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No disclaimer for <i>Da Vinci Code</i>

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    Los Angeles (Reuters): The director of the upcoming religious thriller The Da Vinci Code says he sees no need for a disclaimer labeling the film a work of fiction - provoking a rebuke from Catholic group Opus Dei. Filmmaker Ron Howard has acknowledged the controversy renewed by his film of Dan Brown's best-selling novel, which depicts Opus Dei as a shadowy sect at the heart of a murderous conspiracy to conceal dark secrets of the early Christian Church but the Oscar-winning director of ''A Beautiful Mind'' rejected the notion that his latest film should carry a disclaimer-as requested by Opus Dei-stating what he said was already obvious.

    ''This is a work of fiction that presents a set of characters that are affected by these conspiracy theories and ideas,'' Howard told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday. ''Those characters in this work of fiction act and react on that premise. It's not theology. It's not history. To start off with a disclaimer ... spy thrillers don't start off with disclaimers.''

    Opus Dei, which urged movie distributor Sony Pictures Entertainment in April to consider running a disclaimer, expressed disappointment with Howard's stance. ''A disclaimer could have been a way for Sony to show that the company wants to be fair and respectful in its treatment of Christians and the Catholic Church,'' Opus Dei's US spokesman Brian Finnerty said yesterday. The film, which opens May 19, stars Tom Hanks as a Harvard scholar who teams up with a French cryptologist (played by Audrey Tautou) to solve a murder mystery entwined in the works of Leonardo Da Vinci and a supposed alternate history of Christianity.

    A central premise of the story is that Jesus sired a child by Mary Magdalene, and that a clandestine society has for centuries protected the identity of their descendants from agents of the Catholic Church. The Vatican, which considers the story blasphemous, has launched its own public relations offensive against the film. Archbishop Angelo Amato, the No. 2 official in the doctrinal office headed by Pope Benedict until his election last year, called in April for a boycott of the movie. And the Catholic Church has produced a rebuttal documentary titled The Da Vinci Code -- A Masterful Deception. A Sony spokesman last month said the studio sees the film as ''a work of fiction'' rather than a ''religious tract'' and believed the film ''will delight audiences, not offend them.'' 

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