STUDIO: Buena Vista Home Entertainment / Touchstone
MSRP: $22.99
* Commentary with director Jon Turteltaub and Jon Voight
* Deleted scenes with introductions by Jon Turteltaub
* The Treasure Reel: Bloopers and Outtakes
* Secrets of a Sequel
* The Book of Secrets: On Location
* Street Stunts: Creating the London Chase
* Inside the Library of Congress
* Underground Action
* Cover Story: Creating the President’s Book
* Evolution of a Golden City
* Knights of the Golden Circle

The Pitch

History rocks, man…again.

The Humans

Nicolas Cage, Jon Voight, Ed Harris, Harvey Keitel, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, Bruce Greenwood, Helen Mirren

“Yeah, Ricky, I see you in the front row there.  Look, this whole following-me-around-and-crying-‘Champ’ thing was old 20 years ago…”

The Nutshell

After the successful discovery of the Templar Treasure from the first movie, Benjamin Gates (Cage) is faced with a new challenge when it’s discovered that his great-grandfather, Thomas Gates, may have been complicit in the Lincoln assassination. Gates is presented evidence by Mitch Wilkinson (Harris), a descendant of a Civil War general and a mercenary, who is in possession of a ripped out page from the diary of John Wilkes Booth that names Gates’ ancestor in the assassination. Determined to prove his great-grandfather’s innocence, Gates and his friends, Abigail (Kruger) and techno wiz Riley (Bartha), along with his father (Voight) and mother (Mirren), set out on another treasure hunt, this time looking for Cibola, a lost city of Native American gold. Their search takes them from Paris to London and back to the U.S., with the final crucial clue being hidden in the President’s Book of Secrets, a mythical tome which is for Presidents’ eyes only.

The Lowdown

I was quite a fan of the first National Treasure film. It contained two elements that have always appealed to me in movies: American history and treasure hunting.  Combining the legend of the Knights Templar / Freemasons, and clues hidden on some of our most historic public national items, including the Declaration of Independence and the Liberty Bell, I thought the first film was a good popcorn flick with a bit of national history thrown in. Book of Secrets continues those elements from the first film, albeit both successfully and unsuccessfully.

“So according to this President’s Book of Secrets thing, there’s undeniable proof that Bush is a boob…”

First off, BOS does succeed in continuing the theme from the first film in that there is a great hidden American secret with a generous helping of history thrown into the mix.  And once again the road map to that secret is hidden within vital pieces of both American and foreign treasures. The hunt for those clues spans the range of everything from the Lincoln assassination to the  French Statue of Liberty to the Resolute Desks in Buckingham Palace and The White House, to the President’s secret book. It’s a continual adventure of discovery from one clue to another and this film, like the first, achieves its goal of providing for an interesting treasure hunt.

“Goddamned shitty Glengarry lead…”

All of the heroes from the first film are back, and Gates provides Cage with a fun character to play, one who is knowledgeable about American history with a penchant for solving puzzles hidden within that history. He’s also a moral hero, seeking to occasionally do the wrong thing for the right reasons.  Bartha is also fun as Riley Poole, Gates’ long-suffering sidekick. Kruger as Abigail could be easily written off as just the chick of the piece, but she serves her purpose as well by aiding in the hunt and providing key access to government resources at certain times. Voight is back as Gates’ father, and this time he has Helen Mirren as his ex-wife to play off of, which adds a bit of character element to the whole affair. 

Yeah, that was the typical reaction upon viewing SuperBabies: Baby Geniuses 2

However, what character doesn’t entirely make sense is Wilkinson, a black market antiquities dealer, mercenary and history buff in his own right, who sets the entire adventure in motion by goading Gates into the hunt with the diary page implicating his ancestor. At one point he’s hell bent on finding the treasure, chasing Gates and the others through the streets of London and assaulting his father to get a line on Gates’ location. He even endangers their lives by shooting at them. Then, near the end, he’s willing to make a sacrifice to save them, with his ultimate motivation being credit for the discovery of the treasure rather than the treasure itself. He vacillates from cold-blooded thug to principled antagonist and it makes the film uneven at times. In that regard, he’s exactly like Sean Bean’s character of Ian Howe from the first film.

“Did you hear that Bruce?  What was it?”
“Nothing, just the other shoe dropping on John From Cincinnati…”

Where Book of Secrets also doesn’t entirely work is that, at its heart, it’s a basic carbon copy of the first film. Gates’ motivation is to find a treasure to restore his family name and honor, just as in the first film. The treasure also turns out to be a vast cache of gold that’s ultimately found underground through a labyrinthine series of hazards and secret passages, just like the first film. Gates also has to commit a federal crime and get the FBI on his back in order to continue the treasure hunt. There’s also a major element that’s broached in a key flashback that the film completely discards after that flashback. Gates’ great-grandfather is approached to decipher a code that leads to Cibola, which is what the Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC), Confederate extremists, were seeking to find. I think that BOS missed out on a (pardon the pun) golden opportunity to differentiate Wilkinson from Howe if they could have worked the KGC more into the modern story. 

“So you’re sure there’s a clue to the treasure down here?”
“Oh yeah, definitely.  But the thing is, you can only see it if you’re naked…”

Also, Book of Secrets falls into the cliche of having to crap all over the characters from one film to the next in that Riley is still pretty much an unknown and somewhat of a joke, hawking his book of the affair that no one wants to buy, along with losing everything after having tax problems thanks to trusting a corrupt financial advisor.  Remind anyone of a certain Rocky sequel?  But what really pisses me off is that Gates and Abigail are on the outs after falling in love in the first film. Plus, she ends up with his palatial mansion that he bought with his spoils from the first film…and they’re not even married. That one little element alone to me was utter bullshit.  My wife didn’t agree though…go figure. The filmmakers basically had to reset everything to the status quo of the beginning of the first film just to repeat the character arcs from that one. Lastly, it’s just a little too deus ex that the one person who can decipher the ancient Indian glyphs that lead to the treasure happens to be Gates’ mother.  there’s also the inevitable set up for the third film in this franchise

Despite some of its failings, National Treasure: Book of Secrets is still essentially another decent popcorn flick with some pretty good action scenes and fun treasure hunting. Although it didn’t have anything as cool as the Declaration treasure map from the first movie.

“You want what?  You want your cake?!  Who is this?!  Why do you keep calling me??!!!”

The Package

This is a two-disc offering that’s loaded with special features. The film looks quite good in 2.35:1 widescreen and the sound is good in Dolby 5.1 Surround, with optional French and Spanish tracks. There’s also French and Spanish subtitles. The special feature on Disc One is the commentary with director Jon Turteltaub and Jon Voight. Disc Two is stuffed to the gills with extra features including approximately fifteen minutes of deleted scenes with introductions by Jon Turteltaub. These are some pretty interesting deletions, particularly one that ties the hummingbird clue that Gates’ mother told Gates’ father that ultimately led nowhere because of the cutting of the scene. Other scenes give Keitel and Cage more face time with each other and explain better how Riley was able to hack the Buckingham Palace computer system, and a couple of scenes where Mirren and Voight are making their way to Cibola in the underground passages.

“Look, there’s got to be a way to figure this out!”
“I’ve tried…there’s simply no way to shut off those banner ads…”

There’s also a plethora of EPK-style behind-the-scenes featurettes that, while pretty standard, are nonetheless a pretty interesting watch. 
Secrets of a Sequel is a seven-minute short on getting the sequel together after the success of the first film. The Book of Secrets: On Location likewise is a 10-minute piece on the location shooting, and Treasure Reel is five minutes of bloopers and outtakes. Street Stunts: Creating the London Chase is ten minutes of behind-the-scenes of the London car chase and Inside the Library of Congress runs nine minutes on shooting inside the historic building. Underground Action run seven minutes and deals with shooting the scenes under Mount Rushmore.  Cover Story: Creating the President’s Book runs five minutes and details the myth behind the President’s Book.  Evolution of a Golden City is ten minutes long and deals with building Cibola. Knights of the Golden Circle is a quick two-minute piece on the secret order. 

There’s also two easter eggs (that I found anyway), that lead to one-minute stunt featurettes, one involving the driving rig for the car in London, the other with the idol drop onto the balancing platform in Cibola. Overall, this is a pretty solid offering of film and extras.

7.5 out of 10