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National Treasure: Collector’s Edition DVD Review

National Treasure: Collector’s Edition

December 20, 2007

Director: Jon Turteltaub,
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel, Diane Kruger, Sean Bean, Justin Bartha, Christopher Plummer, David Dayan Fisher, Stewart Finlay-McLennan,

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DVD Review

Just in time for the sequel, Book of Secrets (2007) which hits theatres on December 21st, Disney has gone back to the well and re-released the first National Treasure film (2004) with a Collector’s Edition that adds a DVD of brand new extra material. But is it worth the double dip? Nicolas Cage has run the gamut of the action film genre. He’s played the reluctant action hero in The Rock (1996), a cartoonish icon in Con Air (1997) and the amoral bad guy in Face/Off (1997). With National Treasure he essays a new variation—the non-violent action hero. Usually, you don’t see anything of the non-violent kind in a Jerry Bruckheimer action movie and that’s one of several pleasant surprises in this movie.

As a child, Benjamin Franklin Gates (Cage) was told a story by his grandfather (Plummer) about an ancient valuable treasure that was brought over to North America by the Free Masons during the discovery of the New World. Over the years, the location of the vast treasure was moved around and ultimately lost as the people who knew it eventually died off. Now, only a few clues exist but they aren’t easy to find and decipher. Ben’s cynical father (Voight) scoffs at this story, not wanting to see his son follow in his family’s footsteps. However, he grows up to be a world-class treasure hunter and has never forgotten his grandfather’s story. It has become a life-long obsession, handed down from generation to generation.

The trail of clues leads to a secret map hidden somewhere on the Declaration of Independence but how can he gain access to it? His partner, Ian (Bean), decides that the only way is to steal it, which goes against Gates’ code of honour. They part company on less than amicable terms—Ian tries to blow him up. Gates’ quest takes him to such diverse places as Washington, D.C., the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and Trinity Church in New York City. To help him achieve his goal, Gates enlists the help of Dr. Abigail Chase (Kruger) or rather he tries to con her so that they can look at the Declaration before Ian steals it. However, his story is more than a little far-fetched so, he decides to steal it in order to protect it. In the ensuing chaos, Dr. Chase is caught in the middle and shanghaied by Gates. If that wasn’t bad enough, a determined FBI agent (Keitel) is on his trail. Now, Gates has to stay one step ahead of the law and Ian.

The film differentiates between the good guys and the bad guys in the methods that they employ. Ian and his men carry guns and use physical force to get what they want while Gates uses his brains, skills and high-tech gadgets to achieve his goals. It is a refreshing idea for an action/adventure film in a genre that is often saturated with excessive gunplay. It is also nice to see an action film propelled by a story and not a series of action sequences. There is a lot of problem-solving instead of relying on mindless action. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have its share of exciting sequences because it does, but it doesn’t overcompensate. There is a balance. Characters don’t always resort to violence. In this cat and mouse game, they have to use their brains if they are going to be successful.

At times, National Treasure wants to be a contemporary update of Indiana Jones. Like that character, Benjamin Gates isn’t in it for the money but for a genuine love of history and the thrill of the solving the centuries old mystery. This is a surprisingly entertaining mix of action and humour. It doesn’t rely on too many cliches of the genre and tries not to insult one’s intelligence.

Special Features:

Unless you are a diehard fan of this film or have yet to pick up a copy, then it really isn’t worth spending your hard-earned money to get again. The second disc doesn’t contain that many new extras and the ones that are on there are pretty brief.

In keeping with the cracking codes and knowing something about history from the movie, each extra contains a clue at the end of it that when put together will unlock another level of supplemental materials and then another.

“National Treasure on Location” briefly touches upon the film’s origins. It started with a premise: what if you stole the Declaration of Independence? The original script was riddled with problems and producer Jerry Bruckheimer worked with Turteltaub to improve it. It is quite an achievement that the filmmakers got to shoot on location at these famous historical landmarks. Only a Bruckheimer production would have the clout (and money) to achieve this.

There are two deleted scenes with optional commentary by director Jon Turteltaub that provide a little more back-story to Gates’ ancestor. The filmmaker mentions that the original cut was four hours long and yet we are only given two scenes, one of which is just an extension of an existing one.

Also included is an “Opening Scene Animatic” with optional commentary by Turteltaub that shows a rough, computer animated storyboard of the opening historical prologue.

There is also an “Alternate Ending” with optional commentary by Turteltaub that originally tried to set-up a sequel but this wasn’t their intention and so, thankfully, it was scrapped.

“Treasure Hunters Revealed” takes a look at the real people who look for treasure. The ones who are interviewed for this extra claim that they are in it for a love of history, but many of them look pretty well off so it becomes obvious that we are only touching the surface here.

“Riley Poole’s Decode This!” is a game that teaches a little about hieroglyphics and cryptography and then has you decode a bunch of names that get progressively harder (although, not that much).

“The Templar Knights” featurette briefly examines these historical figures and their link to the Free Masons.

Finally, there is a bonus “Trivia Track” which allows you to watch the movie with a subtitle track that dispenses mostly useless info that you could easily get from surfing the Internet Movie Database.

The second disc starts off with five deleted scenes with optional commentary by Turteltaub. One scene imparts some historical facts and has an amusing gag with the bad guys staying at the Watergate Hotel. There is a scene that introduces Harvey Keitel’s character earlier in the film. Wisely, a pointlessly brief scene set in a strip club with no strippers (?!) was cut. The director introduces each scene and explains why they were cut.

“Ciphers, Codes and Codebreakers” takes a look at the science behind cryptology. It gives a brief history going back to the Bible. A few experts are interviewed and talk about how ciphers and codes work.

“Exploding Charlotte” examines how the filmmakers recreated a ship lost in the Arctic in Los Angeles. They shot the interiors in a warehouse that housed frozen food while the exteriors were shot in Park City, Utah.

“To Steal a National Treasure” takes a look at how they planned out and shot the scene where the Declaration of Independence is stolen. Since 9/11, the National Archives had given their security system a state-of-the-art facelift which made the filmmakers’ job even more difficult.

Finally, there is “On the Set of American History” that examines how the filmmakers were actually on location in Boston, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia at the real historical landmarks. By doing this, they gave the film an authenticity. The cast and crew talk about the rich history of each city.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 79%

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