A&E // 2005 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ian Visser (Retired) // July 18th, 2005
The History Channel goes behind the hype to discover the truth about a phenomenon two thousand years in the making.
Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code has become nothing less than a runaway hit. A worldwide bestseller, the novel, about an alternative biblical history, has spawned imitations, spin-offs, rip-offs, Da Vinci Code tourism, and an upcoming big-budget Hollywood movie. Now, The History Channel takes its turn with an effort to determine the reality behind the theories.
In the novel The Da Vinci Code, author Dan Brown suggests an alternative history of Christ that has been excluded from the Bible. A massive cover-up by the Church throughout history to ensure a more conservative version of Christ's life has hidden a great secret; one that is revealed in the works of a European master and in a secret society sworn to protect the mystery.
The thrust of The Da Vinci Code theory is this: Mary Magdelene was not just a follower of Jesus Christ, but also his wife. Pregnant by Jesus at the scene of the crucifixion, Mary realizes she must flee for the safety of her child. Settling in Egypt, Mary gives birth to a girl, Sarah. In A.D. 42, Mary and Sarah move with their supporters to France, where their descendants marry into a royal French family, the Merovingians. The Merovingians lost their rule over southern France in A.D. 751, but realized the need to continue Christ's bloodline. In an effort to protect the secret, the remaining Merovingians formed the Priory of Sion, a secret society charged with protecting Christ's bloodline. The Priory of Sion recorded this history in a document referred to as the Sangreal. The Priory of Sion in turn created the Knights Templar to protect both the secret and the Sangreal itself. Instead, the Knights Templar used their secret to blackmail the Catholic Church and become wealthy and powerful. Threatened by both the secret and the growing influence of the Templars, the Church attacked them, killing or imprisoning most of their numbers. However, some escaped with the Sangreal and returned the documents to the Priory of Sion for safekeeping.
The Da Vinci Code asserts that the "Holy Grail" is not a cup or chalice that held Christ's blood at the Last Supper, but is actually the manifestation of Christ's bloodline, literally holding Christ's blood within it. This secret continued to be guarded and passed through leaders of the Priory of Sion, down to the group's eventual leader, Florentine artist Leonardo Da Vinci. Da Vinci in turn hid clues and codes in his artwork detailing how to find the Sangreal and, ultimately, the Grail itself.
Modern-day frenzy aside, Beyond the Da Vinci Code points out early in its presentation that these are not new themes, but old themes rediscovered for the 21st century. It's no secret that the history of Christianity has been altered, omitted, recreated, and often deleted, to serve both individuals and institutions. What Beyond the Da Vinci Code attempts is the dissection of the theory put forth in the novel, and it investigates what is fact and what is fiction.
As a film, Beyond the Da Vinci Code covers the novel and its topics well. If you have not read the book, this film will serve as a good introduction to the theories in The Da Vinci Code. Most points related to historical elements used in the book are covered in detail, and the film wisely ignores the dramatic elements of the novel. The film uses various authors, researchers, and religious scholars to support or refute claims made in The Da Vinci Code. A mix of talking heads, historical re-creations, and real-life location shoots present the various claims in an easy-to-understand way that is engaging for even the uninformed viewer.
Beyond the Da Vinci Code is not shy when it suggests that there is no proof of a conspiracy to disguise the knowledge of Christ's child in the Bible. In fact, the film suggests that there is no proof of much of anything, given the loss of historical records and the passing of two thousand years. The film points out that Dan Brown's novel takes some history as authentic, and some as fiction, depending on whatever points it is trying to prove. The film admits when a particular theory is far-fetched or wrong, and also admits when evidence is insufficient enough for any conclusion to be made.
Any Da Vinci Code fan looking for support for the novel's central argument is bound to be disappointed. Lots of "some believe," "others claim," and "we don't know for sure, but" pepper the claims of Da Vinci Code supporters. Even those who refute official Biblical history cannot seem to agree on the alternative truths. The author of a similar book Holy Blood, Holy Grail admits that while there is some evidence surrounding the theories, there is no outright proof. The conclusions made by Beyond the Da Vinci Code stand between insubstantial evidence and no evidence at all.
The video presentation is without fault. This is a recent production, and as such, the colors are well balanced and the picture sharp. The widescreen presentation is a nice change from the usual fullframe aspect used in television documentaries. The 2-channel Dolby Digital soundtrack is more than acceptable for a production of this kind; you aren't looking to be blown away by the sound. The audio levels are balanced and easy on the ears.
There are no special features included on Beyond the Da Vinci Code. It would have been nice if some extended material with the interview subjects could have been included, or perhaps a timeline of the events as theorized by the novel. As such, this remains a bare-bones disc.
Although The History Channel has done a fine job with this production, it still smacks of a pop-culture cash-in. There are probably better things that The History Channel could have spent its energy on rather than feeding off The Da Vinci Code craze, especially in a market already swamped with similar product.
Beyond the Da Vinci Code does an admirable job of slicing through Da Vinci Code theory to expose what may or may not be real. This DVD should be required viewing for any Da Vinci Code fan wishing to delve deeper into the facts of the case.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Dan Brown Official Site
* Review of Exploring the Da Vinci Code