Disney // 2004 // 131 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // May 16th, 2005
The greatest adventure history has ever revealed.
A surprise hit at the box office in 2004, director Jon Turteltaub's National Treasure ignited moviegoers' imaginations with its rush of adventure and a family-friendly PG rating. Starring Nicolas Cage (The Family Man), Jon Voight (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), Diane Kruger (Wicker Park), Harvey Keitel (Pulp Fiction), Sean Bean (Goldeneye), and Christopher Plummer (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country), National Treasure makes its thrilling DVD debut care of Walt Disney Home Entertainment.
Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicholas Cage) is the last in a long line of historical treasure hunters convinced that a fortune in Egyptian bling-bling is hidden somewhere in America, and that the clues to its location are printed, scribbled, and hidden all over our most precious historic documents. It seems that, decades upon decades ago, some Masonic descendants -- including nine signers of the Declaration of Independence -- had the Knights Templar hide an incredible fortune throughout the years. Gates thinks that he's cracked the code, which is printed on the back of our nation's one-dollar bill, as well as the Declaration of Independence, which Gates steals for two reasons: (1) to get the invisible code printed on the back of it; and (2) to keep it out of the hands of Ian Howe (Sean Bean), a fellow treasure hunter who couldn't care less what -- or whom -- he ruins in the process of obtaining his fortunes.
Aided by a feisty archivist, Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), and a sarcastic techno-junkie named Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), Gates must outwit both Ian Howe and the U.S. government to find the riches he's been searching for all his life.
Disney's mega-box office hit National Treasure is one of those movies that is endlessly entertaining while simultaneously making no sense whatsoever. Oh, I'm sure that in some form or another, if you really paid attention to the plot, the movie would come together the same way a child's red wagon will come together even if you don't read the directions; it'll just be a goofy-lookin' wagon. The good news is that you only need to know the basic gist of the thing -- obsessed treasure hunter uses our national history to help him find fortune and glory -- to really enjoy a movie like National Treasure.
Some have likened National Treasure to the book The Da Vinci Code, as well as the Indiana Jones films and every other action movie ever made starring Nicolas Cage. They are correct. National Treasure steals from every source under the sun, and then some -- either by plot, character, action, dialogue, or exposition. By no means is National Treasure an original movie, but it is a well constructed one that often rises above its stupendous flaws and contradictions.
I'm sure we could write volumes about why Nicolas Cage is considered an action star, and multiple volumes about why he shouldn't be let near an action movie set. I have my conflicting opinions -- while I wasn't a fan of such movies as Gone in 60 Seconds or Con Air, I think Hollywood has worn me down to the point where I'm indifferent about Cage as an action star. Whatever, fine, okay...you got me. Let the guy run around exploding planes if you must, but make sure the movie around him is enthralling.
I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I liked National Treasure. I had fun with it, even when it was too goofy for its own good. Of course, I found it hard to believe that our founding fathers would construct an invisible map on the back of the Declaration of Independence -- it seems there were more pressing matters at the time that document was being drawn up. In fact, I'm pretty sure it was Ben Franklin who said (and I'm paraphrasing), "Give me liberty or give me a Jerry Bruckheimer movie." I also found it difficult to watch Nic Cage stealing the nation's most important document, then carrying it across multiple states without the thing getting ripped, torn, or ruined. Hell, I can't get from Chicago to Milwaukee without scratching up at least two CDs in my car.
But I'm nitpicking. The movie clips along at a breakneck pace, and the actors, while two-dimensional, are engaging in a "turn your brain off" sort of way. Nicolas Cage, who is balding in real life but adds years of growth onto his head with each passing movie, is able to play the determined oddball well. He is complemented by a fine supporting cast including Jon Voight as his worried father, Sean Bean as his arch-nemesis, Diane Kruger as his love interest, and in a blink-or-you'll-miss-it cameo, Christopher Plummer as a grandfather with an adventurer's twinkle in his eye.
In the end, it isn't the actors we're paying attention to as much as the special effects and breakneck pacing. Though National Treasure isn't as effects-riddled as something like The Mummy Returns (a movie National Treasure seems to share a kinship with), it's full of rousing chase sequences, a few explosions, and an ending that seems preposterous but fitting for the proceedings. I don't know as I'd consider this movie to be a real cinematic treasure, but it is a lot of fun (sans lots of violence, sex, and profanity), and that counts for something.
National Treasure is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The Mouse House has made sure that fans get a decent looking transfer, though there are a few problem spots, including haloing in the image. Overall, the colors and black levels are solid and dark without any dirt or grain in the picture. While the transfer is good, it's not great, and in this day and age of DVD, that's somewhat of a shame.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. This 5.1 mix is very good -- there are many instances that require the use of all six speakers, and this track steps up to the challenge. Trevor Rabin's action-oriented score is prominently displayed while crumbling rock, screeching cars, and gunfire blasts fill the background. Also included on this disc is an alternate French soundtrack, as well as Spanish and French subtitles.
Sift through National Treasure's extra features and you'll find a goldmine of supplements! Okay, well, maybe not a gold mine, but you'll find a few that should placate rabid fans. First up are a few featurettes, including "National Treasure On Location," "Treasure Hunters Revealed," "The Templar Knights," and "Riley Poole's Decode This!" The longest featurette ("National Treasure On Location") runs a little over ten minutes long and is, alas, mostly just promotional fluff for the film. The rest of the featurettes don't fare much better -- they cover everything from looking at real life treasure hunters to making the viewer play silly little games and decode riddles to watch them. If you're a fan of the film I'm sure you'll enjoy these; otherwise, the rest of us can skip right along.
Next up are two deleted scenes running just under eight minutes, and a cheesy alternate ending that was -- thankfully -- dropped from the final cut of the film. An opening scene CGI animatic is exactly what it sounds like, and the optional trivia track doles out fun facts about the movie as it plays.
Finally there are trailers for the movies Herbie: Fully Loaded, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Tarzan II, and The Pacifier, as well as a Verizon Wireless commercial. Blah.
If you're looking for an action movie you can watch with your kids, National Treasure is the way to go. I was taken aback at how much I liked this movie, even with its apparent flaws. National Treasure is easily worth a Friday night rental with your family, or the date who doesn't like violent action flicks.
Hey, it's pretty silly stuff...but I was entertained.
Review content copyright © 2005 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 131 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Featurette: "National Treasure On Location"
* Featurette: "Treasure Hunters Revealed"
* Featurette: "The Templar Knights"
* Featurette: "Riley Poole's Decode This!"
* Alternate Ending
* Animatic Featurette
* Deleted Scenes
* Bonus Trailers
* Official Site
* National Archives