Smithsonian Channel // 2006 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // September 5th, 2009
A Real Da Vinci Thriller
First shown on the Smithsonian Channel in 2006, The Da Vinci Detective is a two-part series detailing an intriguing quest on a real Da Vinci hunt. In the apparent never-ending ripple effect from Dan Brown's infamous tome, this television show works to show you there is authentic mystery left to investigate in the works of Leonardo da Vinci. Don't misunderstand me: I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code as a book and as a movie, but I know that much of it is wild speculation and a preposterous flight of fancy. This is reality.
We follow the decades-long effort of Dr. Maurizio Seracini to find a lost work by the maestro, the Battle of Anghiari. It's a complicated tale to tell and it's this series' task to detail the drama. Everyone loves the works of Da Vinci, but in all the world there are only 15 "paintings" in existence. For hundreds of years there have been rumors about a lost work, many described as perhaps Da Vinci's greatest and perhaps one of the greatest murals of all time. It's called the Battle of Anghiari, and it was meant to be a massive mural in the Hall of Five Hundred in Florence, Italy. It is known that it was partially completed, but for reasons unknown, the work was never finished and it disappeared.
Because it's a mural, Dr. Seracini believes it could still be within the Hall of Five Hundred. Since the 1970s, Maurizio has worked both on and off commission from the city of Florence to use his engineering and scientific skills to find the mural. Along the way, during periods when he is not allowed to investigate inside the Hall, he does other investigatory work on other art. One such charge was to see if another Leonardo work, the Adoration of the Magi, would survive a restoration effort. In researching the Adoration, he uncovers a surprising revelation about the art, shattering what people know about it. And in doing so, it brings him full circle back to his quest to find the Battle of Anghiari.
This show is quite enjoyable, from a historical quest/educational point-of-view. The idea that a lost work by Leonardo is hidden inside a wall is a tantalizing mystery. Compounded with what he discovers on the other Da Vinci art only heightens the magnificent possibilities of what historians truly know about art. The Da Vinci Detective is a fascinating slice of real history, without any embellishment.
While I was entertained by the story and excited about what I learned, any such enthusiasm was tempered by the transfers. Though not problematic, both the audio and video are lazy transfers. Video is letterboxed full frame, and that's a shame. Emblazoned upon the packaging are several references to HD channels, and when you start the disc it touts HD again, so why isn't this presented in widescreen format? The locales, the art, and the whole tapestry of the program would be augmented with the extra video real estate. You feel a disservice with the full frame presentation. Nonetheless, the video itself is crisp with rich, accurate colors and deep blacks. Contrast and detail are very good, allowing you to see many a detail in the art shown. It's just a shame the aspect ratio is "wrong." Audio is either a Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 mix. Both present the dialogue-intensive series with no distortion or other errors. The 5.1 mix adds just the subtlest of ambience through the extra speakers, and if you only have a 2.0 system you won't miss much. Also included are a bunch of trailers for other Smithsonian produced "educational" programs.
The Da Vinci Detective is a fascinating and informative show about the well-loved artist, presenting a genuine mystery and a bona fide investigation into it. And while I enjoyed the show, I cannot recommend the disc. With insignificant bonus materials and a full frame transfer, there's little need to buy the disc. Just keep your eyes open on your television and I have no doubt this will show up in the rotation again one day. When it does give it a watch and learn some great stuff.
The Da Vinci Detective is hereby found guilty of doing a The Night
Watch on the video presentation.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Smithsonian Channel
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated