Blu-ray and DVD Reviews

National Treasure

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Movie Rating:
8 out of 10
Extras Rating:
8 out of 10
Movie Details:
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Rating: PG

Starring:
Nicolas Cage as Benjamin Franklin Gates
Diane Kruger as Dr. Abigail Chase
Justin Bartha as Riley Poole
Harvey Keitel as Agent Sadusky
Jon Voight as Patrick Henry Gates
Sean Bean as Ian Howe
David Dayan Fisher as Shaw
Christopher Plummer as John Adams Gates
Oleg Taktarov as Shippen
Stewart Finlay-McLennan as Powell
Mark Pellegrino as Johnson
Annie Parisse as Dawes
Armando Riesco as Hendricks

Special Features:
Deleted Scenes and Alternate Ending with optional director commentary

Opening Scene Animatic with optional director commentary

"National Treasure On Location"

"The Knights Templar" featurette

"Treasure Hunters Revealed" - Meet real life modern day treasure hunters

"Riley Poole's Decode This!" - an interactive puzzle solving feature

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.35:1)
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
French Language Track
English and Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 131 Minutes

Synopsis:
Hundreds of years ago, the Knights Templar collected an enormous treasure consisting of artifacts from around the world. Over time, the treasure was secretly hidden in the U.S. by the Masons, a society entrusted with the treasure's care. Wanting to keep the treasure out of the hands of the British, Benjamin Franklin and other members of the Masons hid the treasure in a secret location during the American Revolution and left clues to its whereabouts hidden in various places. Unfortunately, all those who knew the location of the treasure died before it could be shared. By chance the Gates family ended up with the first clue to finding it. They have passed the secret on through the family for generations.

In the modern day, Benjamin Franklin Gates now holds the first clue to finding the treasure. His search for it has cost him his professional reputation, his family, and his fortune. However, he has recently gained funding from a wealthy businessman and adventurer named Ian Howe. Together they find the first clue that leads them to yet another clue. Unfortunately, it's a map hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence. How will they gain access to the document to find the treasure?

At this point Gates and Howe find themselves split on how to proceed. Gates wants to go through legal channels to examine the document while the impatient Howe prefers shadier means he wants to steal it. Thus begins a high stakes race between the two former partners to steal the Declaration of Independence and be the first to find the treasure. Howe uses an elite team of deadly mercenaries while Gates is aided by his tech-geek friend Riley Poole. But will the Declaration just lead them to yet another clue for a non-existent treasure?

National Treasure is rated PG for action violence and some scary images.

The Movie:
When I first saw the ads for National Treasure, I was cautiously optimistic. I like Nicolas Cage and I enjoy treasure hunt movies, but the premise seemed really stupid. The idea that a bunch of American icons and national monuments all happened to contain clues to a hidden treasure seemed preposterous. But believe it or not, I was actually won over by the movie and it ended up being a very entertaining, lighthearted adventure that was fun for the whole family.

As you know, the Declaration of Independence, the Liberty Bell, and the Founding Fathers all play key roles in this treasure hunt. As I already mentioned, this seems exceedingly hokey. However, the film presented it with just the right mixture of realism so that I was willing to suspend my disbelief and go along for the ride. It almost seems possible that some of these clues could have really been left behind if Benjamin Franklin or someone else had the notion. Of course history is butchered and twisted in the process, but that's not a big concern. If this movie inspires kids to look up more about U.S. history or visit these sites, then that's a good thing. I think if you're skeptical like I was, you should probably just give the film a chance and see if you're willing to buy it, too.

National Treasure is essentially Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in a modern setting. Both films have rogue treasure hunters with a heart of gold. Both films feature the heroes following clues in a race to win a treasure. Both films feature a hero bonding with his father. The only difference is the modern setting. (And I have to say that this film resembles Last Crusade more than Tomb Raider.) Nicolas Cage is essentially the grandson of Indiana Jones. If Indy had computers, GPS locators, cell phones, metal detectors, and other high tech gadgetry, he'd be Benjamin Franklin Gates. Nicolas Cage plays the character very similar to Harrison Ford as well. Gates is very smart and passionate about history, but he's not invincible. He gets his butt handed to him regularly and usually only gets away by the skin of his teeth. He's willing to break the rules in order to do the right thing, but he still has a sense of honor and obligation. All this makes him an appealing character and one you're willing to follow on this adventure.

