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National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007)

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 5/20/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/15/2008

These days, if a movie turns any sort of profit whatsoever, be that at the box office, or on DVD, a sequel is probably inevitable. Sometimes we leave the theater or press the eject button knowing that a second (or more) film is on the way. This can have a number of effects on the viewer -- they can be totally ambivalent about it, roll their eyes in disbelief, or be very excited. When National Treasure ended, I immediately knew that I wanted to see more of the characters and their adventures. Will National Treasure: Book of Secrets live up to my expectations?

National Treasure: Book of Secrets begins not long after the ending of the first film. Treasure hunter, historian, adventurer Benjamin Gates (Nicolas Cage) and his father, Patrick Gates (Jon Voight) are doing a lecture about their ancestor Thomas Gates, who helped to foil a scheme involving a group of men who wanted to profit from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. As their presentation ends, Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) emerges from the audience brandishing a lost page from the diary of John Wilkes Booth. The page lists Thomas Gates as one of Booth's accomplices. Suddenly, Ben and Patrick, who had fought so long for respect, now find their family named being questioned. Meanwhile, Ben's sidekick, Riley (Justin Bartha), is realizing that no one is interested in the book that he wrote about the events of the first film. Ben contacts Riley for help with his latest problem, and we learn that Ben and Abigail (Diane Kruger) have broken up. However, Ben still needs Abigail's assistance to clear his family's name. Ben and Riley travel to Paris, and then meet Abigail in London (where Wilkinson's men confront them). They soon learn that Wilkinson's true goal is to find a lost city of gold which is hidden somewhere in the United States. Ben, Riley, Abigail, and Patrick now must find the treasure before Wilkinson.

When a sequel is being made, the filmmakers are faced with many logistical challenges. Can they get the same actors, writer, director, crew, and location from the first film? (And in some cases, can they get the rights to use footage from the first film?) However, there is only one artistic question; Can you re-capture the magic which made the first movie special? For National Treasure: Book of Secrets, the answer is sort of.

The thing which made National Treasure fun was that it actually introduced a novel idea. Ben Gates is a spiritual successor to Indiana Jones (and some would probably say a rip-off) in that he's both a scholar and a treasure hunter. But, the thing which made Ben unique was that he wasn't hunting for treasure in the jungles of South America and in Egypt, but right here in the good old U.S. of A. The film took New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. and made them into the exotic locales which our heroes visited. Even more amazing, the movie was educational. Yes, as the we followed Ben, Riley, and Abigail, we learned a great deal about American history. (Well, unless you're a history teacher.)

The second film takes that formula and tweaks it somewhat with the results being a mixture of the good and the bad. National Treasure: Book of Secrets doesn't stick to domestic soil, and our characters find themselves visiting Paris and London. However, this doesn't necessarily rob the movie of any charm. And, as with the first movie, National Treasure: Book of Secrets is chock full of actual historical facts -- some quite obscure -- and again, we are learning. The first 2/3 of the film, where Ben is not only attempting to clear the name of Thomas Gates, but also learn what Wilkinson is up to, is very much in the mold of the first movie, and the mixture of action and education works.

But, the last act of the movie doesn't measure up to National Treasure, for several reasons. First, the treasure itself is quite vague. On the DVD's audio commentary, director Jon Turtletaub confesses that production was begun without a finished script and that they didn't know what the treasure was going to be. Once the group arrives at the film's final locale, the story comes in fits and starts and suddenly, they've found the treasure -- but not before tackling some very convoluted and complex traps which don't come across as very believable. The resolution between Ben and Wilkinson is somewhat vague and doesn't ring true. In short, the finale here doesn't maintain the sense of wonder found in the first film.

Still, National Treasure: Book of Secrets is a fun movie. I really like the Ben Gates character and Nicolas Cage again proves that he's good at playing the reluctant hero. However this time, having gone through the death-defying events of the first film, Ben is somewhat more at ease with the treasure hunting. Again, Justin Bartha steals the show as Riley, as he's always able to provide the comic relief and be that much needed link to the audience. The inclusion of Helen Mirren into the cast as Ben's mother is an interesting choice, but she seems right at home skulking through tunnels looking for treasure.

