003797Reviews & Counting
National Treasure
DVD disk
05.12.2005 By: Scott Weinberg
National Treasure order
Jon Turteltaub

Nicolas Cage
Justin Bartha
Diane Kruger


star Printer-Friendly version
A pair of devoted treasure hunters (ok, treasure "protectors") discover that there's an invisible map hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence, so they set out to steal the priceless document, all while avoiding disgruntled ex-pals, dealing with a snippy hot blonde, evading the authorities, and quickly deciphering tons of arcane clues along the way.
Although I distinctly remember being very disappointed by National Treasure when I saw it last November, I will admit that it's the sort of glossy "popcorn" adventure flick that always deserves a second chance. I'm known to have a soft spot for mindless genre fare, so I settled down with the DVD and actively tried to like the movie a bit more. Hey, I actually recommended Sahara to people, so surely I'm not too good for National Treasure.

But despite all my efforts, the movie just doesn't work for me. Oh sure it's got a pumping action score from Trevor Rabin and it's shot in gorgeous fashion by Caleb Deschanel ... but there's just not enough energy here. Combine that with a non-stop parade of plot contrivances and conveniences that just keeps on coming AND the fact that there's simply not enough action (and by action I don't just mean chases & explosions; I mean thrills, chills, excitement of any kind) - you're looking at a movie that I just don't dig all that much.

Nicolas Cage is clearly having some fun in the "lovable heroic rogue" role, and he keeps the movie afloat through the numerous dry spells. His sidekick (Justin Bartha) and his trophy blonde (Diane Kruger) are given virtually nothing to do, aside from spout plot exposition while operating cell phones and/or computers. Hiding in the background are a handful of great actors like Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel, and Christopher Plummer, yet each of their performances feel like insubstantial cameo appearances. (OK, Plummer WAS a cameo appearance, but whose idea was it to give Harvey Keitel only three lightweight scenes?)

I can see why lots of movie fans would cut National Treasure some slack; it's got a unique little spin on the Treasure Hunt story; it's slick and light and quite lovely to look at. So while I don't actively hate the thing or consider it a certifiable piece of crap, I still don't consider it a movie worth recommending. But hey, I liked Sahara, so what do I know?
National Treasure on Location: A typically glossy behind-the-scenes EPK featurette. It rambles from the thoughts of Jerry Bruckheimer to a few scenes of stunt work to a look at the CG animation work. Some of the material is actually quite interesting, if you're a fan of the film, but the featurette leaps from place to place with little rhyme or reason.(11:17)

Deleted Scenes: Available with or without audio commentary from director Jon Turteltaub, this pair of deleted scenes shows a few sections that were snipped to lower the running time. "Thomas and the President" was trimmed down from the original opening, while "Extended Shaft Sequence" is precisely what it sounds like: a longer version of the climactic shaft descent. (7:47)

Opening Scene Animatic: Also available with the optional Turteltaub commentary, here's a brief computer rendering of some of the movie's earliest sequences. (2:21)

Alternate Ending: The director offers an optional commentary (again) on an original finale that was altered due to unhappy test screenings. Apparently the viewers felt the original ending offered too obvious of a "sequel grab," as if you even need a "grab" to make a sequel these days. (1:01)

Treasure Hunters Revealed: A fairly entertaining look at various real-life treasure hunters, from the pros with the fancy gear to the hobbyists who scour the beaches with metal detectors in their hands. (8:33)

Those are the "basic" extra features. But if you click around like you're supposed to and come up with the proper code, you can enter the "Level 2" extras menu, which is where you'll find:

Ridley Poole's Decode This!: Here's one of those well-produced but ultimately tiresome "multi-click" DVD games that generally prove more time-consuming than consistently entertaining. Join sidekick Poole as he educates us in the subjects of hieroglyphics, grill codes, and colored spectacles. Play along and you'll get a clue towards the "ultimate secret extra feature treat" - or something like that.

The Templar Knights: Catch a glimpse of what the "real" Templar Knights are actually all about. This brief history of the Knights and the Freemasons offers just a taste of something compelling, but the featurette is too speedy and too rushed to divulge anything all that meaty. (4:59)

Verizon Bonus: Corporate synergy masquerading as supplemental material. Here you get a Verizon commercial, a promotion for Verizon/National Treasure cell phone games, and a bunch of cheat codes for said games. Enjoy.

Trivia Track: Unlock all of the DVD's hidden clicks and you're rewarded with an onscreen trivia track that plays along with the movie. If you've ever experienced this sort of text track, you know what to expect. Some of the material is quite illuminating, particularly the stuff that focuses on the historical facts behind this rather wacky movie.

DVD Game SPOILER Alert: Do not read the following if you'd like to do the National Treasure DVD click-o-rama for yourself. It's actually kind of fun the first time you do it, but I must admit that having to click all over the place to get a second look at the special features is actually a real pain in the ass. Still, the "treasure hunt" theme certainly fits in well with the tone of the movie, so Disney gets points for being a little creative. (*Spoiler* pending) So here's how to get easy access to ALL the extras: on the main menu screen, click on the book in the top right corner. On the next page, enter 405 as the "Master Code," and just go from there. Sorry for being a spoilerer, but some folks just want the supplements without all the hassle. (But do try and figure it out for yourself first, you cheaters!)
Defend it as mindless popcorn entertainment if you like, but in the case of National Treasure I can really only agree with the "mindless" part. (And I don't really like popcorn, either.) Since we don't get too many excellent adventure flicks these days, I can understand why National Treasure was such a big hit. (Give a starving guy a donut and he'll think it's a steak.) If the Treasure Hunt subgenre is something you particularly enjoy, I'd say give it a skeptical rental and don't expect a whole lot. Either way you'll most likely enjoy National Treasure more than I did.
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