National Treasure review by Mike Long

This may sound odd, but despite that fact that I'm a life-long movie-lover, I rarely pay attention to actors. As someone who is more interested in the story and directing in a film, I largely ignore the "actors" and instead focus on the characters. In other words, I'm apparently far different from most of America, who will go see a film based solely on who is in it. Of course, I do notice bad acting, but as most acting is mediocre, or merely serves the scripts, I find it easy to not get bogged down in who's playing who. Having said that, one of the reasons that I truly enjoyed 1996's The Rock was Nicolas Cage's performance as a scientist who is thrown into an adventure. Cage turns in a similar turn in National Treasure, and as with his previously role, elevates the film.

Cage stars in National Treasure as Ben Gates, a historian who comes from a long line of history buffs. Unfortunately, his family has been ridiculed and ostracized from the academic community, as they believe that the founding fathers of United States hid a vast treasure from the British and left clues to the fortune's whereabouts on historic documents. As the film opens, Gates has been able to persuade philanthropist Ian Howe (Sean Bean) to invest in his quest, and the pair, along with Gates' technical aide Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) and a team of explorers, are searching for clues in the Arctic Circle. When Ben realizes that a clue can be found on the back of the Declaration of Independence, Gates' partnership with Howe promptly comes to an end, as Howe is in favor of stealing the historical document. Gates then becomes devoted to saving the Declaration of Independence from Howe. In doing so, he involves National Archives employee Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), and soon she is off on an adventure with Gates and Poole as they work to protect the Declaration of Independence and follow a series of puzzles which may lead to an enormous treasure.

Critics are always looking for "artistic" films which carry a "message", but there's nothing wrong with a movie that exists solely for entertainment purposes and National Treasure certainly delivers on that front. In fact, this is the rare movie that works on many levels and is appropriate for family viewing. The film offers a concise, coherent story which manages to be educational at the same time, as the script is peppered with factoids concerning U.S. history. The movie makes great use of real-life locations in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York, thus adding to the appeal of the film. And despite the numerous plotholes and implausibilities in the film, it is very easy to get sucked into the story.

As noted above, the real crux of the film is Nicolas Cage. As with Dr. Stanley Goodspeed in The Rock, Ben Gates is a scholar who suddenly finds himself being called upon to be an action hero. And while Gate is more confident and less bumbling than Goodspeed, he still exudes vulnerability and often uses wit and sarcasm in the face of danger. Cage makes Gates very likable and this is the key to the film. Also likable is Justin Bartha as the neurotic Riley Poole, who adds a great deal of comic relief to the film. Director Jon Turtletaub is better known for light-weight fare such as Disneys The Kid and 3 Ninjas, but he handles National Treasures blend of action and adventure very well. When National Treasure became a bona-fide box-office hit late last year (grossing over $100 million in just 3 weeks), I was very skeptical. But, the film is a true crowd-pleaser; a rousing adventure that combines fact and fiction into a very fun ride.

National Treasure can be found on DVD courtesy of Walt Disney Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in two formats, one widescreen and the other full-frame. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. As one would expect from a recent theatrical release, the DVD transfer for National Treasure looks good. The image is sharp and clear, free from any annoying grain or defects from the source material. The colors look good and the image is well-balanced. Both the daytime and night-time scenes (especially those in Washington, D.C.) are never overly bright or dark. There are some noticeable haloes around the actors at times, but they aren't distracting. The DVD features a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which really adds to the film. The dialogue is always sharp and clear, and is free from distortion. The track is filled with surround sound and subwoofer effects which enhance the action scenes. The track is never overly-loud and the dynamic range is well-balanced.

The National Treasure DVD contains several extras, although one must decipher clues in order to unlock some of them. "National Treasure on Location" (11 minutes) is a making-of featurette which offers comments from director Turtletaub, producer Bruckheimer, and the cast. The segment focuses on the plot, locations, actors, sets, and visual effects. The DVD contains 2 deleted scenes, totaling 8 minutes, which have an intro by the director and optional director commentary. There is also optional commentary on the "Opening Scene Animatic" (3 minutes). The "Alternate Ending" (2 minutes) probably should have been with the deleted. It's actually quite good and has optional commentary. The Fisher family, a group of real-life treasure hunters are profiled in "Treasure Hunters Revealed" (9 minutes), and we get to see them attempt an undersea treasure hunt. "The Templar Knights" (5 minutes) explores the history of this ancient order.

7 out of 10 Jackasses

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