History Channel // 2005 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // April 8th, 2009
An in-depth examination into the remarkable rise and rapid descent of the powerful and obscure Knights Templar.
Because they've been the fodder for novels, stories, and films ranging from horror to fantasy, the Knights Templar have long ago become too enshrouded in myth to be really understood historically. The Templar Code means to remedy that by stripping away as much of the mythology surrounding them and relating as much of the history that can be found. It's a testament to how well the show does at telling this story that you'll finally feel you understand what the Templars were really about even though most historians interviewed agree that little concrete information about them has survived.
That lack of information does sometimes make The Templar Code, which originally aired as two episodes of the History series Decoding the Past, rather uncertain and sketchy. Many historians are interviewed and they admit that most records and evidence about the Templars have disappeared long ago. What is known definitively is that the Knights Templar were founded around 1119 after the first Crusades by a French knight who wanted to create a group of protectors for pilgrims who went to visit the Holy City of Jerusalem. Known as the Knights Templar because they made their original headquarters at Jerusalem's Temple Mount, the original Templars were few and poor in the beginning. Their devotion, however, earned them the support of France's powerful cleric Bernard of Clairvaux (later St. Bernard) who led a movement within the Catholic Church to support the Templars. Within only a few years, the Knights Templar were the richest and most powerful group of its era, commanding privileges within the Catholic Church that even kings didn't get. They were allowed to handpick their membership and were funded by donations from the wealthiest families in Europe, resulting in the best-trained and best-equipped fighting force of their time. All of that power and wealth, however, would eventually lead to their downfall. Though they were immensely useful during the Crusades, by the late 1200s Europe had decisively lost control of the Holy Lands and many rulers found the Templars' nearly unlimited powers and wealth far too unsettling. In 1307, France's King Philip IV and Pope Clement V both conspired to destroy the Knights by trumping up various charges against them and managed to arrest, torture, and execute some and drive away the rest.
What became of those who escaped and what happened to the Templars' fortune has never been explained. The Templar Code discusses many of the possible theories, including how the Templars may have possibly fled to North America and what their treasures may have included. Much of this is conjecture, of course, since most of the records kept by the Templars have long since been destroyed and both the Catholic Church and French Government were thorough in erasing the Templars almost entirely from their history. The title The Templar Code, in fact, refers to the cryptic pictograms and symbols imprisoned Templars carved on their prison walls, none of which have ever been deciphered but could have conceivably provided clues to the Knights' conclusion. In some ways, this is a misleading title because the code itself plays little part in the show; it's mentioned once and then ignored. Also, the lack of information about the Templars' reign means that the first show ends with the arrests and imprisonment of the Knights, and much of the second show describes the historical and fictional mythology that has surrounded them over the years (including, of course, The Da Vinci Code). Still, this show does an excellent job of pulling together all available information about the Templars from various sources, allowing different perspectives from multiple historians, and clearly explaining the many theories and legends surrounding the Knights. The re-enactments are not nearly as embarrassing as they are on other History shows, and Edward Herrmann's narration is as soothing and agreeable as ever. Though it's disappointing that the DVD doesn't include any extras, at least the 1.78:1 non-anamorphic transfer and Dolby Digital Stereo track are both quite solid.
Ultimately, The Templar Code is one of the better History DVDs, one that takes history seriously but makes it entertaining and informative. If you're interested in medieval history (or just want to prove how wrongheaded Dan Brown really is), The Templar Code is worth a look.
Review content copyright © 2009 Victor Valdivia; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* IMDb: Part 1
* IMDb: Part 2