ground, he added.

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