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National Treasure: Book of Secrets

(2007) * 1/2 Pg
125 min. Walt Disney Pictures. Director: Jon Turteltaub. Cast: Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Ed Harris, Helen Mirren, Justin Bartha.

When dealing with a movie like National Treasure: Book of Secrets, it's hard to know what to say. It's the cinematic equivalent of the guy who runs up to a cop, grabs the cop's hat, throws it to the ground and takes a shit on it. One is left a bit speechless. Can you really get angry at the guy? He's obviously crazy. On the other hand, maybe the guy is crazy like a fox, and seizing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show his profound contempt. Either way, you just slap the cuffs on him and haul him away.

In modern Hollywood, it's hard to imagine the bar can be set any lower (or is it higher?) when it comes to narrative contempt. But in sequel-izing the absurd National Treasure, narrative contempt is the gig. Narrative contempt and millions upon millions of dollars, thrown at special effects companies, national landmarks, and the starriest cast money can buy. Nicolas Cage returns as treaure-hunter Ben Gates, who's riding high on the hog since his last adventure in 2004. When a suspiciously intense man (Ed Harris) claims he has proof that Gates' great-great-grandfather was the mastermind of Lincoln's assassination, the world crashes in for Gates and his father (Jon Voight, who's beginning to seem more like a happily panting dog than a human in these things).

Armed with a page torn from John Wilkes Booth's diary, Gates begins collecting clues that will lead him to Paris, Buckingham Palace, and the Oval Office, all on the way to getting his hands on the fabled "President's Book." What's the President's Book, you ask? It's the handed-down repository of POTUS-scrawled national secrets, of course! The moon landing! The Kennedy Assasination! Area 51! No time for those secrets: the FBI is after us!

Somehow all of this will lead to a lost city of gold, and somehow that lost city of gold will protect the good Gates name from a tarnished legacy. The Gates boys can't do all this on their own, though. In addition to the shadow-help of an FBI agent (Harvey Keitel), they can rely on Gates' estranged girlfriend (Diane Kruger) and the Rodney Dangerfield of treasure hunting (Justin Bartha), all characters returning from the first film. As this is a sequel in the Indiana Jones mode, a demographically useful new character must be added: that'd be Ben's mother, played by Helen Mirren. Helen Mirren!? No time for questions: the FBI is after us.

There's no point in talking about anyone's performance, except to decry the not-so-judicious application of yelling. Suffice it to say that this bloated assembly-line sequel resolutely offers the exact same thing as the original, but more, to diminishing returns. It's an old, old story, but as Bartha's character says, "Last time I checked, we pretty much make our living on crazy." A few minutes later, Cage proves it by announcing, "I'm gonna kidnap the President of the United States." Wake me when the FBI catches up to them.

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surro

Street date: 5/20/2008

Distributor: Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Regardless of what one thinks of the film, the truly awesome special edition of National Treasure 2—especially on Blu-Ray—is a dazzling layout of eye-popping locations and stunts, backed up with exceptional extras. Watching the accompanying bonus features in stunning HD, I found myself thinking, "This sounds like a movie I'd like to watch!", which means the featurettes were doing their job in reflecting the movie at its best.

The film is presented in a top-of-the-line high-definition transfer with Dolby TrueHD surround sound, and one can watch the film in a couple of enhanced iterations: with a chummy commentary by director Jon Turteltaub and star Jon Voight, or with the Blu-Ray-exclusive "in-movie feature "Book of History: The Fact or Fiction of National Treasure 2." The latter provides access, while watching the film, to "fascinating facts, audio clips, and picture-in-picture video" in the categories of "Desk of the President," "History Makers," "Chronology," and "Archives"; it's also a game challenge testing in true-or-false style your knowledge of history versus Hollywood fantasy.

Next up are seven Deleted Scenes (20:27 with "Play All" option), collectively (:49) and individually introduced by Turteltaub: "Pursuit at Rushmore: The Unseen Chapter" (8:03), "A Losing Battle" (2:11), "Death & Despair" (:50), "Hacking the Palace" (1:40), "Pushed to the Edge" (3:16), "A Helping Hand" (2:59), and "Tight Squeeze" (:35). Again, it's a thrill to see these fully finished deleted scenes in full HD. Even the bloopers are crystal clear in "The Treasure Reel: Bloopers & Outtakes" (5:03).

"Secrets of a Sequel" (6:51) brings together producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Turteltaub, executive producers Mike Stenson and Chad Oman, Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, and Voight to chat aout what brought them all back to the table. "The Book of Secrets: On Location" (9:46) adds to the conversation Helen Mirren, executive producer Barry Waldman, UK supervising location manager Bill Darby, health and safety officer Barry May-Leybourne, and security man Alex Garty. The featurette covers what it took to shoot in Paris, in London, and at Mount Rushmore. "Street Stunts: Creating the London Chase" (9:41) goes a step further, including a look at deleted segments from the scene and interviews with additional stunt coordinators, drivers, and design staff. 

"Inside the Library of Congress" (8:41) is catnip for history buffs, providing as it does a tour of the great national facility and its "backstage" areas. Many of the staff are interviewed, including curator C. Ford Patross and Librarian of Congress Dr. James H. Billington. "Underground Action" (6:47) details the intersection of gimbal work and performance for the teetering platform setpiece. "Cover Story: Crafting the President's Book" (4:32) is a cool look at the design and creation of a very special prop, with comments by Bruce Greenwood, propmaster Ritchie Kremer, and calligrapher De Ann Singh, among others.

"Evolution of a Golden City" (10:19) gets into the combination of old-fashioned set design and special effects extension needed to create the Lost City of Gold, as explained by some of the above participants, as well as screenwriters Cormac & Marianne Wibberly, production designer Dominic Watkins, visual effects supervisor Mitchell S. Drain, senior visual effects supervisor Nathan McGuinness, and lead modeller Greg Stuhl. "Knights of the Golden Circle" is a far-too-short look at the historical conspiratorial group found in the film, described by actor Christian Camargo and authors Warren Getler and Dr. Roy Roush.

Lastly, Disney includes previews for Tinker Bell, Sleeping Beauty: Platinum Edition, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Wall•E. It's impossible to imagine a fan of the film being disappointed by this essentially definitive special edition, even though the extras reveal how the filmmakers didn't just seem like they were making it up as they went along—here, they openly admit it. Late adopters may want to start with a rental, but National Treasure hunters have an easy find here.

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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