The opening of the new 3-D flick “Inside the Mind of Leonardo da Vinci” grabbed me right from the start and had nothing to do with its “stereoscopic” quality. We follow a librarian on a winding trail to the vault at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, Italy, where the drawings in Leonardo’s notebook collection, the Codex Atlanticus, are kept. We watch as the vault is opened. The door to the vault could pass for a subterranean hatch to the center of the earth. It looks secure enough to muffle the explosion of a nuclear bomb. And when the ancient drawings are laid out on a table, with delicacy and reverence, it is unequivocal confirmation that Leonardo da Vinci achieved what may have been his greatest ambition. He wrote it down in one of his notebooks: “I intend to leave a memory of myself in the minds of others.”
That said it all, at least for me, especially considering the fact that I’m no fan of 3-D movies — except for “Avatar,” which was the best I’ve seen because it surrounded me as though I were actually inside its world. The 3-D movies that turned me off spent so much wasted effort on camera shots meant to dazzle with displays of perspective. The technology seemed the point rather than the story and, what was worse, the characters looked like cardboard cutouts who happened to move and talk. I’m glad to say that is not the case this time.
Peter Capaldi, who narrates, is an unobtrusive presence. Although he is touted as the star of the show, the real star turns out to be the drawings, as they should be, along with Leonardo himself in well-chosen voiceover quotations from the notebooks that are more than instructive — they are touching. I suspect some huffy critics will complain that “Inside the Mind of Leonardo da Vinci” depends too much on atmospherics and could have gone deeper. But hey, it’s a 90-minute flick. I came away from it thoughtfully entertained and moved.