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National Treasure (2004)
DVD Released: 12/18/2007
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/18/2007
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Declaration of Independence, Gates' partnership with Howe promptly comes to an end, as Howe is in favor of stealing the historical document.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 Disney’s The Kid and 3 Ninjas, but he handles National Treasure‘s 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. To coincide with the release of National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Disney has now brought us a new 2-disc "Collector's Edition" of National Treasure. 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.
Disc One of The National Treasure DVD is the same as the previous release, as it 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 scenes. 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.
This new "Collector's Edition" of National Treasure contains a second disc with all new extras. We get five more DELETED SCENES, which run about 8 minutes and can be viewed with optional commentary by Turtletaub. The scenes are accompanied by introductions by Turtletaub. These are all brief scenes and as Turtletaub admits, all weren't necessary for the movie. "Ciphers, Codes, & Codebreakers" (12 minutes) has comments from experts on encryption discussing the history of cryptography and code-breaking. "Exploding Charlotte" (7 minutes) examines how the opening scene in the Arctic was shot in a frozen storage facility in Los Angeles. "To Steal a National Treasure" (6 minutes) gives us an inside look at the accuracy of the scene in which the Declaration of Independence was stolen. "On the set of American History" (6 minutes) analyzes how acutal historic locations such as The Library of Congress, The National Archives, and locales in Philadelphia were used. Given the lackluster nature of these extras, there's little reason to double-dip here if you already own the original DVD release.
On May 20, 2008, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment brought National
Treasure to Blu-ray Disc. The film is letterboxed
at 2.35:1 and the Disc has an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of
23 Mbps. The image here is very sharp and clear, showing only a minute amount of
grain. In fact, the only time that there is any distracting grain is during the
opening scene in the snow, where we get what is obviously stock footage of
ice-caps. The picture shows no defects from the source material. The colors look
very good, and despite the fact that some of the film takes place at night, or
in shadowy chambers, the image is never overly dark. The picture has a very nice
amount of detail, as evidenced by some of the wide shots of the cityscapes
featured in the film. I detected no video noise or artifacting here. The Blu-ray
Disc has a Linear PCM Lossless 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an
average of 6.9 Mbps. All one has to do is check out the explosion in Chapter 2
to test the audio here. That explosion fills the speakers with sound, as we get
stereo, surround, and subwoofer effects, and the level of detail is astonishing,
as we hear every last piece of wood fall back to Earth. The dialogue is always
clear and audible. Overall, this is a nice transfer.
The Blu-ray Disc contains all of the DVD extras listed above, plus three new one exclusive to the Blu-ray release. First up is an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Director Jon Turtletaub and actor Justin Bartha. This is a fun chat as the two talk about the movie, and they jab at one another as well. We learn about the locations, and what it was like to shoot in the actual historical places. We also hear about the other actors and the atmosphere on the set. Next is "Mission History: Inside the Declaration of Independence" is an interactive feature which allows the viewer to explore the Declaration of Independence line-by-line. One can "decode" the antiquated language of the document and there are brief vides which explain various ideas and facts about the Declaration. The disc also contains a "Trivia Track" which gives one pop-up video factoids about the movie.
Review Copyright 2007-2008 by Mike Long