Inside the Mind of Leonardo 3D: Film Review

The doc lays things on thick to evoke the determination of a self-made genius.

Peter Capaldi (the next Doctor Who) reads Leonardo da Vinci's innermost musings in a moody, style-heavy portrait.

NEW YORK — Something between a science-museum educational gimmick and an art film, Julian Jones's Inside the Mind of Leonardo 3D eschews straight biography in its portrait of the archetypal Renaissance man, instead setting fragments from his journals against present-day scenes of the places he lived and studied. Scottish actor Peter Capaldi may seem a strange choice to portray this son of Tuscany, but his reading of these notes -- full of pregnant pauses, as if he were working the ideas out before us -- fits Jones's unusual approach perfectly. Some will find the picture's mood overwrought, and its preference for atmosphere over detail will disappoint many others. Still it could draw some attention at arthouses, though its appeal is limited compared to recent highbrow-3D docs by Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders.

Capaldi is presented as in a one-man stage production, wearing modern clothes in rooms so shabby only an art director could have furnished them. He stares at the floor, gazes into foggy mirrors, and looks piercingly into the lens when he has something particularly ambitious to say -- which isn't rare for a man who, as we learn here, was wholly devoted to leaving a mark on the world before turning to dust.

As the "disciple of experience" speaks in detail of his intense observation of nature -- describing water's movement as it relates to the curls of human hair; laying out the proportions of a perfectly formed horse -- Jones shows the artist's sketches, often animating them digitally: Rain falls from clouds, birds sweep between mountains. Those who find such tactics hokey will admit they're executed with as much taste as possible, with the exception of scenes in which human figures are made to move: Leonardo, one presumes, would have recoiled at the unnatural imitation of bodily movement.

STORY: 15 Documentaries Most Likely to Make the Oscars Shortlist

While every word Capaldi speaks is reportedly taken from the journals (in opening scenes, we follow an Italian archivist into the massive vault that protects them), onscreen titles provide a skeleton narrative of the artist's movements and some details of his career. Since "The Last Supper" and the "Mona Lisa" hardly benefit from 3D presentation the way Herzog's undulating cave paintings do (they are, in fact, somewhat diminished by the differently tinted lenses), Jones spends plenty of time in the Italian countryside and studying waterfalls. This ooh-ahh footage is nice (particularly the slo-mo shots of a flying bird of prey), but doesn't add enough to justify the headaches and expense of 3D. Only some CG animations of Leonardo's hypothetical war machines in action (thankfully, the violent inventions were never built) comes close to justifying the added dimension.

Production Companies: IWC Meda, Handel Productions

Cast: Peter Capaldi

Director: Julian Jones

Screenwriters: Nick Dear, Julian Jones

Producers: Julian Hobbs, Peter Lovering

Director of photography: Duane Mclunie

Music: Kim Gaboury

Editor: Andy Worboys

No rating, 84 minutes