As it's rare for a sequel to be better than its predecessor, we shouldn't hold National Treasure: Book of Secrets' problems against it. (Although, hopefully, the filmmakers will learn from them. Here's a tip: finish the script!) The film's mixture of fun and historical facts still sets it apart from other recent action films and though there is some mild violence, the movie is family-friendly for tweens and up. And while National Treasure ended with the thought that a sequel would be nice, National Treasure: Book of Secrets climaxes with a definite clue about the next movie. OK, I'm ready to learn more.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets unearths fun on DVD courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is very sharp and clear, as the picture shows practically no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look very good, especially greens and golds. The film is a combination of light and dark shots, and both look equally good here. I detected some mild artifacting in some scenes, but otherwise the transfer looks fine. The DVD offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a very good track, as it offers a great mixture of stereo, surround, and subwoofer effects. One has to only go to the finale, to experience the combination of rushing water and rumbling to see how clear and defined the sound is, and how this only helps the film.

The National Treasure: Book of Secrets two-disc DVD set contains several extras. The lone extra on Disc 1 is an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Director Jon Turtletaub and actor Jon Voight. This is a very good commentary, as the pair give us a lot of information about the film, while still being fairly honest. Turtletaub talks about the technical side, such as how certain things were shot or how parts of a scene which were shot in different locations were edited together. Voight comments on the acting and mentions how little the actors know about certain elements of the movie when they are on set.

The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 2. The DVD contains DELETED SCENES, which run about 14 minutes. These are accompanied by introductions by Turtletaub. The most interesting thing here is a look an entire section of the final act which was removed and replaced with a much shorter scene. "Secrets of a Sequel" (7 minutes) has Jerry Bruckhemier and Jon Turtletaub and others discussing the logistics of a sequel. They talk about the ease and challenges of working on a second movie. In "The Book of Secrets: On Location" (10 minutes), we see how the crew went around the world to make the film. The piece shows the production in Paris, London, Washington, D.C., and South Dakota. "The Treasure Reel: Bloopers & Outtakes" (5 minutes) shows the cast blundering and having fun. "Street Stunts: Creating the London Chase" (10 minutes) explores the work which went into creating the scene. We learn that only a limited amount of time was alotted to shoot the scene, so a great deal of rehearsal had to bed done. "Underground Action" (7 minutes) examines the film's finale -- specifically the action and the sets from this portion of the film. "Evolution of a Golden City" (10 minutes) educates us on the actual legends of the last city of gold. Then it shows the construction of the Golden City set. "Knights of the Golden Circle" (3 minutes) informs us of the true story of this group from the latter 19th Century. "Cover Story: Crafting the President's Book" (5 minutes) is simply a series of comments from the cast and filmmakers about the possibility that the book may exist, followed by the construction of the book. "Inside the Library of Congress" (9 minutes) gives us a tour of the facility and an overview of it's contents, history, and practices.

Walt Disney Studio Home Entertainment has also released National Treasure: Book of Secrets on Blu-ray Disc. The film is letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 22 Mbps. This is a very good transfer, as the picture is quite sharp and clear. This is essentially no grain here and no defects from the source material. The exterior scenes in the third act are simply gorgeous and the nighttime scenes sparkle with life. The image is very detailed and has an impressive amount of depth. The colors look great. I didn't note any overt artifacting or video noise. The disc offers a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.2 Mbps. This track has its pros and cons. The dialogue is always clear and the stereo effects are good. The surround sound effects are nicely detailed and we hear any popping timber and falling rock during the finale. The subwoofer effects are nicely defined. And yet, I felt the track didn't pack as much "oomph" as some other Blu-ray tracks which I've heard. It's good, but it's not reference quality.

The Blu-ray Disc contains two extras not found on the DVD. "Book of History: The Fact or Fiction of NT2" is an interactive game of sorts which challenges the viewer to discover which aspects of the film are real. This is accompanied by picture-in-picture videos and historical facts. The other additional is two more DELETED SCENES.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long