Whenever something becomes a major part of the pop culture landscape, there are always individuals looking to cash in on the newfound notoriety. Be they actually involved in the scandal or situation, or feel a need to be associated with it, no matter how tenuous the connection or the correctness of such an ideal, the leeches love a media circus. There are just so many of the hopelessly lost to huckster. In rare cases, however, the people reserving seats on the bandwagon are actually the one's responsible for the underlying structure of the now universally acclaimed idea. Such is the situation with writer/ historian Henry Lincoln. Long before author Dan Brown decided to turn some questionable theories about Jesus and Mary into a ballistic bestseller, Lincoln was working with fellow researchers to uncover the secrets held in the Rennes-le-Château region of France.
What he and his colleagues found was startling. It formed the basis of a book (Holy Blood, Holy Grail) and fueled a great deal of the discussion that Brown then based his novel on. Now, as part of his desire to direct the ongoing debate, Lincoln has created his own visual version of his Château discoveries. Entitled Exploring the Da Vinci Code, this is a coattails presentation in name only. In reality, it's a very learned, and often labored, look at the decades of investigation that went into creating the cult of the Code. And while it fosters as many questions as it proposes to answer, this is still a satisfying synopsis of an occasionally unfathomable subject. It is also an amazing journey through one of the most scenic parts of Europe.
In 2003, Dan Brown published The Da Vince Code, a standard high-octane thriller that centered on an ancient sect, a well-kept secret and the hidden messages in a famous painter's pictures. As he had done before with Angels and Demons (his Illuminati vs. the Catholic Church page turner), Brown used heretofore unknown elements of religious belief and some faux-fictional blasphemy to craft a crackerjack fiction that almost instantly connected with the public. Within weeks, The Da Vinci Code was on The New York Times Bestseller list (where it stayed for 32 weeks) and was soon purchased by Ron Howard's Imagine Entertainment, with Opie himself helming the future film production and Tom Hanks as its star.
Naturally, with success comes naysayers and none have been more vocal than those taking issue with Brown's book. Mostly, they have balked at contentions that the story's startling secret was not based in scholarship or research, but in the near-profane beliefs of some very staunch false prophets. Everyone, from religious leaders to PhDs came crawling out of their ivory towers to praise or pile on Brown. Leaping to his defense – sort of – is Henry Lincoln. As part of what appears to be an ongoing desire by the Disinformation Company to muddy these already muddled waters, we now have Exploring the Da Vinci Code, a two hour treatise on Rennes-le-Château and it's most famous resident, Father François Berenger Saunière. Lincoln hopes to explain why this peasant priest lived like one of the wealthiest men in France. He also hopes to explain what all this has to do with the Messiah, his handmaiden, and an Italian Renaissance artist and inventor.
Part travelogue, part well thought out Da Vinci Code dissertation, Henry Lincoln's scenic, subtle Exploring the Da Vinci Code is not a movie for Merovingian beginners. One must have a real working knowledge of the book(s), its basic tenets and many of the bold claims in order to make sense out of or fully enjoy Lincoln's logic and logistical breakdown. If you consider this film a companion piece of sorts to the Disinformation Company's previous DVD release – The Da Vinci Code Decoded – as well as a supplement to that certain novel that's become a literary phenomenon, you'll fully appreciate the amount of time and effort that went into the production. But if you're hoping to be moved by revelations or mesmerized by analysis, this will be one dull diversion. Lincoln is a fascinating man, and his scholarship is unsurpassed. But unless you know what you are looking for inside this dense, detailed package, you may soon suffer from interest displacement.
The nearly two hour film is broken down into two distinct parts, easily subtitled "the places" and "the prescience". Lincoln wants this to be a definitive look at the isolated hilltop village of Rennes-le-Château, hoping that it will satisfy those who would otherwise desecrate and defame the region for their own onerous devices. On the other hand, Lincoln also wants people to enjoy the locale, and stresses that with a proper attitude, one can freely travel in this area and not be viewed as an opportunist or interloper. The author despises such would-be adventurers, mainly because of their tendency to destroy or pillage everything they come in contact with. Throughout the course of Exploring the Da Vinci Code, Lincoln shows us the hopeless handiwork of some of the more offensive, selfish souvenir hunters. As sad as the situation is, he also sheepishly acknowledges that he, and his writing, have probably been responsible for a great many of the vandalism cases in the region.
As kind of a mea culpa then, Lincoln systematically walks us through the discoveries and the discussions he has forwarded since the 1982 publication of the book he co-authored with Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh; Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Assuming you know or can at least follow everything he is talking about (thus the initial caveat in the review), our guide really lays on the data. He begins slowly, establishing the importance of many of the regions ruins and remaining buildings. He then peppers his presentation with individual elements from each place, making sure they register with us before he moves along. By the time we've reached the halfway point, we've experienced some interesting theorizing and seen some absolutely gorgeous sights. Indeed, many can enjoy Exploring the Da Vinci Code as a collection of awe-inspiring landscapes, loaded with local color and bursting with the bounty of nature. From a sheer backdrop dimension alone, this is a remarkable film.
