STUDIO: Walt Disney Video
MSRP: $19.99
• Deleted Scenes
• Director’s Commentary
• Animatics
• Alternate Ending
• "Making of National Treasure" featurette
• An extensive "Treasure Hunt" puzzle-solving game
• Knights Templar featurette
• "Codebreakers" featurette
• Even MORE Deleted scenes (Jeez)
• Previews

The Pitch

It’s like The Da Vinci Code, but exciting and fun!

The Humans

Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, Sean Bean, Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Plummer

Besides the occasional firestorm and plague of locusts, The Dark Lord Sauron’s childhood was much like yours and mine.

The Nutshell

Did the freemasons hide a spectacular treasure from the British during the American revolutionary war? Benjamin Gates (Cage), a crafty, wealthy, brilliant treasure hunter, believes that they did. After all, his great-great-great-great grandfather heard it from some guy in a carriage. Gates embarks on a quest to find the treasure, which leads him to the nation’s capital (to steal the Declaration of Independence), Philadelphia (to find some magical glasses and flee through a cemetery), and New York City (where he swims in the Hudson. Apparently he’s not as worried about brain-eating amoebas as I am). Along the way, he’s joined by plucky government worker Abigail Chase (Kruger) and techno-sidekick Riley Poole (Bartha). Unfortunately for them, they’re being chased by wealthy treasure-stealer Ian Howe (Bean) who will stop at nothing to find the treasure first. The game of cat-and-mouse ultimately leads to an Indiana Jones style showdown in a Masonic crypt where the secrets of the freemasons are finally revealed.

The Lowdown

Listen: I’m aware that very few of you are interested in what I think about National Treasure. It came out nearly four years ago, so most of you have already seen it. Since I swore a blood oath to review whichever DVDs CHUD sends me in the mail (It was a midnight oath ceremony in a slaughterhouse basement somewhere outside of Atlanta- standard stuff, but they let me keep the robe, which was cool), you’re going to get a review of National Treasure, like it or not.

I’ve always been a little torn on whether purely escapist fare has value. Since Plato, philosophers have been suspicious about the educational value of art; I’m going to go ahead and assert that we can often learn more "moral truths" from art than almost anywhere else. Take that, jerk-assed Plato! However, even I’m suspicious about the value of pure escapism.

National Treasure is a fine example of perfectly forgettable entertainment. It’s fast, loud, pretty, and occasionally funny. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a Disneyland amusement park ride (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) or a live-action cartoon (which, honestly, is a pretty bad thing).

Welcome to the CHUD labs. Eileen and Tom are prepping a new DVD review, while the rest of the crew are working on the revamp. Note the Steady Leak in the fridge.

So, does the fact that it’s harmless and forgettable make it a "bad" film? I don’t think so. I’m not convinced that adventures need characters based on mythical archetypes to be "good" adventures, or that we need to discover a moral truth about the universe for an escapist film to have merit. If it’s a well written and filmed story, I have no problem buying into it for a few hours, if only for the meaningless ride.

In fact, if I had to rate the film based on its first act alone, I’d give it a solid 8.5. The outlandish concept of actually stealing the Declaration of Indepencence during a "Gala" works remarkably well, since it’s fast, light, and thrilling. Part of me wishes that film were reordered so that the Declaration heist ended the film, as it never quite reaches that level of fun and craziness again. Sure, we’re given a cast of stock characters- Riley Poole supplants Steve Zahn as the most forgettable sidekick in action movie history, Cage’s love interest is bland at best, and Sean Bean looks kind of lost and out of place at times as the film’s villain- but if you’re looking for a delicate character study, you’re clearly looking in the wrong place. If you’re interested in watching Nicholas Cage literally deflect bullets with The Declaration of Independence, then you’ll have fun with this.

That’s not to say that Treasure doesn’t have its problems. It certainly does. The second act is a tedious chore, as we watch Gates and his buddies travel to Philadelphia to find a pair of magic sunglasses hidden within Independence Hall’s brick exterior. Whatever steam this film had going into this act is completely burned out by the end of it. One of the more exciting scenes in this middle act? Watching Gates’ team cross a velvet rope into "NO VISITORS ALLOWED!" territory at the Indepencence Hall visitor center. It’s a velvet rope, people! If a guard caught them crossing it, they could totally get banned from any number of national historic parks or monuments, including but not limited to Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado. No joke!

Unlike most diehard liberals, John literally hid behind the constitution when he felt threatened.

Following their treasure hunt, they’re chased around the block by
Ian Howe and his henchmen. This leads to a great scene where Gates runs hilariously through a cemetery. See the next screencap for proof of this. This chase ends badly for Gates and his crew, as he’s captured by the Feds and is forced to negotiate with Ian Howe for the Declaration, which Howe now possesses. My point is this: The middle act of National Treasure sucks hard. It feels like a weaker-than-average episode of MacGyver, and doesn’t live up to the fun and excitement of the first act. Also, as if they wanted to differentiate Gates from Dr. Jones, they made Gates a bit of a pussy- when he punches one of Howe’s henchmen near the cemetery exit, he screams "OWWWWW! MY HAND!!". Well, at least he doesn’t hate snakes.

Fortunately, the final act earns back most of that goodwill. It’s fun and epic, and brings Treasure back on track toward being a campy, light-hearted adventure film. The bottom line? If you don’t have the other Treasure and you liked the film, this one won’t hurt you one bit. There’s no good reason to double dip this, though.

As her dying wish, the mother of Olympic diver Greg Louganis requested that he perform a perfect Triple Lindy into her open grave.

The Package

Treasure‘s package is extensive, with alternate endings, director commentary, animatics, extended and deleted scenes, and a "treasure trove" of featurettes. Sorry, but I was contractually obligated to use the phrase "treasure trove" at least once in this review. They’re all linked by a "Solve the Puzzle" conceit; that is, there are a series of treasure-hunt-style puzzle games (narrated by Riley Poole, the film’s nerdy sidekick) that, upon completion, unlock many of the featurettes included on the disc. The puzzles range from mind numbingly easy (a letter matching puzzle) to nearly amusing (finding hidden codes within a given phrase). After a few minutes of solving puzzles, my wife asked, "What in the hell are we doing this for again?", and I reminded her of the blood oath.

The puzzles weren’t very fun for me or my wife, but they might be fun for children. Luckily, they can be bypassed, but ONLY by referencing the code from the DVD’s packaged materials. Here’s yet another good reason to hang on to your DVD cases, folks. The featurettes themselves are mostly decent; the film-related ones (deleted and extended scenes, a making-of documentary, and a much-better-than-the-actual-one alternate ending) are good, but the others seem like filler. The Knights Templar feature might pique your interest, but if you’re interested in anything even remotely meaty, you’re much better off heading out to your local library. Still, if it gets kids interested in history, I’m all for it. Just keep them away from The Da Vinci Code AT ALL COSTS.

Oh, and SPOILER: The alternate ending finds gates and crew looking over the Declaration of Independence in D.C. as they plan their next treasure hunt. It implies a sequel, but it doesn’t appear to have anything to do with Book of Secrets.

Oddly enough, my 60" SXRD didn’t like National Treasure very much, even though it was upscaled to 1080p. It’s not bad, per se, but there’s a perceptible fuzziness to the footage that might be noticeable to viewers with large televisions. Disney usually does a spectacular job with their visuals, but this one wasn’t very impressive. The audio, however, was the rich, bold, robusto Dolby Digital 3/2.1 that we’ve all come to expect from Walt Disney Video.

The box art is contrived. It looks way too Lucasfilm for my tastes, although the color palette is nice.

Witness the CHUD vault. Thanks for clicking on all those Amazon links, chumps!

7.6 out of 10