|Written by Paul Lingas|
|Tuesday, 03 May 2005|
“National Treasure” is a brisk, fun, not too taxing intellectually in any way but nonetheless satisfactory adventure/caper film from director Jon Turtletaub and seems-to-be-everywhere-doing-everything producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Starring Nicolas Cage, the film and its producers keep things fun at every step.
“National Treasure” concerns treasure hunter Benjamin Gates (Nicolas Cage), who has been hired by Ian (Sean Bean) to help him find a treasure that Ben and his family have been seeking for many generations. Tagging along as the effectively funny technical wiz/sidekick is Riley (Justin Bartha). After a 300-year-old clue leads them to a colonial era wooden ship buried in Antarctic ice and another clue, Ian becomes frustrated and leaves Ben and Riley for dead. Managing to get back to civilization, Ben and Riley attempt to convince the relevant authorities that Ian is going to steal the Declaration of Independence because the next clue led to it. According to Ben, there is some sort of treasure map on the back of the document that will lead to the treasure of the Knights Templar, a treasure that has become known around Washington, D.C. and certain academic circles as the Gates family fortune. Ben and Riley’s last hope for anyone to listen to them is Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), a historian who works at the National Archives. Unable to convince the charming though highly skeptical Abigail, Ben and Riley determine that the only way to protect the Declaration from Ian is to steal it themselves. What results is somewhat of a classic heist caper to get possession of the document, followed by more capers and the culmination of the treasure hunt. Pursued by the law and by Ian, Ben, Riley and Abigail attempt to stay one step ahead while hunting down the final clues to what is considered to be the treasure of the ages.
While the narrative is straightforward as an action-adventure caper, the execution, overall twists and turns and most notably the performances make this a fun and mostly family safe film. While not threatening anyone or anything in the awards department, “National Treasure” has enough pleasant things going for it that it’s worth a few bucks to rent after a rough day. Keep in mind that this is a Disney film and that Bruckheimer is known for producing slick action movies, while Turtletaub has been best known for emotional rides such as “Phenomenon,” and you won’t be disappointed. Expect too much and you will be.
Technically, there is little to discuss. This is a crisp transfer and while there is little available in terms of sound beyond what seems to have become the boring standard 5.1 channel Dolby Digital, there’s nothing really to complain about. However, there’s nothing in terms of the transfer that makes the viewer want to jump up and down with sheer technical thanks. Instead, the producers of the DVD used a solid transfer from a new film and spent more of their time having fun with the menus.
The DVD producers capitalized on the idea of treasure hunting and included a whole slew of Easter eggs. Beyond the usual “making of” featurette, which is really not that interesting or informative, each featurette includes a clue to part of a variety of codes that unlock more and more information on the DVD, some of which are mentioned above in the Special Features listing and some of which are not. Not only does this make for a worthwhile DVD in terms of the additional games and fun little bits of information, it plays perfectly into the idea of the movie’s premise, with its the treasure hunting, historical references and code-breaking motifs. Most of the featurettes focus on aspects related to but not involving the production. There is one informational piece about modern-day treasure hunters and another one that delves further into the historical relevancy and background of the Knights Templar and the Freemasons. Otherwise, there is little else devoted to the production, very few interviews and little behind-the-scenes footage. Not having more exposure to the actors is disappointing and the deleted and extended scenes are also sparse. It’s surprising that there’s no feature-length audio commentary by director Turtletaub, though he did find time to comment on each of the deleted and extended scenes. I’d be more interested to know why there weren’t more deleted scenes included, but the alternate ending is interesting to see, especially accompanied by Turtletaub’s commentary.
A lighthearted, family-oriented affair that combines many action and caper genres, “National Treasure” could be considered a mainstream sleeper hit with the always pleasant Cage providing a solid ground upon which to follow the film’s often fantastical forays into history. The DVD itself provides more fun in terms of Easter eggs than anything else, but it fits in with the theme of the movie.