Overcoming mixed reviews, "National Treasure" became a major hit last year when audiences responded well to the idea of an action picture that was fairly family-friendly. Despite the fact that it shouldn't be included in the same sentence, the PG-rated film tries for the same old school adventure feel that the "Indiana Jones" pictures did.
The picture stars Nicholas Cage as Benjamin Franklin Gates, a treasure hunter who was informed at an early age by his grandfather of a massive treasure that vanished after the American revolution. The treasure had belonged to the Knights Templar, but now, Benjamin is trying to follow the clues - the map being, Bejamin realizes, on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Beyond that, Ian Howe (Sean Bean), Benajmin's former associate, is now his enemy and main competition, deciding to steal the treasure for himself.
So, given that no authority actually believes Ben that the Declaration is in trouble, Benjamin and his associate (Justin Bartha, who had to suffer through "Gigli") have to figure out the apparently impossible task of stealing the Declaration of Independence. Diane Kruger ("Troy") plays a National Archivist who ends up helping the two, although it takes a little convincing to get her to believe that an invisible map is located on the back of the document.
Despite not being thieves, the two manage to steal the document in a heist that is one of many not particularly believable moments in the film, as they don't have a whole lot of trouble. After the heist, the picture becomes one long chase sequence, with Ian chasing after Gates as both race towards the treasure. There's also an FBI agent (Harvey Keitel, looking like he's wondering how he found his way into this affair) trying to track down both parties. Jon Voight and Christopher Plummer, as Ben's father and grandfather, are also waisted in small roles.
Although "Treasure" is produced by action director Jerry Bruckheimer and action director Michael Bay, one wonders how director Jon Turtletaub was selected to helm the picture. A director with no history whatsoever in the action genre, Turtletaub's "While You Were Sleeping", "Cool Runnings" and "Disney's The Kid" definitely don't signal someone who has a lot of potential helming what is largely an action picture. Surprisingly, "Treasure"'s action sequences - which are fairly standard stuff - aren't the problem as much as the picture's inability to get to the point. For a movie that's largely a big chase sequence, there's an awful lot of unnecessary exposition in the middle that makes the 130-minute picture feel longer than it is.
There's other faults, however, especially the fact that Cage's character seems to figure out difficult clues with such absurd ease that it takes away from the mystery and suspense. The screenplay isn't exactly gold, unfortunately: done by Cormac and Marianne Wibberley ("Charlie's Angels II", "Bad Boys II") and Jim Kouf ("Snow Dogs" and "Taxi"...yikes.), the script can't come up with much in the way of clever action, and the romantic subplot with the Cage and Kruger characters feels like an afterthought. Holes in the screenplay, the fact that it's wrapped up too easily and the film's PG-rated action sequences take away from the overall impression further.
Yet, "National Treasure" manages a few decent action sequences and, although it's certainly not his best work, a respectable performance from Nicholas Cage. Although Cage definitely doesn't invest as much energy here as he did in "The Rock" and other pictures, he does provide his usual nervous, impatient style, which I usually find pretty entertaining. Kruger still has not convinced me why she's getting all these roles, while Bartha isn't memorable as the sidekick.
Overall, "National Treasure" had the potential to be a strong franchise if enough was invested in the story. Unfortunately, the screenplay isn't up to the task, and the performances just aren't good enough. So, what we're left with is a decent time waster.
VIDEO: "National Treasure" is presented by Touchstone in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is fine, but is not exceptional in any way. Sharpness and detail are just average, as the picture appears slightly on the soft side. Although there are moments where the picture appears somewhat crisper, the overall impression is a bit lackluster. The picture also suffers from some minor edge enhancement and a couple of light traces of pixelation. On a positive note, the print is in great shape, with no visible marks, specks or scratches. Colors are also accurate, appearing rich and nicely saturated.
SOUND: "National Treasure" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Although this isn't an explosive (there's really only one big boom) action picture, there are still a decent amount of instances where the surrounds are put to some use for ambience and effects. Audio quality was enjoyable, as sound effects seemed dynamic and well-recorded, while score and dialogue were crisp and clear. Some decent bass is on-hand, although nothing that's going to wake the neighbors.
Although the fairly brief "making of" is largely promotional and full of "happy talk", there are some nice behind-the-scenes clips and details about production elements like visual effects. There's also a couple of deleted scenes, an animatic and an alternate ending. The deleted scenes and alternate ending have optional commentary from the director.
If you get the clues given at the end of the main supplements, you can also unlock more supplements, including three brief featurettes. I didn't get much from any of the supplements, and was surprised that no one from the production participated in a commentary track. Some sneak peek promos for other titles from the studio are also included.
The new elements of this edition are included on the second disc, starting with four deleted scenes and one extended scene, with optional director's commentary. The scenes are largely dropped due to either pacing or story issues. "Ciphers, Codes and Codebreakers" is an 11-minute documentary that takes an overview of the history of encryption. "Exploding Charlotte" is a short look at the first sequence of the movie. "To Steal A National Treasure" is a short look at how the writers had to come up with a believable way for the characters to be able to steal a national treasure after the security systems were changed significantly at the National Archives. Finally, "On the Set of American History" is another brief featurette that goes over filming on location
Final Thoughts: "National Treasure" is certainly one of those popcorn movies where you check your brain at the door, but there are some holes and unbelievable moments that took me out of the movie, if only briefly. The performances are okay and the action sequences are fine, but the movie may have gained some tension had it trimmed some moments and upped the pacing. The DVD offers satisfactory video quality, fine audio and a decent helping of supplements. This new 2-DVD special edition doesn't offer all that much in the way of new material, and those who don't already own the movie and are interested in buying it should go for the cheaper original release.
The Film B-