National Treasure

(2004) ** Pg
131 min. Walt Disney Pictures. Director: Jon Turteltaub. Cast: Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Ed Harris, Justin Bartha.

/content/films/2084/1.jpg "Here's to the men," pledges Nicolas Cage's morally relativistic treasure hunter, "who did what was considered wrong to do what they knew was right." Asked how much National Treasure cost, director Jon Turteltaub quipped, "$70 billion—but with video, we'll be fine!...The number is always less than you need, but more than you can we approached [$100 million], my feeling is, 'Look what an effort we're making to make a good movie.'" Compare and contrast the above quotations. Discuss.

Cage's character, his fourth action hero for producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Carribbean), seeks the massive booty which, in the alternate reality of National Treasure, was squirreled away by enterprising early Americans (who apparently had no desire to invest the treasure in this long-shot called the United States). Cage's Benjamin Franklin Gates stands next in line to a family of true believers in the treasure (Christopher Plummer and Jon Voight represent the two previous generations).

The world has long scoffed at the Gateses—whose ancestor supposedly learned of the stash from Charles Carroll, the last signer of the Declaration of Independence to expire. Nevertheless, Ben Gates has somehow eked out an existence while leading expensive expeditions in pursuit of the next set of clues. Eventually, he reasons, the trail will end at untold riches collected from the Ancient Egyptians and passed from the Knights Templar to the Freemasons and therefore to, drum roll please, our precociously clever Founding Fathers. And if you believe that, I have a large copper bell to sell you (only one little crack in it).

Upon discovering that the treasure map has been inscribed onto the back of the Declaration of Independence, Gates has an ugly breakup with his—whoops!—villainous partner Ian (Sean Bean, the largely typecast baddie of Patriot Games, Goldeneye, Ronin, and Lord of the Rings). Armed with the knowledge that Ian plans to steal the priceless document, Ben tries to convince the government to work with him to protect it and unearth the treasure for posterity before it is lost to Ian's team of plunderers. No dice, says beautiful National Archives curator Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger, Helen of Troy). So Ben and his twentysomething sad-sack sidekick Riley (Justin Bartha) resolve to steal the Declaration themselves. Oh, and Harvey Keitel saunters through a few scenes as the FBI man on the trail of the 228-year-old parchment (which gets treated, ignominiously, like a Con Air one-sheet).

Screenwriters Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio and Cormac Wibberley & Marianne Wibberley (at least two other screenwriters go uncredited) reverse-engineer a number of silly scavenger-hunt clues and little in the way of zesty dialogue. It's bad news when a Bruckheimer movie makes one downright nostalgic for The Rock, but National Treasure is a long slog of uninspired episodes meant to capitalize on other, better movies. Jon Turteltaub (Phenomenon) cannot muster even a wisp of inspiration, though he slops on the story's historical hogwash with the best wink and smile he has in him.

The only thing not formulaic about National Treasure is its sheer audacity in disregarding history and any sense whatsoever. As usual, Hollywood talks a good game of moral character (the treasures belong to the world!) but ends by celebrating wealth. Most audiences will identify less with the preternaturally ingenious heroes and more with the evil henchman who watches Cage kiss the girl and bemoans, "Why does that never happen to me?"

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Uncompressed 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

Street date: 5/20/2008

Distributor: Buena Vista Home Entertainment

In an all-new special edition for Blu-Ray and DVD, National Treasure gets a full complement of new and used bonus features, but the real story is the crisp, deep picture quality on Blu-Ray, accompanied by a robust uncompressed surround soundtrack. There's also a freshly minted, chummy, screen-specific commentary shared by director Jon Turteltaub and star Justin Bartha and a pop-up Trivia Track to accompany repeat viewings of the film.

Deleted Scenes (16:04 with "Play All" option and optional commentary) include "Introduction by Jon Turteltaub" (:46), "Thomas and the President" (1:45), "Extended Shaft Sequence" (6:02), "Reviewing the Plan" (1:51), "Extended Scene: Ian Breaks Silence" (2:01), "Sadusky Takes Charge" (1:11), "An Unexpected Detour" (:45), and "Lighting the Path" (1:41). We also get "Opening Scene Animatic" (2:45) and "Alternate Ending" (1:50), both with optional commentary.

"Ciphers, Codes and Codebreakers" (11:49) delves into exactly those topics with a team of experts, while "Exploding Charlotte" (6:32) details the making of the film's opening sequence, with Turteltaub, Bartha, period nautical dresser Courtney Andersen, and production designer Norris Spencer. A swift overview of the film, "To Steal a National Treasure" (5:43) adds talking heads Nicolas Cage, Jerry Bruckhemer, DP Caleb Deschanel, U.S. archivist John Carlin, screenwriters Cormac & Marianne Wibberly and Jim Kouf, Diane Kruger, and property master Erik Nelson.

"On the Set of American History" (6:04) adds to the participant list Jon Voight, screenwriters Terry Rossio & Ted Elliott, and second unit director George Marshall Ruge, and "National Treasure on Location" (11:17) adds Sean Bean, visual effects producer Kathy Chasen-Hay, and visual compositor Claas Henke. "Treasure Hunters Revealed" (8:30) and "The Templar Knights" (4:59) gather real-life history experts to put the film in context.

The disc also includes previews for Wall•E and National Treasure: Book of Secrets. Disney has outdone itself with this packed special edition, only to outdo this disc with the full-HD special edition for the sequel, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (see the sidebar for a review of that disc). 

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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