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Sony Picture Classics presents
Secrets of the Code (2006)

"Like the characters in The Da Vinci Code, we, too, are looking for a grail. Not the cup from which Jesus drank or proof of a bloodline descending from Jesus and Mary. Nothing that we can see or touch. But something in the heart and mind and in the stories that define us."
- narrator (Susan Sarandon)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: June 21, 2007

Stars: Susan Sarandon
Director: Jonathan Stack

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:30m:17s
Release Date: June 05, 2007
UPC: 043396172685
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- C+BB D-

DVD Review

For all the hullabaloo over the reality vs fiction of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code novel, it would seem a documentary that would attempt to compare the book with its historical counterparts would be of interest to someone. The book sold a bazillion copies, and the content has sparked a fair amount of conversation with regard to hidden centuries-old secrets that may point to something that could shake the foundations of Christianity. There have been a few pretenders to that claim, but most of these operate with threadbare links back to Brown's book, and simply use it as jumping off point to wander down their own specific path.

Sadly this is ultimately another of these not-quite-there attempts, though the very nice-looking Secrets of the Code is based on Dan Burstein's exploratory book of the same name that promised to be "the unauthorized guide to the mysteries behind the Da Vinci Code." The book may offer all the mysteries revealed, but this 90-minute doc falls prey to properly tackling a heady concept that squirts around in sometimes dry mercurial blobs, via interviews with assorted authors and historians who present their interpretations. What this isn't is a blow-by-blow of Brown's novel, and while this may be unfair to assume based on the tagline that reads "based on the best-selling book!"— which actually refers to Burstein's own Secrets of the Code—which, ironically, is a book about the secrets of The Da Vinci Code.

And this doc does loosely reference Brown's novel, using clips from the feature film here and there for transitional bits as narrator Susan Sarandon directs the discussion to subjects such as the Priory of Sion, Opus Dei and the whole Mary Magdalene prostitute-or-disciple role. But these references are moderate at best, with elements such as an esoteric discussion of the sacred feminine—including a mention that caves represent the female birth canal—taking a long, dry chunk out of the narrative flow. These diversions may parallel Burstein's work, but the link to The Da Vinci Code seems almost minimal.

That's probably my biggest beef with this release. What are the secrets I supposedly was to learn here? And whose secrets are they? There aren't really any "secrets" revealed—not that I honestly expected any—and just when it seems that something tangible will be looked at the discussion moves elsewhere. Even with the wealth of historians and authors talking up the sometimes vague and shadowy parts of religious history, the bait-and-switch sensation I felt was very prevalent throughout.

That's not to say there aren't some genuinely engrossing theories and ideas brought up (the Batman-meets-Superman Jesus comparisons are curious), and the discussion of the Cathars or the Gnostic Gospels is actually very interesting material. The problem is the implication that this doc will explain—or at least attempt to—the "secrets" of the code that Brown used in his novel is a tad misleading, because what occurs is a discourse on a number of subjects, presented with point/counterpoint analysis that tenuously try to tie them together, using footage from The Da Vinci Code film almost as an irrelevant tease.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The high-def mastered 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer from Sony looks strong more often than not; the occasional problem with a few of the darker sequences are truly minor complaints. Overall, colors are bright and image detail is fairly sharp, with the print revealing some sporadic grain issues here and there.

Very pleasant.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is delivered in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, a solid but rather plain mix that provides rich tonal quality for Sarandon's narration and clear voice quality for the varying conditions the interview subjects were recorded in. Nothing terribly overdone here, but for the material it fits the bill well.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Da Vinci Code, Facing The Giants, The Celestine Prophecy, Why We Fight, Sketches Of Frank Gehry, Who Killed The Electric Car?
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: No extras here other than half a dozen assorted trailers. The disc is cut into 12 chapters, with optional subs in English or French.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Despite the sometimes interesting content, I can't help but feel a tad deceived by the title, because the doc here is less about the specifics of Dan Brown's novel than it is about some general theories and interpretations related to it. Those drawn to this hoping for a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of The Da Vinci Code will be sorely disappointed, though what's presented is intriguing, albeit somewhat drawn out in spots.


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