Disney // 2004 // 131 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 2nd, 2008
The Greatest Adventure History has ever Revealed.
Nic Cage's history-happy treasure-seeking adventure film receives the high-definition facelift and never has the Declaration of Independence looked so freakin' sexy.
Benjamin Franklin Gates (Cage, Ghost Rider) is a history buff bordering on sociopathic mega-nerd, consumed with finding the mythical Knights Templar treasure. This quest has been a family diversion for years, but Gates thinks he's finally figured out how to track down the loot.
Turns out the Declaration of Independence holds clues to the whereabouts of the treasure and Gates, along with his goofy sidekick Riley (Justin Bartha), decides to pull of an impossible heist and nab the original document. This crazy venture forces Gates to cross paths with a beautiful bureaucrat (Diane Kruger) -- who's luckily, also a history fan -- and a jackass former partner (Sean Bean) after the treasure for his own selfish purposes.
And the race is on to see who can find the bounty first and become disgustingly rich and learn the most about the Constitutional Convention.
I enjoyed this film a lot more than I expected. What, on the outside, seemed to be a derivative, bombastic Nicolas Cage vehicle turned out to be a lot of fun. And as an added bonus, it's all PG-rated fun, an extreme rarity these days.
Director Jon Turteltaub is obviously having a lot of fun with the material, and yes it's unrealistic and borderline goofy (wow, he sure found that bell in the middle of the arctic wasteland real fast) but you get the sense that he just wants to make sure the experience is pure escapist entertainment. And that is, and as such, gaping plot wounds are happily ignored.
But what really sets apart the film from other genre adventure tales is the focus on American history. Less a simple gimmick to differentiate National Treasure from its action movie brethren, the Founding Fathers stuff is treated with respect and, dare I say it, adulation throughout. This reverence went a long way towards endearing the film to me, and, as I can attest through anecdote, others who also enjoyed it.
Of course all the historical facts in the world would go to waste if this thing didn't move along with gusto. Turteltaub keeps the accelerator firmly pressed to the ground all the way up to the requisite cobweb-riddled secret-room finale. The Declaration heist is a major set-piece and could easily be used as the action climax for other movies, but it happens early on and establishes the frantic pace from the get-go. With each successive riddle, our heroes are propelled further on towards their goal and the riddles are interesting and varied in their quirkiness.
Cage does his usual thing and Bartha proves to be a good comic foil and benefits from the bulk of scene-staling one-liners. Kruger is a fine love interest, noteworthy because of her fervent love of history, equal to that of Gates's. And Sean Bean is as cool as ever as the villain, which he should have no problem playing as that's his usual role in all American films (interesting that when he's across the pond he's usually playing the hero; I guess that's what having an accent gets you).
So great family movie -- how's it in it's new Blu-ray glory? Quite good. The visual improvement (2.35:1) is noticeable immediately in the arctic sequence. Snow always looks great in high-definition and the artic expanse in the beginning is a stunner. From that point on, it's a buffet of varied locales (Philly, NYC, D.C. at night) all of which look fantastic in HD. The stand-out: the interior in the Library of Congress, an awesomely detailed building that transfers beautifully on Blu. Sound is just as potent, coming in an uncompressed 5.1 format and three typical 5.1 tracks (English, French, Spanish). The soundtrack is loud and active and the action scenes give the surrounds a workout. Watch the van chase scene in D.C. for the best the mix has to offer.
Finally, the extras. Disney serves up a solid offering, including the imported DVD bonuses -- behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes with optional commentary, an alternate ending, interactive games -- along with two Blu-specific bonuses: a great, interactive Declaration of Independence featurette and a very, very funny commentary track by Turteltaub and Bartha.
Yeah there are plot holes you could sail a clipper ship through, but National Treasure is a load of fun and its Blu upgrade is worth checking out.
Not guilty. Yay history!
Review content copyright © 2008 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 131 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Interactive Featurette
* Deleted Scenes
* Alternate Ending
* Original DVD Verdict Review
* DVD Verdict Review - Two-Disc Collector's Edition
* DVD Verdict Review - National Treasure 2 [Blu-ray]