BFS Video // 2009 // 184 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // May 2nd, 2009
"The idea that the Illuminati controls the United States is a laughable one. However, it is a laugh that brings a chill. If such a theory is indeed true, what does this secret society have in store for humanity?"
In an attempt to take advantage of the interest in religious cults and secret orders generated by the theatrical release of Ron Howard's film Angels and Demons, BFS has created a documentary miniseries offering a historical examination of such organizations. Secret Societies is divided into four parts, each of which runs about 45 minutes:
Freemasonry: The Secret Empire
A New World Order: The Illuminati of Bavaria
Masonic States of America
Stronger Than Ever: Skulls, Bilderbergers and the CFR
As someone who hasn't done much research into the field of secret societies, I was genuinely interested in checking out this latest presentation. I live in a city that many claim was controlled by a society called "The Oddfellows" for many years, and I've often been intrigued by the many paranoid conspiracy theories floating around suggesting that various secret societies have played a major role in shaping history. My assumption was that Secret Societies would conveniently separate the paranoid hype from the historical facts. Sadly, when I had completed this documentary series I knew little more about secret societies than I did before going in. What you get here is 3 hours of poorly-organized sensationalism mixed in with occasional historical tidbits.
I suppose it's understandable from a marketing standpoint. Odds are reasonably strong that many of the people picking up this DVD set are going to be inclined to believe in the controlling influence of secret societies anyway, and these documentaries do everything within their power to validate the theories of such paranoid individuals. There aren't any blatant lies here, but the presentation is certainly suspect, to say the least. For instance, the narrator will say, "Though there is no definitive proof suggesting this is the case, many people have claimed that The Freemasons secretly control every major country in the world. Are we being ruled by members of a diabolical secret society?" The general answer seems to be, "Well, we can't be absolutely 100 percent certain that such an unlikely scenario isn't the case, so let's just shrug, play some spooky music and move along, eh?"
Oh, speaking of music, good gracious! I don't believe I have ever heard a more laughably over-the-top score accompanying a historical documentary. Secret Societies offers overheated minor-key synth choral work that makes Hans Zimmer's contribution to The Da Vinci Code seem extremely subtle. Hot-button buzzwords are mixed in with this ominous music in a desperate attempt to mask the fact that the facts actually lying beneath the presentation simply aren't that wildly sensational. There are moments when the music becomes so unintentionally distracting that one can't help but laugh at the sheer absurdity of the thing. The worst scenes are those which choose to underscore the narration with some sort of liturgical hip-hop nonsense.
As with most of these documentaries, plenty of re-enactments offer up as-close-to-historically-accurate-as-possible recreations of the secret society rituals. Men with ominous faces nod quietly at other men with ominous faces while some poor soul being inducted into the society looks nervous and sweaty. These scenes are intercut with stills of various historical footage, a small amount of actual footage of secret society ceremonies (less pompous than the recreated ones), and a genial host named Kristen Henley. Henley is perhaps the greatest asset to the documentaries, occasionally offering very level-headed and sensible statements. He does occasionally slip into obnoxious sensationalism, but his crimes pale in contrast to those of narrator Michael Legge, whose grating showmanship comes pretty darn close to making the documentaries unwatchable.
Much like the History Channel DVD releases, BFS presents this documentary in non-anamorphic widescreen (an ironic attempt to live in the past, perhaps). The image itself isn't particularly impressive, with poor detail and frequently blurry images. Black crush is an issue at times, as there is a bit of color bleeding. The audio is just plain bad, with severe distortion on quite a few occasions (particular during the sequences narrated by Legge). The music is turned up much too loud in contrast to the narration, and the whole thing just sounds messy and muddled. The only extra is a downloadable chart detailing the history of secret society lodges.
Sadly, Wikipedia will probably prove more informative than this documentary series, so why not just take a half-hour and read a few articles instead of wasting your time with this set? Secret Societies is a genuine disappointment.
Review content copyright © 2009 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BFS Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 184 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Secret Society Chart
* Press Release