Tuesday, December 18, 2007

National Treasure

National Treasure is a treasure hunting movie of the finest caliber. With great locations, strange clues that must be deciphered intertwined into U.S. history, a race against time to find the treasure, a great cast, and peppered with action sequences but with its soul relying on the characters’ intellect rather than only their brawn, it’s all you can ask for, and a little more. Disney has had mixed success in its live action movies, but this can be put alongside the best of the bunch.

The movie begins with John Adams Gates (Christopher Plummer) telling his grandson the story of a great treasure of King Solomon passed down through the generations and protected by the Knights Templar and Freemasons who eventually smuggle the treasure to the New World and hide it, leaving a series of clues by which it might later be uncovered. Through mischance the Gates family has the only known clue to the treasure which he now passes on to his grandson.

The rest of the movie takes place years later as Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) has finally deciphered the clue and starts the search for the treasure. Along for the ride are his assistant Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), Ian Howe (Sean Bean) a profiteer who soon turns against them, and Abigail Chase (Dianne Kruger) who works at the National Archives and joins the search when they discover the map for the treasure has been written on the back of the Declaration of Independence and decide to steal it in order to protect it and the treasure from Ian.

The movie continues across the eastern United States as our heroes race to solve the clues before Ian or the FBI can track them down. From New York to Philadelphia our heroes race to solve a mystery and find the treasure.

The package comes with quite a few special features for a one-disc DVD release. Deleted scenes and the original ending for the film (which is pretty good) and an anamorphic sequence are available with or without director commentary. Also included are documentaries on the making of the film, (pretty standard stuff here) and quite a few special features that have to be unlocked. Included in these are a documentary about actual treasure hunters, a short feature about the Knights Templar, a list of features for Verizon users, and an entertaining feature and game about cryptography, codes and puzzles. All in all, a very nice collection. The only real disappointment is the lack of any commentary for the film itself.

I loved this movie in the theater and it works just as well on DVD. It’s wonderful fun, and the rare thinking man’s action flick. The information about the Templars and the Freemasons (including some of our founding fathers) and the

amount of history discussed and used to decipher clues makes for a much more interesting movie than your regular summer movie fair. Also, the heist of the Declaration of Independence is so well thought out and done, it makes the film worth seeing just by itself. As to whether the treasure is real or if they find it, it doesn’t really matter. What the characters learn about history and about themselves is the main quest here. It’s the journey, more than the destination, that matters.

The DVD extras are quite numerous, though most seem geared to teenagers and children rather than adults (this is a Disney DVD after all). The documentary for the movie is pretty standard stuff, and the shorter features on the Knights Templar and on real life treasure hunters, while interesting and well done, are not long enough to give more than basic information. I do like the decision to provide the code in the booklet that comes with the DVD that allows you to unlock the second level of extras for those of us who don’t want to take the time to figure out the code. Aside from the lack of a director’s commentary I’m very happy with this Disney DVD.

Added note: The sequel to the film National Treasure: Book of Secrets, scheduled for release the end of 2007, will find Gates and his tema uncovering the truth behind the mystery of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. I don’t know if the magic of the first film can be recaptured, but with Kruger, Bartha, Harvey Keitel, and Jon Voight back on board and the addition of Helen Mirren, Ed Harris and Bruce Greenwood, I’m looking forward to finding out.

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