But vistas and horizons are not what Lincoln is lauding. No, what we have here is the basis of that most suspect of situations – the complex, cult-like conspiracy theory. It is hard to doubt Lincoln's conclusions and analysis. He cuts to the heart of each matter and makes the necessary logical connections to certify his findings. But there is a big problem here, one that faces anyone looking to debunk centuries of common belief. Lincoln is out to prove that the holy 'grail' was actually the biological bloodline of Christ, and that a French priest, as part of a secret society, kept the proof (or as it is referred to here, the "treasure") hidden from the outside world, his wealth resulting from a Catholic Church sponsored hush fund. This is definitely a mind-blowing premise, something that Brown's novel uses as part of a bigger, action adventure look at the subject. But since Lincoln is only interested in Rennes-le-Château, the focus here becomes incredibly narrow. Indeed, it is almost myopic at times, failing to take into consideration other elements that would bolster – or better, question – the connections Lincoln is making.
Still, this is his show, and when the man is in his conversational domain, Exploring the Da Vinci Code is very engaging. Lincoln claims that one of the reasons he made the films is so that he can stop giving the personalized tours that he is supposedly famous for. Perhaps this is why for almost an hour, we are more of less taken on a cross-country hike, walking through various important locations waiting for the actual correlations to arrive. Only problem is, when they do, Lincoln doesn't give us enough context to care. As he draws his lines of geometry through the maps, emphasizing five pointed stars and geographic anomalies, it all begins to sound like Chariots of the Gods (Lincoln even mentions alien visitors and flying saucers, perhaps the single biggest moment of audience eye-rolling that occurs in this film). He doesn't let us in on enough secrets, or the factual settings, that would allow a Da Vinci Code novice to appreciate his efforts. Instead, the newbie is merely meant to marvel as our enlightened elder showers us with more and more coincidences.
If there is a sole drawback to this dissertation, it's the lack of challenge and refutation. Even someone with a limited knowledge of ancient architecture (yours truly included) understands that buildings were often built along distant site lines so that communication was easier to establish. And the fact that each one of the important edifices in this mystery are built on or near mountains only supports the visibility argument. Sadly, Lincoln never addresses these common sense disputes. He occasionally gives off the aura, with his well-furnished study and easy knowledge of history and myth, of being almost omnipotent, but nothing could be further from the truth. He even admits several times in the piece that a lot of this erudition is built on pure conjecture, which doesn't exactly bolster our faith. The entire Da Vinci Code conundrum is built upon one of the shakiest foundations ever forged in legitimate learning. The lack of real critical analysis reveals one of this film's, and Lincoln's, biggest Achilles heals.
Unlike recent "documentaries" calling for a reopening of the 9/11 commission, or that push the entire Kennedy Assassination further into farce, Exploring the Da Vinci Code isn't out to change minds. It is content to only test them. Lincoln does look at his work as a catalyst for further exploration, not a concrete answer to all the Da Vinci mysteries. Indeed, the famous painter, the clues concealed in his art, and what this has to do with a man named Jesus and a woman named Mary are left more or less unmentioned by this movie. Instead, this is a chance for Henry Lincoln to preserve his presentations for posterity, to provide a definitive overview of the discoveries he has made and the conclusions he has drawn over nearly 30 years of involvement with the subject and the locale. And for the most part Exploring the Da Vinci Code provides a gorgeous, engrossing discussion of some of the more arcane rudiments in the growing body of belief. Lincoln may feel responsible for many of the individuals who are now making money – and a mess – of his original ideas. It is nice to see him trying to set the record straight, or at least, to provide some more sensible food for thought.
Presented in a crystal clear, direct from video 1.33:1 full screen transfer, the image quality of Exploring the Da Vinci Code is excellent. There is a nice balance between dark and light, and the outdoor elements match the indoor material perfectly. The scenery is captured in sumptuous splendor, really selling the beauty of the Rennes-le-Château area. If you gain nothing else after watching this DVD, you will surely marvel at the dazzling locations that set up the backdrop for this story.
There are two main aspects to the sonic situation of this DVD. First, the narration by Lincoln is clean, distortion free and easily understandable. There is also a musical score by Illuminated Worlds that is very baroque and atmospheric. While it can occasionally overwhelm some of the subtler moments in the movie, both represent exceptional aural attributes, making this an easy film to decipher and delight in.
Sadly, Disinformation provides no bonus material here – no commentary or context, no study guide or text-based explanation of the importance in what we are witnessing. While having such added features would have been a plus, the expanded running time itself is really enough to recommend this release.
Though it occasionally threatens to overwhelm us with minutia, and only makes its point clearly to the most devoted of Da Vinci followers, there is still a lot of substance, and a great deal of style, to Henry Lincoln's exploration. While it could have been more contextually sound and not so 'playing to the converted' preachy, what we have here is still an intensely interesting look at a very weighty, and occasionally very weird subject area. Like most complicated conspiracies, there are too many coincidences and outright assertions for comfort, and when you come to think about it, in our modern misguided world, secrets like these would seem awfully hard to keep. But that might be Lincoln's point all along. Back in the days before rampant technology and easy access to information, something like the Da Vinci Code would have never been deciphered. It very easily could have been kept concealed for another several centuries. But thanks to persistence and science, the so-called truth is finally coming out. Lincoln wants to make sure his part in this particular portion of the saga remains secure. And thanks to Exploring the Da Vinci Code, there is no doubt but that it will be.
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