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Case Number 27109: Small Claims Court

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Great Cathedral Mystery

PBS // 2014 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // March 21st, 2014

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All Rise...

Judge Clark Douglas once built a replica of the Duomo using his leftover mashed potatoes.

The Charge

An enduring source of mystery.

The Case

Take a look at any Italian tourism video or brochure, and odds are reasonably high that you're going to see an image of the Duomo—the dome that tops the cathedral of Santa Maria del Flore. It's a remarkable sight and a considerable architectural achievement. The dome was designed by the esteemed Filippo Brunelleschi, who spent a large portion of his life planning and building the structure. For centuries, many were baffled when attempting to determine how exactly Brunelleschi had managed to achieve his design with the limited tools of the era. The new NOVA special Great Cathedral Mystery employs the services of a number of present-day architects and attempts to uncover the most elusive secrets of the dome's construction.

The whole "mystery" angle definitely informs the tone of this particular NOVA special, as the building of the dome is presented in surprisingly suspenseful terms. Early on, we're treated to lots of clips of esteemed architects and historians saying things like, "How on earth did Brunelleschi do this? How could he have possibly achieved such a thing in the 15th century?" Throughout the special, the discussion is underscored by the sort of bubbling, minor key, Thomas Newman-esque music that is featured in light mysteries of all sorts (National Treasure, White Collar, etc.), insistently reminding us that we're watching an architectural detective story rather than some stuffy old history lesson.

Even so, it's the historical portion of the special that proves the most compelling. Brunelleschi may not be a household name like Leonardo Da Vinci, but he was certainly ahead of his time as a designer. The examination of the methods he used and the inspiration behind his design is fascinating stuff. Meanwhile, we observe as a team of American master bricklayers build a replica of the dome using the methods they believe Brunelleschi employed at the time. While the mystery angle may be slightly oversold, it's enjoyable to see the matter discussed in such a hands-on way.

Great Cathedral Mystery has received a solid 1.78:1 transfer that benefits from stellar detail. The sweeping shots of Florence are the most visually intoxicating, but much of the special focuses on talking heads and old photographs—typical NOVA stuff. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo track gets the job done nicely, presenting the whole thing with clarity. One amusing note: while an Italian designer who is featured has a rich, sonorous speaking voice, his English-language translator has a much more stereotypically cartoonish Italian accent.

Great Cathedral Mystery isn't the sort of mind-blowing stuff the best NOVA specials deliver, but it's engaging and informative.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 83

Perp Profile

Studio: PBS
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 2014
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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