I was somewhat underwhelmed by the first "National Treasure", a big-budget picture that tried to go for the feel of an old-fashioned adventure/mystery, while also riding along on the popularity of "The Da Vinci Code". The film's action sequences were average (not surprising, as director Jon Turtletaub's lengthy resume includes nothing in the way of action) and the film never managed to generate the sense of mystery or wonder it was going for.
The second picture brings back not only Turtletaub, but writers Cormac and Marianne Whibberly (as well as, of course, producer Jerry Bruckheimer.) While the sequel actually fixes some of the issues of the first film, in other ways the filmmakers haven't learned their lesson - the original was overlong at 130 minutes and the sequel is just as overlong...at 130 minutes.
Once again, Nicholas Cage stars as explorer Benjamin Gates, who finds early on in the film from a competitor, Wilkinson (Ed Harris), that has great-great grandfather was behind the assassination of President Lincoln. Gates has since broken up with girlfriend Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), but she's soon sucked into another adventure as Gates and assistant Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) - as well as Ben's father, Patrick (Jon Voight) and mother, professor Emily Gates (Helen Mirren). The group's goal is to find the mythical lost City of Gold, but they quickly realize that Wilkinson is right on their tail.
The film has Gates and the others heading around the globe in order to wander around high security buildings like Buckingham Palace and the White House to search for clues and, all the while, managing to get past guards (when Riley trips the fire alarm so they can escape, one guard actually says, "Someone or something is causing this!" - gee, do ya think?) and everything else. There's no elaborate "Mission: Impossible" style sequences or anything of that nature - they have no problem convincing Abigail's new boyfriend to let them into the oval office and later, kidnap the President when they realize they need the President's famed "Book of Secrets". Cage's character once again seems to always guess the answers to the clues right away and never really has any major obstacles.
John Turtletaub is never going to be confused with Bruckheimer's frequent collaborator Michael Bay, but at least the sequel manages to step up the action a little bit with some decent car chases and a couple of other sequences. While the screenplay is once again underwhelming - offering a silly plot and even goofier dialogue - the performances are improved.
Cage seems like he's having more fun this time around in somewhat snappier performance. Bartha makes a good pairing as his nervous assistant and Kruger is given more to do. A real highlight is the pairing of Voight and Mirren, who are entertaining playing off one another. While Ed Harris looks - as do some other members of the cast - to be doing this for a paycheck - he at least makes for a more interesting, intense villain this time around.
Overall, this is really isn't vastly different from the original picture - one wishes that they hadn't taken such an "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" feel to the sequel and brought in different writers and a different director to try and get a different take - but as lightweight entertainment, "Book of Secrets" functions well a bit more often than not.
VIDEO: "National Treasure 2" is presented in 2.35:1 (1080P/AVC) by Disney. The DVD edition of the film offered video quality that was just fine enough, which was a little surprising for such a major new release. The Blu-Ray presentation isn't going to stand as demo quality, either, but it is on another level when compared to the DVD edition. Sharpness and detail see a noticable improvement, as the picture appeared crisper and more well-defined, with very good small object detail (hairs, texture and - in close-ups - pores.) Additionally, the image offered pleasing - if not fantastic - depth.
The presentation does show some minor noise, but otherwise appeared crisp and clean, with no edge enhancement or print flaws. Colors looked fine again here, with solid, well-saturated hues and no smearing or other faults. Black level remains strong, while flesh tones looked accurate. Subtitles are offered in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, English SDH.
SOUND: The film is offered here with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 presentation. Like the original film, "National Treasure 2" veers away from expectations for a film from producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Instead of an all-out audio assault, the film only used the surrounds on occasion to offer a variety of enjoyable effects during the film's handful of action sequences. The remainder of the film's audio was spread across a wide front soundstage. Audio quality was quite good, with some instances of pleasing low bass during the action sequences, as well as crisp, clear dialogue. We also get Dolby Digital 5.1 presentations in French, Spanish and Portuguese.
EXTRAS: The video supplements are offered in HD.
Director John Turtletaub and actor Jon Voight offer an audio commentary for the movie, and do a pretty decent job. The track does offer a little too much in the way of "happy talk", but there are some decent discussions of filming on location, production of some of the major sequences and working with the actors. Voight also contributes some nice remarks.
We also get some fairly funny outtakes, the "The Book of Secrets: On Location" featurette (the amazing places the filmmakers ventured for the sequel), "In the Secrets of a Sequel" (the decision to make the second film), "Street Stunts: Creating the London Chase", "The Inside the Library of Congress" (the most intereresting piece, this gives a brief tour of the facility and the incredible research labs within it), "Underground Action" featurette, "Cover Story: Crafting the President's Book" featurette, "Knights of the Golden Circle" featurette and "Evolution of a Golden City" featurette. Finally, we also get previews for other titles from the studio, as well as a little over 20 minutes worth of deleted scenes. The deleted scenes offer some good snippets and are worth a viewing.
The Blu-Ray edition doesn't offer too much beyond the DVD, but we do get some added content, starting with a pair of additional deleted scenes. We also get "Book of History", an interactive blend of game and fact track only accessible to those with players capable of Bonusview (profile 1.1). There are also some easy to find easter eggs that can be spotted while browsing through the menu. Finally, those with D-Box capability can get their rumble on via this title.
Final Thoughts: Overall, as lightweight entertainment, "Book of Secrets" functions well a bit more often than not. The Blu-Ray presentation offers stronger image quality, fine audio quality and all the extras of the DVD plus a couple more. The movie gets a rental recommendation, but for fans looking for a purchase and deciding between the Blu-Ray and the DVD, the Blu-Ray stands as the winner.
The Film B