With the massive success of Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code, including winning best book at the British Book Awards, it stands to reason that others would try to cash in. The Da Vinci Code Decoded was first released as a book and this DVD adaption is just the latest in a long line of products designed to benefit from riding the wave that Brown generated. Colin Polonowski reviews.
On its release, The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail was greeted with controversy. Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln decided to tackle the fundamental building blocks of many western religions – based on hearsay, supposition and a cleverly crafted hoax by Frenchman, Pierre Plantard. Although quickly dismissed the book was banned in Britain on its release and gained a notorious reputation.
Step forward 20 years and countless books on the subject later and we arrive at Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci’ code – a fictional story that takes some of the key conclusions drawn by Baigent et al. and turns them into a fun, albeit unremarkable book. All would be fine, IF, and it is a big if, Brown hadn’t gone on record and stated in an interview that his book was based entirely on fact – of course, this one statement kicked off the recent flood of cash-in releases we’ve now seen all claiming to reveal the truth behind the book. One such cash-in was Martin Lunn’s ‘The Da Vinci Code Decoded’, and this DVD release based on the book.
The basic idea that runs through literature on the subject is that the Holy Grail was not the chalice that caught Christ’s blood, nor was it used as a drinking vessel at the Last Supper, but instead it is claimed that the Grail is in fact the bloodline of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. Following Christ’s crucifixion, Mary Magdalene fled to France carrying his unborn daughter and there she settled and so started the so-called ‘Merovingian’ line of French kings. According to the myth, over time this Merovingian line developed into the Priory of Sion – a forerunner to organisations such as the Freemasons and the Templar Knights of Europe. A huge number of history’s most famous names were supposedly deeply involved with the Priory and claimed Grand Masters include Leonardo Da Vinci, Isaac Newton and other huge figures in science and the arts.
It is also claimed that at the turn of the last century, a French Priest living in poverty, Abbé Saunière, discovered a secret treasure relating to the Priory of Sion and the Holy Grail in the village of Rennes-le-Château that gave him great wealth and status. The truth was somewhat less glamorous and when Saunière’s estate was valued by the Credit Foncier de France in 1913 at just 15,000 Francs, he needed a loan just to buy food. With a little research it’s possible to debunk many of the so-called facts that Brown used in his book – and those that can’t be debunked are based on so much guesswork that they could never be proved in any way, shape or form. Still, there’s a huge market for such stories and had Brown not made the claims he did, it’s unlikely there would have been much of an outcry.
The DVD itself consists largely of interviews with the key people who developed the ideas that Brown used in ‘The Da Vinci Code’ including one of the writers of the book that started it all, Henry Lincoln. The interviews scratch the surface but completely avoid controversy by never once attempting to provide a balanced view. All of the interviews are with the people who came up with the story, and be default they all either believe what they tell us or are too stubborn to admit their mistakes despite being proven wrong.
Despite Brown kicking off this cash-in gravy train, he appears to have distanced himself and rarely now appears in interviews on anything relating to the subject. He is conspicuous by his absence here despite claims on the packaging (he only appears in stock interview footage), and his refusal to appear in the UK television deconstruction of the myth, ‘The Real Da Vinci Code’ hosted by Tony Robinson is another example. In fact, for a decent look at the whole myth, I’d recommend the UK programme over this to anyone and while that may not debunk everything it could, it’s a far more balanced ‘documentary’ that actually takes the time to talk to as many people from both sides of the argument as possible as well as visits some of the main locations linked with the story. To top it all we have a personable presenter rather than the disembodied American drone present on this DVD.
The DVD on review is a Region 0 NTSC release. It’s playable on NTSC compatible equipment.
The picture quality is passable, albeit washed out and obviously shot in digital. It’s 4:3 non-anamorphic and suffers from occasional macro-blocking.
The sound is Dolby Digital 2.0 and is entirely adequate but not in any way noteworthy. I did notice that there was a noticeable looping of the music at the beginning, most likely as a result of awful sound editing rather than anything technical.
There are a number of extra features. Mostly they take the same form as the main feature – dry, uninspiring interviews focusing on related subjects but not contributing totally to the myth. Amusingly, these interviews seem more interested in showing us the people talking rather than what they’re talking about – so instead of showing the Da Vinci paintings being discussed as they describe them we see the interviewees wittering on endlessly. There are extra features on John the Baptist, Jesus, The Gnostic Gospels, the Holy Grail, the Louvre, Westminster Abbey and Rosslyn Chapel. If you get through the main feature and want more then these extras provide that, but for those of us who struggled, another 50 minutes of tedium is not an enticing prospect.
The Da Vinci Code Decoded is very much a product aimed at the MTV/McDonalds generation – not so much because of the content, which is very dry, but its ‘bite-sized’ approach just grazes the surface providing very little in the way of real fact-based information. The interviewees are very much on the conspiracy side with little balancing argument. Despite the running time, it’s very lightweight and I wouldn’t in any way describe it as a documentary.
Readers of Brown’s book may find something of interest, but I wouldn’t guarantee it. However, next time you hear someone claim the book is based on fact, please set them straight!
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum