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Walt Disney Home Video presents
"I'm going to steal the Declaration of Independence."
DVD ReviewI used to get in arguments with my brother about those big-budget action films (your Armageddon/Die Hard/Con Air kind of flicks), the type where you need to disengage your logical mind in order to kick back and kill two hours being entertained.
His borderline highbrow argument was why waste two hours on something that is farfetched or hokey; my comeback was that these films provide the perfect level of escapism, and that I'm not expecting 100% logic, but I do want it to be big, noisy, and fun. Sure, I can appreciate the visual majesty of Akira Kurosawa, or the dark beauty of Carol Reed when I need to, but there is an endlessly deep hole in my moviegoing heart that only be filled by those big summer blockbusters.
The Jerry Bruckheimer-produced National Treasure is Disney's relentlessly fun entry in the genre, a tale about "a treasure beyond all imagining," hinged on secret maps and clues hidden within documents like the Declaration of Independence and locations like Independence Hall. And of course there's only one man who really believes it exists, Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicholas Cage), a renegade historian whose career has been tarnished by his belief in the mythical treasure.
As the cryptic clues are revealed, Gates, his brainy, wisecracking partner Riley (Justin Bartha), and Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), the obligatory unwilling "hot chick" partner—as she's referred to by one of the characters—have to race to stay one step of the evil and nasty Ian (Sean Bean) and his gang of henchmen who are trying to solve the very same puzzle. And one of the keys to the puzzle starts with needing to steal the Declaration of Independence.
To accept passage on this ride you have to roll with certain mile-wide plot devices, and though the whole premise of stealing the Declaration of Independence is both ridiculous and clever, if you don't buy into this the rest of the film will be an enormous struggle, because it gets crazier from there onward. But crazy in a good way, crazy in that big-tub-of-popcorn-big-budget-action-movie kind of way that makes me secretly as giddy as a schoolgirl because filmmakers like Jon Turtletaub (Phenomenon) do it up right. There's computer hacking (including the necessary utterance "we're in", used no less than twice!), elaborate action sequences, and enough pseudo-history to make the armchair conspiracy buff tingle with the knowledge that maybe someone else gets it, too.
The actors don't get a lot of room to stretch beyond one-note characterizations—Cage as the driven believer, Bartha as wacky sidekick, Kruger as doubting potential love interest, Bean as treacherous villain—and it is really the puzzle-solving and action scenes that take precedence. Take for example the heist of the Declaration of Independence, which occurs early in the story; it is a swift piece of understandably unbelievable hokum that ends up being one of the tightest sequences in the film, a mindlessly clever series of no-way-it-could-happen-but-they-made-it-look-easy theft that only movies can do well.
I know a lot of movie fans are turned off by seeing the words "Jerry Bruckheimer," and while he certainly isn't an arthouse icon, he generally delivers the type of broad, well-funded escapism that means there will a large number of special effects and generally more than enough action sequences for three films. If you don't look for deep meaning you usually won't be disappointed in a Bruckheimer production, but with National Treasure the ante is upped slightly by a story that is layered in real-life mysteries, in conjunction with high-tech heists to at least make the journey a clever "what if."
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: National Treasure has been issued in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, and though it isn't absolutely flawless, it works more often than it doesn't. Image detail is soft, especially during the final act, but shadows, colors and fleshtones hold up quite well under a variety of lighting conditions. No major grain issues or debris, but haloing and ringing are evident periodically, making this a less than perfect transfer, but still a very nice one looking one overall.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: Audio is provided in a clean Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix, a properly loud and aggressive track for a film with so many action sequences. Directional movement across the front channels is pronounced, while dialogue retains clarity even during the loudest passages. There are plenty of great ambient sound cues, such as during the exploration of an old ship where creaks and moans rise and fall out of the rears, and while the .LFE isn't abused, it does deliver a steady amount of deep thumps.
A French language Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also included.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
8 Other Trailer(s) featuring Herbie Fully Loaded, The Pacifier, Tarzan II, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Scrubs, America's Heart and Soul, Alias,
2 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
The first level of extras contains National Treasure on Location (11m:17s), a typical EPK piece that mixes interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and film clips, and while most of it is generic and lightweight, there were a few interesting pieces on the digital effects and such. Next is a pair of deleted scenes (07m:45s), available with an optional commentary from director Jon Turtletaub, as well as a brief intro (:42s) where he explains why scenes get cut in the first place. The longer of the two scenes, running just over six minutes, is actually an extended version of an existing sequence, with the shorter clip featuring an appearance by President Andrew Jackson. An Opening Scene Animatic (02m:21s), available with optional Turtletaub commentary and intro (:21s), is a spiffy bit of animation more polished than most DVD animatics, and covers the opening scene where Christopher Plummer recounts the centuries-long journey of the mysterious treasure. There is also an Alternate Ending (01m:01s), again outfitted with optional director commentary and intro (:45s), and this one is geared more toward priming the pump for a sequel, though Turtletaub claims there isn't one planned. Yet.
Follow the easy clues and you'll get to Level Two, where a pair of featurettes and a game await you. Treasure Hunters Revealed (08m:30s) takes a look at real-life treasure-seekers, and seems ready to boost the sales of metal detectors. The Knights Templar (04m:59s) is a very brief attempt to explain the truths behind their origins, but really, five minutes isn't nearly enough time to do the subject justice. There is also a brief game called Riley Poole's Decode This!, which is essentially remote control busy work, but it does include the info needed to get to the final level.
Level Three contains the ability to access a text-based trivia track, viewable while watching the film. Odd and entertaining bits of trivia, both historical and production-related (what building doubled as the White House, how many films has Christopher Plummer appeared in) pop up periodically. But to be honest, on a film already topping the two-hour mark that's a lot of trivia.
In addition to some trailers and Verizon mobile phone game codes, the disc is cut into 19 chapters, with optional subtitles in English, French or Spanish.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsNo matter what my brother says, here's a fun way to kill two-plus hours, an admittedly silly action-adventure film about an ancient treasure and secret societies all built around clues found in U.S. historical landmarks and documents. Make the necessary leap of faith required for stuff like this and you should enjoy the ride.
Preposterous? Yes. Entertaining? You betcha.
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