Da Vinci Code Decoded: Totally Decoded

featuring: Dan Burstein, Henry Lincoln, Martin Lunn, Lynn Picknett, and Margaret Starbird

90/ 120/ 152 minutes (E) 2006
widescreen ratios 1.78:1 / 1.33:1 / 4:3
Disinformation DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart

With Da Vinci Code fever gripping the box office, and inspiring a wave of bitterness not seen for years in film critics, it’s no surprise that tie-in documentaries and books are springing up with incredible speed. This, consisting of three DVDs and a novel certainly scores points for value for money.

The first DVD, entitled simply Decoding The Da Vinci Code, focuses in on the origins of the story, particularly on Henry Lincoln’s role. Lincoln, an English documentary filmmaker (and occasional writer of Doctor Who) was on holiday in France in the late 1960s when he picked up a book for a little light reading. It was a local history book, detailing the story of Beranger Saunieres, a local priest who discovered some parchments buried in a pew of his church and seemingly overnight went from pauper to millionaire. What interested Lincoln was that whilst references were made to secret messages hidden within those parchments, the messages themselves were not reproduced in the book. Lincoln found them, elsewhere later and, in turn, found himself propelled into a world with one foot in the truth and the other in fantasy, a world whose labyrinthine conspiracies would eventually give rise to The Da Vinci Code.

Lincoln is a fascinating figure in the stories, the one who first uncovered the messages and who would eventually recruit Leigh and Baigent to his cause, the authors who in turn would go on to sue Dan Brown over the use of their research in The Da Vinci Code. It’s particularly interesting to see how honest Lincoln is

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about everything he’s found, freely admitting that the Priory of Sion is mentioned only in a set of documents it’s all but impossible to verify the authenticity of. Whilst his bitterness at the way the area has been engulfed by Da Vinci Code mania is understandable, it’s also directly traceable to his work and the effect it had. Lincoln has lived to see the consequences of hiss actions and is clearly not happy about them.

This aside, Lincoln is a welcome presence on the first disc, especially when explaining the astonishingly complex, and seemingly artificial geometry of the area. This is the area where previous researchers and viewers alike have come adrift, as the area seems to constantly fold in on itself in a beautiful and intensely complicated set of geometric shapes. This is where the documentary is at its best, as each one of these is explained in a clear, concise manner. The relationship between the geography of the area and that of Bornholm, a small Baltic island is equally impressive and equally well explained. This is the real crux point for Lincoln’s research; the point at which he’s either dismissed as a crank or his research gains some legitimacy. Here, it’s so clearly and well explained that it’s almost impossible to not be won over.

Whilst this first disc benefits from both the clarity of vision of Lincoln’s work and Lincoln himself, Decoding Da Vinci is a far more piecemeal affair. Clocking in at over two hours, it’s an admirable attempt to showcase not only the impact of the book on pop culture but also the various research fields it touches on. There’s some interesting work presented here too, with the sections dealing with the Gnostic gospels found at Nag Hammadi proving particularly intriguing. It’s hard work, presented by Doctor James Robinson who makes absolutely no concessions to his work being for a popular audience but it’s worth persevering with.

Unfortunately, other authors represented here, aren’t. Lynn Picknett and Clive Price, authors of The Templar Mystery, present some interesting points but seem to fall victim to one of the most common failings of authors looking at this field, shifting the facts to fit their hypothesis. Picknett in particular seems utterly obsessed with the idea of Jesus actually being part of an Egyptian religion, pointing to examples of him conducting himself as an Egyptian magician would without ever actually specifying them. Similarly, the point that both she and Margaret Starbird make that the Jesus story mirrors the resurrection myth of countless previous religions is interesting but never actually goes anywhere. In Picknett’s case it’s used as yet another example of her belief that Jesus was a member of an Egyptian religion whilst Starbird, frankly, seems unclear what exactly it means. It should also be pointed out that on several occasions, numerous authors seem to contradict themselves within their own research. Putting aside for a moment the fundamental differences between Christianity and Gnosticism, several authors presented here either ignore established historical fact (most notably the fact that Emperor Constantine’s mother, St Helena, was a Christian and as a result just as likely to be the motivation behind the Emperor’s favourable view of Christianity as financial gain) to put forward their own agendas. It’s also impossible to shake the irony that several of these authors deify Leonardo Da Vinci to almost the same level as Christianity deifies Jesus.

Despite this there are some interesting points to be found on the disc, most notably in Lincoln’s contributions and in Dan Burstein’s slightly more distanced, dispassionate view. However, by attempting to cover so much of the subject in one go, sections appear rushed and the entire film appears defocused. There are some gems here but you have to wade through a great of fluff to get to them.

The superb final disc compensates for this disappointment. Here, Lincoln comes into his own as he embarks on a two-hour tour of the deeply eccentric and fascinating landscape surrounding Rennes-Le-Chateau. Lincoln is in his element here, his time as a TV journalist combining with his decades of experience in the area to create a genuinely compelling, often dryly funny exploration of the area. He comes across as passionate but distanced, presenting the anomalies rife in the area with no comment and continually emphasising that there is no way to prove many of the hypotheses about the small village and its surroundings. Even his own theories, concerning the unique geometry of the area, are viewed critically and as a result become all the more compelling. Whether Lincoln, or indeed anyone else is ever proved right or wrong is debatable but Lincoln at least can emerge with his dignity largely intact. Both a fascinating travelogue and an oddly touching capstone to 20 years work; this is the highlight of the set.

Finally, the set includes the book Da Vinci Decoded by Martin Lunn. Lunn writes in a clear, authoritative style and sets out to approach the subjects touched upon by The Da Vinci Code in an academic, secular manner. He largely succeeds too, although the book is in constant danger of falling between the twin stools of pop history and academic research. This aside, it’s a nice companion to both book and film and its inclusion here simply increases the overall value of the set.

This is a ridiculously well stocked set of discs for anyone with an even passing interest in the Da Vinci Code phenomenon. Whilst the conflicting agendas of the authors involved are exasperating there’s such a wealth of information on display here, and so little of it is repeated, that it’s an essential purchase for anyone interested in trying to find the fact behind the best selling fiction. Just bear Henry Lincoln’s words in mind and be aware that here guesswork and fact walk hand in hand.