With Ron Howard presently shooting his big screen adaptation of Dan Brown's blockbuster bestseller The Da Vinci Code (with Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou and Ian McKellen), the whole Knights Templar merchandising apparatus has really geared up. Seems every cable channel has their own take on the supposed secret locked inside a small French village and wants to explore every possible angle for hints at the legitimacy of the legend. Origins of the Da Vinci Code is yet another attempt by The Disinformation Company at finalizing the proof in such scandalous subjects. The concentration this time is on geometry, and the existence of a secret society whose mysterious purpose is seen as holding the entire foundation of the Christian church in the balance.
As part of its ongoing exploration of all things Da Vinci Code-ish, The Disinformation Company offers up its latest chapter in it's behind the scenes explanations of the theories and concepts that make Dan Brown's bestseller such a controversial piece of pulp fiction. Just as he was for Exploring the Da Vinci Code, author Henry Lincoln is along to guide us through another reexamination of the startling coincidences and secret cabals that make this story so intriguing. The spotlight this time, as in Exploring, is a look at the small French hilltop village of Rennes-le-Chateau and the geographically geometry that appears to be at the heart of the entire Code conundrum. Using the five-pointed star (or pentacle, as it is referred to here) as a starting point, Lincoln and his appointed scholars uncover a remarkable set of corollaries to the churches, important buildings and other inspirational landmarks in the locale.
For those unaware of Da Vinci's variables, here is the primary conceit - spoiler style. According to Brown (and based on Lincoln's book on the subject, Holy Blood, Holy Grail), Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, and conceived a child. Such a bloodline eventually led to the reign of the Merovingian kings (direct descendents) and links to the Knights Templar and the mysterious Priory of Sion organization. In reality, it's far more complicated and intricate than these few sentences, but the main gist of the story is that the Church did not want the truth about Christ's procreation to become common knowledge. It therefore hid the secret, and those who stumbled upon it (like Father Bérenger Saunière) were sworn to silence - with the help of a sudden financial windfall. Da Vinci's role comes from his alleged membership in the Priory. Hoping to "hint" at the truth, he laced his paintings and drawings with "coded" data, which when deciphered, explains the premise and points to where more information can be located. Naturally, religious naysayers have long considered this concept as a load of anti-Church poppycock.
Origins's focus is therefore two-fold. First, it wants to prove that the Priory of Sion exists. Now, this is no small task. Like most secret societies, the Priory has persisted (if it does at all, mind you) on the notion of absolute concealment. One doesn't remain clandestine for very long without a true sense of mystery and clear code of silence. Still, Lincoln and his cohorts uncover some startling documents which appear to name the Priory outright, and single out several past and present members (like Da Vinci, Sir Isaac Newton and Jean Cocteau). Indeed, this part of the documentary is a tad anticlimactic, since the same faded photocopies are carted out every single time the subject is addressed. There are no new insights, no attempt at tying in different aspects of the story to the Sion concept. As proof, the documents are plausible, but not as pronounced as other aspects of the story.
The far more effective elements come from the geometrical anomalies that occur in and around Rennes-le-Chateau (and not coincidentally, on an island off the coast of Denmark). Using computers, exacting calculations and accurate maps of the area, Lincoln, and his Danish counterpart Erling Haagensen, show how triangles, pentacles, six sided stars and other mathematical certainties keep reoccurring in (and in some cases, guided) the positioning of important monuments and edifices in the region. Unlike Exploring, which concentrated on a kind of travelogue view of the countryside, Origins gets deep into the minutia of the graphical analysis. At first, coincidence seems to drive any discussion on the subject. But once you see interlocking shapes, perfect and precise delineation of angles, and by way of extrapolation, the guessing and proving of other important landmarks, the geometry behind the Da Vinci Code becomes very impressive.
The one area for Da Vinci novices that may seem the most disconcerting is the lack of any real conclusive statements. Lincoln loves the open ended and the speculative, almost journalistic in his desire to champion both the converted and the unconvinced to his theories and facts. He never says anything definitive without accompanying proof, and this makes his conclusions rather concrete. If anything, it's his links that are wobbly and a tad tentative. Like the amalgamation of triangles - what do they symbolize? In the 70s, they would have been signs of those pesky ancient astronauts. But today they are supposed to point to some greater meaning in the positioning of these places in and around Rennes-le-Chateau. The connection is never all that clear. Still, the subject is intriguing, and Lincoln is a very distinct and inviting host. He is erudite, eloquent and quite engaging. Those along in support of him could take a lesson or two in his ability to draw the viewer in, making them feel at ease. After all, some of the information here is rather disturbing - and borderline blasphemous (especially to stanch believers).
Presented in a crystal clear, direct from video 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, the image quality of Origins of the Da Vinci Code is excellent. There is a nice balance between dark and light, and the outdoor elements match the indoor interview material perfectly. The scenery is captured in sumptuous splendor, really selling the beauty of Rennes-le-Château and the surrounding area, and the graphics add an integral element to the overall presentation (including an interesting 3-D mock-up of the planets and their orbits). 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.
Since this is mainly a talking head production, all we really care about is the presentation of dialogue and conversation. Thankfully, the Dolby Digital Stereo does an excellent job of keeping the sonic elements perfectly modulated and easily discernable. There is some random incidental music by director Michael Bott, and the mix does a decent job of keeping the voices and the instruments in balance. Overall, this is an excellent oral offering that allows the ideas, not ancillary issues, to shine through.
Unlike other offerings by Disinformation on the subject, Origins is chock full of added content. We are treated to extended interviews with Henry Lincoln (over 27 minutes of material) and with Danish discoverer Erling Haagensen (nearly 18 minutes). Some of the information was used in the documentary, while other segments are left here for our discovery. Lincoln also proffers another five minute missive on Rennes-le-Chateau and can be seen in a 20 minute Q&A with a television crew who themselves were making a documentary on the subject. There are five minutes of outtakes and a terrific full length audio commentary featuring director Bott, narrator Sharon Baylis, and Lincoln himself. As part of the DVD package, this is the best bit of supplementary context, as it allows the filmmakers to clear up any concerns and extrapolate on subjects that were only superficially dealt with in the film. At nearly 170 minutes of combined bonus information, this is one incredibly fleshed out digital presentation.
Origins is indeed an intriguing recitation of some of the story's more startling elements. Certainly it nitpicks its facts, but the basic tenets to the tale are already out there and being discussed. Now is the time to put a little truth to those otherwise entertaining and intriguing conceits. Thanks to the wonderful work of Henry Lincoln and his devoted followers, there may one day be a definitive answer - positive or negative - about the existence of Da Vinci's most tantalizing "secret". As a continuation of a dissertation decades in the making, Origins of the Da Vinci Code is a recommended reference guide.