At first glance an attempt for Nicolas Cage to invent his own Indiana Jones-esque character, National Treasure and its sequel certainly owe much to the adventures of Dr Jones. But, if you’re willing to firmly switch your brain to neutral, it really does become a case of what’s not to like.
Cage plays Ben Gates, a man whose family – as it’s quickly established – have a habit of going off on seemingly wild goose chases in search of mysterious treasures. And the first film gets him going in double quick time, as Gates soon finds himself hunting for the treasure of the title whose whereabouts has been passed down in clues from generation to generation. Naturally, these clues are horribly cryptic, and have baffled people for over a hundred years. And just as naturally, it takes Cage at one point as long as two minutes to suss them out. Such leaps of logic are the very fodder of the National Treasure films, and you simply have to accept them if you want to hop along for the ride.
And it’s a good adventure to join in on. The usual ingredients are in place, including a reluctant sidekick (Diane Kruger, as Abigail Chase), a dastardly alternative team hunting the same treasure, and there’s even the joy of a disapproving father (played by Sean Conn…, sorry, Jon Voight). The screenplay then arranges a series of sequences in order, with one clue unlocking the path to the next, before the inevitably discovery of the treasure that lots of people had feared lost forever.
The routine story and conventional script aside, National Treasure has a few aces up its sleeve that help lift it into firm, enjoyable three-star territory. Sean Bean is always good value as the bad guy, and while his character – Ian Howe – goes through the exact motions you expect him to, Bean happily chews up a bit scenery along the way and happily spits it back out. Secondly, Jon Turteltaub, a veteran of Cool Runnings, While You Were Sleeping and mega-cheat John Travolta vehicle Phenomenon, proves to be an able director of action, and packs together a fun couple of hours (plus he comes across very warmly in the extra features).
And finally, there’s Cage, who plays the role in the style of a man who’s been dying to do this stuff for years. Does he get into character? Does he heck. He’s Nicolas Cage doing a knock off of Indiana Jones, and having a whale of a time doing it. Good for him.
He does, however, look considerably older by the time the second film came around, surprising given that there’s just three years between them. However, National Treasure: Book Of Secrets, still manages to make the first film look plausible and entirely realistic. After another historical scene setting up another mystical treasure to find, Cage this time has to hunt down clues in, er, Buckingham Palace and the Oval Office in the White House, among other places. He’s reluctantly helped by Diane Kruger again, while his dad is back on board, not least because of a threat by the nasty Mitch Wilkinson – played with maximum sneer by Ed Harris – to ruin the family name. It’s, bluntly, hilarious hokum, but once again, never less than good fun. And by the time Cage has to kidnap the President of the US to be able to complete his quest, you’re best just grinning, and not questioning a single thing.
Both films are flawed. Both are ridiculous. Both are really quite enjoyable blockbusters. And there’s a third one on the way too. Hurray!
Firstly, as with the recent Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, Disney has delivered with the transfers here, particularly on Book Of Secrets, which is a very good piece of high definition work. The Pirates films, particularly At World’s End, have the edge, but the National Treasures still look gleaming. The uncompressed audio tracks too are a home cinema treat.
The extras packages on both discs are really quite comprehensive. Both feature an audio commentary, with the first film finding director Jon Turteltaub with Justin Bartha, who plays Riley, and the second bringing in Jon Voight alongside the director. The latter is the better, but neither track is particularly riveting, truth be told.
The first film then boasts a fairly tedious Inside The Declaration Of Independence game, ahead of a fairly hefty collection of featurettes. None of them go particularly deep, but they do tend to bother to give you some kind of insight. For instance, the featurette on shooting the Charlotte sequence at the start of the film is diverting, given that they basically set up their equipment in a freezer, and worked from there. Stealing The Declaration, meanwhile, talks about the theft that forms one of the cornerstones of the film. It’s breezy stuff, enlightened enormously when one of the writers declares that she was told the theft sequence would have to be “the smartest thing you’ve ever written”. Heck, we like National Treasure, but smart? Hmmm.
Other goodies you get with film one are an animatic storyboard of the opening scene, some deleted scenes (well presented, too), an alternate ending, and a good, talking head piece on ciphers. Next up, there’s On The Set Of American History, which looks at filming in the authentic historical locations the film demanded. They even describe a roof chase as “Hitchcockian”, which we’re not entirely sure is a word.
We also get segments on filming on location, a decent piece on treasure hunters, and a few minutes on the Templar Knights. Finally, there’s a trivia track, that throws up very brief titbits as you work your way through the film.
Book Of Secrets’ extras list isn’t quite as exhaustive, and the bloopers are among the dullest we’ve ever seen. But the anatomy of the London car chase is a terrific supplement, including a deleted bit from the film where lots of priests are sent scattering outside St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s one of a collection of featurettes that dissect different parts of making the sequel, including looking at location filming, and some of the big sets and major sequences in the film.
There’s also a collection of deleted scenes, with explanations as to why they were cut, and a Blu-ray exclusive fact or fiction game, where you’re given questions as you make your way through the film. It’s surprisingly diverting, to be fair.
Both films clearly benefit from quite exhaustive extra features, even if they never go much further than skin deep. Yet with a pair of flicks that entertain far more than you might expect, and some quality high definition work, this boxset is still something of a treat. Well worth picking up.
And roll on film number three…
The FilmsThe Discs