The incredible success of Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code spawned innumerable copycats. One of the most successful of these, released before The Da Vinci Code film, is the Nicolas Cage adventure caper, National Treasure. Directed by John Turteltaub (Phenomenon), the film went on to gross over 170 million dollars at the box office and has spawned a very successful sequel that is currently still in theatres. The original National Treasure has also recently been released to DVD in a 2-disc “collector's edition.”
The film follows the story of Benjamin Franklin Gates (Cage) as he quests to find a massive treasure hidden by a group of Masons who were among the founders of this country (and descendants of the Knights Templar). As the story goes, the last of the founding fathers to hold one of the clues to the location of the treasure, Charles Carroll, passed the clue onto Gates's great great great great grandfather. From that generation to this, members of Gates's family, Benjamin included, have spent (or wasted, depending on how you look at it) years of their lives attempting to find the treasure.
When Gates's turn to find the treasure arrives, he is severely hampered by the fact that his family is seen as a less than sane by the historical community. Additionally, the man backing Gates's quest, Ian Howe (Sean Bean), quickly turns into a villain, striking out on his own. Howe makes it clear that he will stop at nothing to get the treasure for himself and hampers Gates every step of the way for the rest of the movie.
Gates ventures from Washington, D.C., where he must steal the Declaration of Independence; to Philadelphia; to New York; solving riddles at every step along the way. Following his trip to D.C., it's not just Howe on his tail anymore, but a sizable contingent of federal agents as well (stealing the Declaration of Independence quite understandably distresses the authorities).
The film is a cross between Mission: Impossible and Peabody's Improbable History. This history is at best inaccurate, the moments of science that appear ludicrous, and the big heist sequence like a low-tech version of something Ethan Hunt would have come up with 10 years ago. However, the film never takes itself seriously enough for this to be much a bother.
Any attempt to dissect the clues, their meanings, and the solutions that Gates comes up with will leave the viewer flustered. It's not just that the clues make little sense, the solutions and their implementations are often far too convenient. Sitting back, turning off one's brain, and letting the mystery unfold however can lead to an enjoyable experience.
While Bean is good in his role, he has clearly been typecast. He has now appeared in numerous Hollywood features that cast him as an apparent good guy who turns out to be evil at just the wrong moment. It has become so obvious to use Bean in this manner that the switch is no longer exciting. From the moment he appears on screen in this movie one immediately wonders why the good guy, Gates, would be spending time with such an obvious villain. It takes a moment or two for the viewer to realize that Howe as not yet revealed his true intentions.
Working with Gates is the over-eager comic relief, Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) and at times Gates's father, Patrick (Jon Voight) and Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger). Gates and his band solve riddles, find improbable clues, and perform ill-advised feats (such as stealing the Declaration of Independence). Harvey Keitel appears as the hard-nosed lead investigator tasked with retrieving the Declaration of Independence, and adds some levity to what could have been an overly serious role.
The new two-disc set features all the usual supplementals that have become standard within a DVD release. There are deleted scenes, an alternate ending, an opening scene animatic, documentaries on the historical realities that the movie uses, and a code-breaking challenge. Some of the features are initially hidden and are only “unlocked” by watching others and decoding a riddle. While some of the supplemental material is vaguely interesting, only the truly dedicated viewer will spend the time to watch them all.
National Treasure is a big, loud, pseudo-intellectual Hollywood blockbuster. Much like the clues and riddles Benjamin Franklin Gates finds on his hunt, looked at from the right angle it can provide amusement, excitement, and a fun two hours in front of a screen.