Watching the opening scene of National Treasure, I found myself tapping my chin thoughtfully as Christopher Plummer told a story about great secrets and treasures from the past to a young boy rapt with starry-eyed attention. What was familiar about this boy? Who was this kid? As the boy’s gruff father (Jon Voight, with a bad hairpiece) blusters into the room to negate all images that grandpa was putting into the child’s head, I figured it out. The same week I saw this preview, there happened to be ads all over TV for the creepy computer-animated film The Polar Express. THAT was it! This waxen, perfect, soft-focus child had the blank and shiny-eyed stare of that CGI kid who sends shivers down my spine every time I see those commercials. To exude the life of a soulless animated child is not a compliment for any actor.
The creepy child (named Benjamin Franklin Gates… har har) grows into a man who looks nothing like him, played by Nicolas Cage. We meet Ben on an adventure to find this elusive treasure that gramps told him about. This treasure is the equivalent of the Holy Grail, but better. Going back a thousand years, or whatever, all the coolest stuff in the world was stolen and restolen, and finally hidden by the Knights Templar, with only the most elaborate puzzle to unlock the key to where all the goodies ended up.
Sound familiar? Well, you’re right. It is The DaVinci Code… but set in America, like all good stories should be! Screw Europe and those tricky accented words like “Louvre” and “England.” Let’s just steal the idea, put it in our own backyard, and have the Declaration of Independence hold the key to everything.
National Treasure is a big, dumb movie that acts like it is the smartest kid in history class. National Treasure is the type of movie where the hero drives for miles and miles across the polar icecap, hops out of his Cat onto the snow, and within two minutes finds a buried ship that a) has been missing for 200 years, b) is buried by a mere six inches of powder, and c) is found by a hand-held metal detector. National Treasure is the type of movie where the hero reads out loud a riddle, and then announces, “It’s a riddle…,” then proceeds to decipher it out loud in 20 seconds. National Treasure is the type of movie where the hero comes across a skeleton clutching a barrel, and says, “It seems that he was trying to protect something in this barrel.”
And all that happens in the first ten minutes of the movie, just to give you a taste.
Nic Cage looks like he is laughing all the way to the bank with his paycheck. Jon Voight looks a tad embarrassed and flustered that he has somehow reprised his role in Tomb Raider without his daughter anywhere to be seen. Sean Bean (bless his talented heart) simply seethes over the fact that he yet again has to play the villain because of his chiseled good looks and British accent. The plucky, smart, and sassy female heroine is negligible, and we are likely never to see her again.
The only person that comes across well is the sidekick Riley, played with goofy charm by Justin Bartha. Riley is the token nerd-boy that never gets the credit he deserves, always over-shadowed by his spotlight-hogging friend. Bartha’s delivery of Riley’s lines cracked me up. It wasn’t what he said, but his halting, strangely-paced blurts that were the only saving grace of the film. Who is this guy? (I quickly checked IMDB.) Oh my god! He was in Gigli! Well, Justin, your career is rising slowly, but at least it is getting better… unlike your pal Nic Cage.
The way the Two-Disc Collector’s Edition of National Treasure is packaged, you’d think it actually was a national treasure on par with, say, Raiders of the Lost Ark. The first disc includes the feature film, deleted scenes, an animatic version of the opening scene, an alternate ending, and an “On Location” featurette with Jerry Bruckheimer, Jon Turteltaub, and Nicholas Cage. It also includes a Multilevel Treasure hunt – the more clues you gather, the more extra features you uncover! Almost all of the extra features come with optional director’s commentary, and disc two is no exception. It includes more deleted scenes, a mini-documentary on real-life “Ciphers, Codes, and Codebreakers”, and even more behind-the-scenes footage. “On the Set of American History” looks at the actual historical locations used in the film, “To Steal a National Treasure” explains how hard it would really be to steal the Declaration of Independence (particularly post-9/11), and “Exploding Charlotte” reveals that the scenes set in the Arctic were actually shot in an industrial freezer and Utah. If you’ve been hungry for more since the film’s release, this two-disc set will leave you satisfied.