April 21, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

Granted, the prose is plodding. And yes, the characters are about as fully developed as paper cups. But literary snobs lob one criticism at The Da Vinci Code that actually isn’t true. The book reads nothing like a movie script. If it did, Akiva Goldsman’s job would have been so much easier.

”When I read it, it was just terrifying,” says the scribe Ron Howard hired to adapt Dan Brown’s theological thriller. ”It just didn’t lay down like a movie at all. The characters get into these long dialogues about obscure history that go on and on. It’s great fun on the page. It’s very exciting and beguiling and riveting. But it’s all talk. It’s not the sort of thing that screams ‘Make me a movie!”’

Of course, A Beautiful Mind didn’t scream to be on the screen either. But that script, about a mad mathematician, earned Goldsman an Oscar in 2002 and began a partnership with Howard that’s continued through last year’s Cinderella Man (not to mention uncredited revisions on 2003’s The Missing) . It’s also given a writer with movies like Lost in Space and Batman Forever on his résumé the cachet to produce films of his own (like Mr. & Mrs. Smith) . Not bad for a kid from Brooklyn Heights whose psychologist parents raised him in a house full of live-in patients. ”I grew up in an environment where nearly everybody around me was clinically insane,” says Goldsman, 43, of his childhood. ”It was a lot like Hollywood, except back then the insane people couldn’t fire me.”

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