October 4, 2005
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel, Diane Kruger, Sean Bean, Justin Bartha, Christopher Plummer, David Dayan Fisher, Stewart Finlay-McLennan, Oleg Taktarov, Stephen Pope, ,
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 (2004) 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 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 (Cage) 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.
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.