The rest of the cast is pretty good. Harvey Keitel and Christopher Plummer are both excellent actors but they have relatively minor roles to play. John Voight has a minor role as well, but he does the most with his limited screen time. He does a good job portraying Patrick Henry Gates' frustration with his son's hunt for the treasure. When he eventually gets caught up in the adventure and the thrill of the hunt, it is equally believable. Diane Kruger is also good as Dr. Abigail Chase. She gets to do more than she did as Helen in Troy, but she never really has a breakout moment. Still, she holds her own with Cage and the others. Justin Bartha surprisingly provides a majority of the comic relief as Riley Poole, Gates' trusty sidekick. Sean Bean rounds out the major cast as Ian Howe. As usual, he makes a great bad guy.

Jerry Bruckheimer and Walt Disney have also returned with the formula that they used on Pirates of the Caribbean. National Treasure is rated PG. There's no profanity, little blood, and lots of adventure. Fortunately the story doesn't suffer because of this. There are very few movies like this today and it's one that the whole family can go to and enjoy. I hope it pays off for them. I'd certainly like to see a sequel.

Unfortunately the trailers and commercials for National Treasure blow most of the twists and turns that the film has to offer. The theatrical trailers alone lay out almost the entire plot of the movie. The less you know going into this movie, the more you'll enjoy it.

I also have to add that the ending was a little anti-climactic. It's the logical, realistic conclusion to the story, but not the slam-bang action packed finish that you'd expect. It's satisfying, but not to the extent that you'd hope.

If you liked Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, then there's a good chance you're going to enjoy National Treasure. Fans of Nicolas Cage and Jon Voight should really enjoy this, too.

The Extras:
There are quite few extras included on this DVD, but you'll have to follow some clues hidden throughout the DVD in order to access them all. Just like in the film, the clues are hidden here and there and you must either watch the end of the videos or solve games in order to get them all. They aren't particularly challenging, but they are certainly in the spirit of the film. Here's what you'll find:

Deleted Scenes and Alternate Ending with optional director commentary Several deleted scenes are included. One features more of the history of the treasure. Another shows the young man at the beginning of the film meeting the President. There is also an extended sequence in the shaft where our heroes face some more perils. The scenes are a bit cheesy, so they were probably better left on the cutting room floor. But the most notable item among the deleted scenes is the alternate ending. In it, Cage and the others return the Declaration of Independence, then start wondering what could be on the back of the Constitution. This is quickly brushed aside, but they hint about another treasure for them to find in a sequel. Personally, I found it to be a better ending than the one they used.

Opening Scene Animatic with optional director commentary This shows an elaborate animatic from the opening sequence showing the history of the treasure. It's in rough format, but it shows a lot more than was in the final film. You see Conquistadors in South America, more in the U.S., and other stuff. It was obviously shortened in the interest of time.

"National Treasure On Location" This is your standard "making of" video with cast and crew interviews, behind the scenes footage, and other stuff. They emphasize how they got special permission to film in Boston at the real bell tower.

"The Knights Templar" featurette This is a non-fiction documentary on the real Knights Templar. It's a pretty good feature that sheds some light on the real organization.

"Treasure Hunters Revealed" This is another real-life documentary that highlights professional treasure hunters. You meet shipwreck hunters as well as those onshore. Their stories are quite interesting and this ends up being a very educational feature.

"Riley Poole's Decode This!" In this game for the kiddies you must solve hieroglyphics and optical puzzles in order to get pieces of the code to unlock more bonus features. Once you have everything you can unlock a bonus trivia track that plays simultaneously with the film.

The Bottom Line:
Despite initial worries about a hokey premise, National Treasure ends up being a fun adventure that the whole family can enjoy. Nicolas Cage is great as a modern Indiana Jones.

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