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Jonathan Stack
Susan Sarandon
Writing Credits:
Arthur Krystal, Dan Burstein (novel)

Actress Susan Sarandon narrates this visually-provocative documentary based upon New York Times best-selling author Dan Burstein's book, Secrets of the Code, which takes a look at the controversy surrounding the best-selling book and blockbuster film The Da Vinci Code. Secrets of the Code is a sweeping exploration of some of the world's greatest mysteries. This feature-length documentary includes interviews and commentary by renowned scholars, theologians, scientists and historians, including Timothy Freke, Richard Leigh, Sean Martin and Elaine Pagels.

Rated NR

Widescreen 1.85:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 90 min.
Price: $24.96
Release Date: 6/5/2007

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Secrets Of The Code (2006)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 23, 2007)

When a DVD documentary tied to a big movie appears, it usually does so at a logical time. Maybe it hits during the flick’s theatrical run, or maybe it connects with the feature’s home video release, but it’s rare to find something that doesn’t use this logical timing.

And then there’s Secrets of the Code. An exploration of the facts behind The Da Vinci Code, why is the DVD hitting the shelves a year after the movie’s theatrical release – and about four years after the novel became a sensation? I have no clue, and I wonder if the Code cult remains strong enough to attract an audience for the documentary.

Narrated by Susan Sarandon, Secrets mixes illustrative elements like art and location shots with interviews. We hear from Institute for Mystical Studies co-directors John and Caitlin Matthews, The Prehistory of the Sacred Feminine author Duncan Caldwell, The Jesus Mysteries co-author Timothy Freke, National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership president Rabbi Irwin Kula, Duquesne University Professor of Renaissance Art Elizabeth Lev, Gregorian University Professor of Theology Gerald O’Collins, Princeton University Professor of Religion and author of The Gnostic Gospels Elaine Pagels, The Templar Revolution authors Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, anthropologist Anna Fedele, Brother John Patrick, Hebrew University’s Joe E. Zias, Kabbala teacher Eldad Junoh, Pere Thierry Francois de Vregille, Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor author Susan Haskins, The Knights Templar: The History and Myths author Sean Martin, National Catholic Reporter Rome correspondent John Allen, Opus Dei spokeswoman Terri Carron, Holy Blood, Holy Grail author Richard Leigh, Rennes le Chateau: A Bibliography author John Saul, The Secret of Rennes le Chateau author Jean Luc Robin, Secrets of the Code editor Dan Burstein, composer Stuart Mitchell, Rosslyn and the Grail co-author Mark Oxbrow and evangelist Scott Johnson.

Secrets starts with a basic overview of the novel’s story. From there we get notes about “the sacred feminine” and its depiction through history, elements of Christianity and its development, and the Gnostic scriptures. The show covers Mary Magdalene, and we follow thoughts about her life and relationship with Jesus as well as the depiction of women in Christianity through the years. After this the show examines the Knights Templar, Opus Dei, the Priory of Scion, various conspiracy concepts, hidden information and codes, and the state of religion today.

I believe that most viewers of Secrets will go into it with the expectation that it’ll separate fact from fiction within Da Vinci Code. They’ll find a little of that material, but most of Secrets takes a broader focus.

And what is that focus? That’s a good question, and if you can answer it, let me know. I sure couldn’t figure out what purpose Secrest serves, but it sure isn’t a thorough examination of Da Vinci Code.

Indeed, the novel feels like little more than an excuse for the filmmakers to trot out their theological thoughts. Secrets works mostly as a screed to push a New Age-style “find God in yourself” concept. That’s the way it starts and where its themes ultimately go.

I might not mind that if a) it didn’t feel like false advertising and b) if the journey went more smoothly. Unfortunately, Secrets follows a clunky path to its end. It jerks us around from one vaguely Da Vinci Code-related location to another and throws concepts out way without interpretation. We get the opinions of various experts but nothing collates them into a concise package.

I suspect some of that was intentional since the filmmakers clearly want to tell us that there aren’t any facts or real answers to be found in religion. They purport that it’s all theory and interpretation, and they use the interviews to advance that thesis. Indeed, we often find one participant who firmly states one belief while the next firmly states the opposite, and both treat their ideas as facts.

The filmmakers’ thesis is perfectly valid and worth exploration. However, they don’t examine it well in this turgid, meandering program. During the early parts, I became impatient as I waited for the show to get to the point: the discussion of Da Vinci Code. Eventually I realized that Secrets never planned to do that. Perversely, this made the rest of the program more interesting, as I lost my annoyance that the documentary didn’t dig into the material it promised.

Or at least I lost some of my annoyance, as the whole “bait and switch” issue bugged me. I wouldn’t have minded that so much if Secrets ever became interesting or even moderately coherent. Instead, it lumbers from one topic to another and never engages the viewer. This is an awkward, clumsy show without much merit.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio C+/ Bonus D-

Secrets of the Code appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall this was a satisfactory transfer.

Sharpness usually seemed good, though those elements could be erratic. Most of the show featured good delineation and accuracy, but some shots became a little soft, and some came across as a bit blocky. Nonetheless, the program was mostly well-defined. I saw no problems with jagged edges or shimmering, but a little edge enhancement cropped up at times. As for source flaws, the images looked a little grainy, but otherwise it remained clean.

Not surprisingly, the DVD’s palette tended toward natural tones. The movie’s hues came across with positive clarity and definition. The colors always looked vivid and concise, and I noticed no problems with them at any times. Blacks also seemed deep and firm, but low-light shots could be a little rough. Those issues stemmed from the nature of the photography, as the show went into a fair number of dark settings. Overall, the image worked fine despite a few problems.

As one might expect from this sort of movie, Secrets of the Code presented a pretty modest Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The soundfield stayed largely monaural. Speech dominated the program and stayed well focused in the center speaker. The examples of music and effects blended decently to the sides. These played a background role in the proceedings. The surrounds echoed those elements in a minor way and didn’t add much to the mix. A few effects brought out some decent ambience from the rears – like wind in an outdoor sequence – but usually the back speakers offered little.

Audio quality was solid. Speech consistently sounded natural and crisp, with no problems related to edginess or intelligibility. Effects seemed accurate, though they were so modest that they never taxed the mix in any way. Music also sounded warm and dynamic, as the occasional bits of score were full and broad. The soundfield of Secrets seemed too limited to merit more than a “C+”, but the audio was more than satisfactory for this sort of project.

The DVD skimps on extras. The disc opens with ads for The Da Vinci Code and Facing the Giants. These also appear in the Previews area along with promos for Who Killed the Electric Car?, The Celestine Prophecy, Sketches of Frank Gehry and Why We Fight.

More of a general statement about religion than a discussion of the issues found in The Da Vinci Code, Secrets of the Code comes as a dull disappointment. It follows a rambling path that never reaches a satisfying conclusion. The DVD presents acceptable picture and audio but lacks notable extras. This muddled documentary bored me and seems unlikely to offer much substance for Da Vinci Code fans.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5714 Stars Number of Votes: 7
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