When the Nic Cage vehicle, National Treasure came out in 2004, nobody expected it to be the massive, worldwide hit that it was ($347.5 million dollars sure is a lot of money). Sure, it was a big and flashy Bruckheimer blockbuster, but this was PG, stuffed with history, and didn’t have a single pirate in it (Unless you count the skeletal pirates on the doomed ship, the Charlotte). But with a quest so heavily laden with conspiracy theories at the roaring time of the Da Vinci Code, how could we have possibly thought otherwise? It also helps that National Treasure never misses a beat and delivers in every single way imaginable.
In the Nic Cage canon, National Treasure is certainly not his best film (leave that to Adaptation). That said, it may just be his most fun, as few movies have truly utilized the Nic Cage as goofy everyman/bona fide action hero as well as National Treasure has.
Playing as the aptly named Benjamin Franklin Gates, Nic’s treasure hunting tale begins with a story about how Gates’ great, great, great grandfather was told a secret by a moribund Charles Caroll, who was the last living signer of the Declaration of Independence. What he was told was about how a clandestine fortune still lies hidden, and that the current secret “lies with Charlotte.” Cryptic words if there ever were any.
This of course sends us to present day, where we find out that Charlotte was not in fact a person, but rather, a sunken vessel. And on this vessel, Gates and his genius partner, Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) are searching for clues while his financier friend, Ian Howe (Sean Bean), is silently scheming on how to steal said clues. And it’s here, within the first few minutes of the movie that the little over two hour film really begins to pick up steam, as Ian Howe betrays the two of then and steals the treasure Gates’ has just uncovered—A pipe etched with a riddle on it. The wily Howe then leaves them for dead in a tundra explosion, providing the first real cliffhanger of many in this intelligently wrought action comedy.
Our heroes of course make it out alive in pure Bruckheimer fashion, and go on a quest that takes them from stealing the Declaration of Independence, to locating Ben Franklin’s special specs at Independence Hall, and even to Trinity Church in New York, where the treasure truly lies.
As great as Nic Cage is as an actor though, the film probably wouldn’t have been as good as it was if it weren’t for the outstanding costars. Besides the witty banter he has with Riley Poole and his love interest, Diane Kruger (Abigail Chase), the hammy as always, Jon Voight, who plays Nic Cage’s father, Patrick Henry Gates, is the real spotlight stealer in the film. And that’s because unlike the younger Gates’ who fully believes in the conspiracy, Gates Sr. is a skeptical, old coot who can’t imagine that there could possibly be hidden messages scrawled on the back of the Declaration of Independence. That is, of course, until he sees it for himself and winds up getting swept up into the whole mess also, which changes this film from being a standard treasure hunting flick, to a rollicking chase movie. Jon Voight just so happens to have the perfect role of looking bemused in the midst of chaos that you actually believe he can act again, which is no small feat.
It should be noted, though, that if anyone drags this film down, it’s the overly sapient, cool as a cucumber, Harvey Keitel, who plays the FBI Special Agent Peter Sadusky. His steely gaze and slow, husky voice seem to suck out all the life blood from every scene he appears in. Good thing these scenes are few and far between and that Nic Cage ramps up the energy every time he’s back on screen.
To add to the whole mystery and glamour of treasure hunting is an excellent documentary on the first disc about real live treasure hunters and the techniques they use the preserve priceless artifacts. It goes to show that most of the stuff in the movie is purely bunk (as if you didn’t already know) as things just don’t happen that quickly in treasure hunting. Some of these people have been searching for close to a decade for certain treasures before they actually ever found them.
Also included on the first disk are deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and an animatic clip of the opening sequence, all featured with optional commentary. The real scene stealer though is the “Riley’s Decode This!” feature, which gives you a history lesson on various hidden cyphers, such as Hieroglyphics and Morse Code, while at the same time, providing a game for you and secret clues that open up even more features when you start piecing everything together.
That said, it’s a real shame that the second disc in this 2-Disc Collector’s Edition, which is no doubt being released since the sequel, Book of Secrets is just around the corner, is not as detailed as the richly prepared first disk. Featured in disc 2 are a few more deleted scenes, none of them really that important (One featuring an even longer sequence of the dull Keitel), which is also with optional audio commentary. Also on the disc is an informative lecture on Ciphers, a history lesson on the various locations of the film, and a sequence talking about how the crew blew up the sunken ship, the Charlotte, to make for a very riveting beginning.
And though it may very well be a special, hidden feature on the first disc, I couldn’t find any sort of full movie commentaries featuring either the director, Jon Turteltaub, or Nic Cage, which would have been interesting to hear how they felt about reacting to the twist and turns of the film.
Even so, you really can’t go wrong when a film like National Treasure is as good as it is. The big question though is, is it worth buying all over again if you already have the original 1-disc set? Personally, I say no, as the original commentaries and alternate ending have already been heard and seen before. But if you want a little more history mixed in with your treasure hunting, you can’t go wrong with this special disc set.