A Filmmaker's Review: "Unlocking Da Vinci's Code" (Amazon Prime)
3/5 - Enjoyable, a good effort but there are faults...
I really enjoyed this documentary on the secrets concerning Da Vinci, even though we've all seen them a billion times by now. What is commonly known as the "Da Vinci Code", put forth in the Dan Brown novel seems to be explored in a documentary here far before the novel itself comes out. I have a few pros and cons to this I'd like to discuss.
First of all, I found this documentary whilst looking up things on Caravaggio. I have no actual idea how Caravaggio leads you to Da Vinci because where Da Vinci was intelligent, Caravaggio was a cocky thing. Anyways, I found the documentary and decided to give it a chance even though I knew most of it was going to be trash. The first third of the documentary though, was not trash - it was actually pretty good. The second and third sections though were completely unrelated and kind of made me want to turn the documentary off. The reason why it gets a three and not a two is because of the way its made, which is actually pretty clever.
The first advantage we have is knowing its audience. This documentary has clearly been made for mindless daytime TV and so, they've made it look very daytime TV-ish with the narrator coming on the screen and the documentary itself only covering a very small portion of the actual case made for its concept. Be that as it may, it at least knows the audience its aiming at and isn't trying to be overly clever for a documentary that is aimed at the daytime TV audience. It is meant to be viewed by anyone and everyone and that's what it does correctly.
The second advantage is the narrator being on the screen intermittently throughout the documentary. It doesn't only start with the narrator, but the narrator is on and off the screen every time a new section is being introduced. This lets the audience, who are the everyday audience, know that there is a human face and are more likely to develop connection and therefore, watch the show all the way through. This is something that the documentary does very well and I think it is extremely clever.
The third advantage is that it keeps to surface layer. For the everyday audience, it isn't a good idea to get too critical. In the beginning, it answers all the what, where, when and why questions and then, it becomes more about entertainment and explanation rather than criticism and big explorations in large amounts of academic detail. This is a fault I find with many Leonardo documentaries that are aired on TV - they tend to be too academic and so, the average person would just turn over the channel leaving only your academic audience left. Instead, you should air a surface layer, entertainment documentary and place the academic one an on DVD etc. That was you get the everyday audience interested as well as the academic audience satisfied. This is something this particular documentary does well. As it is available on prime, it is aiming itself at the everyday audience that has prime and so, will probably have a run through this documentary on a Sunday Afternoon. It's also not hours on end long, so it is easy to view. It's all about accessibility.
Now for the cons.
The first disadvantage of this documentary is that most of it isn't actually about Leonardo at all or his work. Most of it seems to be about telling you the history and stories of the Knight's Templar and their excursions into Jerusalem. The problem with this isn't that it is there but that it takes up an exceeding amount of time of the documentary with little explanation as to why. Now, I may know why and you may know why but to the common everyday audience this will be a mystery and may cause them to switch it off seeing as it isn't about what they thought it was. The problem here is communication. Yes, it communicates it is about the history of Da Vinci's work, but there is certainly an uneven amount of time dedicated to it in this show. So there's a mark deducted for that.
The next mark deducted is deducted for the analysis on the Mona Lisa. Obviously if the everyday person is watching a Leonardo documentary, they want to know about the Mona Lisa and what it means. With a grand total of under five minutes spent discussing it and just saying out random numbers without much meaning, it could actually end up just confusing the audience and again, making them turn the channel over or switch the documentary off.
In conclusion, there are many pros and cons and the ones we've discussed here are just the beginning. Nothing is perfect but I think if you're going to have a documentary on Leonardo please make it more about Leonardo and his secrets, not just about some random Knight's Templar stuff that someone who is watching a documentary about Leonardo doesn't want to know. There's clearly an uneven amount of time being dished out here and you probably want to watch it for yourself to find that out.