By Amy Ryan
February 09, 2006 at 12:00 PM EST

Everyone expects The Da Vinci Code to be a controversial movie, but both Sony (the studio behind the May 19 release) and the project’s detractors are trying a new media tactic: keeping the rhetoric civil and quiet. Anticipating adverse reaction from Catholics and Protestants alike, the movie’s publicists have launched a website today that’s meant to attract flames and deflect criticism by co-opting it. At thedavincichallenge.com, credentialed essayists and unwashed rabble alike can take issue with the Dan Brown bestseller’s depiction of a millennia-old conspiracy surrounding the historical Jesus Christ.

On the other side of the issue, members of the secretive Catholic sect Opus Dei are bracing for bad publicity; they don’t want to give the movie more attention by complaining too loudly. At the same time, they’re launching a public relations counteroffensive in order to persuade readers and moviegoers that Opus Dei members do not resemble the creepy, self-flagellating Silas, the book’s murderous monk.

I’m all in favor of civility, and I’ll cross my fingers and hope that the tone of discourse surrounding the mvoie stays lofty — I remember hearing similar promises not to sling mud on the eve of Brokeback Mountain‘s release — but given how quickly those promises have been broken by Brokeback supporters and detractors, I’m not holding my breath this time waiting for reasoned voices to prevail.

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