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NATIONAL TREASURE
Collector's Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Nicolas Cage, Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel, Diane Kruger, Sean Bean, Justin Bartha, Christopher Plummer
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Disney
Features: See Review
Length: 131 Minutes
Release Date: December 18, 2008

“Our evil plan is working.”

Film ***

If you were ever wondering when the clean-cut/old school adventure movie would make a return to the times, look no further than National Treasure. If there was one genre that I felt was missing for a long time, it was this kind of movie. With this, as well the 2004 remake of Flight of the Phoenix and the 2005’s Sahara, it's made a mighty comeback.

What's more, this is perhaps the best example of perfect family entertainment of recent memory, other than The Incredibles, of course. It also serves as a must for action fans, being that this is the latest grand scale  offering from producer Jerry Bruckheimer, as the movie has plenty of chases and thrills to spare. However, the characters, particularly the good guys, are people who use their brain as opposed to weapons and gadgets.

Much was made about the film's plot, which seems most identical to the popular book The Da Vinci Code, which coincidentally will be made into a movie later this year. I am one of the very few who haven't read the book yet, so there's no question that my enjoyment came as a result of that notion. Nevertheless, one can't deny the movie's high quality entertainment value. For a movie that runs well over two hours, it moves at a swift pace.

The hero of the story is Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage), a descendant of a family who has believed in what others would instantly consider a pure myth. As a child, Ben's grandfather (Christopher Plummer) revealed to him the possibility that our founding Four Fathers buried a huge treasure in an ancient temple located somewhere on the globe. The location has since been unknown, but Grandfather Gates believes that clues have been hidden in such areas as the back of the dollar bill.

The story goes like this; a band of Crusaders acquired the entire treasure and concluded that its value was greater than one man should ever possess. They evolve into the knights templar, eventually becoming freemasons. At the height of the Revolutionary War, the temple was constructed and the treasure was buried, with the primary intention of keeping it safe from the British.

Ben has always been a believer in the legend. A treasure hunter himself, who has just made a breakthrough discovery in the form of a warship named Charlotte. Locating the long lost ship underneath chunks of snow in the Artic, it leads Ben to conclude that only one possible artifact could hold the clues to the hidden treasure. The artifact in question is The Declaration of Independence.

Aided by techno wiz sidekick Riley (Justin Bartha), Ben plots to do the unthinkable…steal the original Declaration of Independence from the Library of Congress in D.C. Ben's motive for stealing the document actually has nothing to do with locating the treasure.  Rival treasure seeker Ian (Sean Bean), who betrayed Ben during the Charlotte discovery, is also plotting to steal it, and Ben has to heist it himself as a means of protecting it.

The original document is also believed to be completely "theft-proof", but to Ben, nothing is impossible. After failing to convince the archives' boss, Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), about Ian's plot to steal it, Ben then goes forth with his own plan to steal/protect the document. Ben and Riley pull it off during a Gala event, in such a way that would easily get them hired by Danny Ocean should he need extra help.

Before long, Abigail is tagging along with them, reluctantly, after initially trying to have them halted by security. Thanks to a car chase ignited by the arrival of Ian and his men, she has no other chase but to play along in their hunting expedition. Before long, Ben has another person on his trail; FBI agent Sadusky (Harvey Keitel).

As you can probably gather, this is one movie that will very much require suspension of disbelief, such is the case with just about any adventure movie. But National Treasure is so fast paced and consistently thrilling that you don't have much time to be concerned with how accurate or believable the plot is. Movies like this always depend on how to get from point A to point B to point C, and this one accomplishes the task a hundred percent.

The latter portion of the movie is genius in how it switches the action so effortlessly from D.C. to Philadelphia to midtown Manhattan almost in the blink of an eye. The frequent double crosses pulled by Ben during his many run-ins with Ian also provide terrific moments. Then there's Riley whose wisecracks, mostly directed at the predicaments he and Ben find themselves in, are priceless.

In the end, National Treasure adds up to one exhilarating ride, no matter how ridiculous the plot may be. The pacing of the movie is top notch, Cage is at his charismatic best, and the elements of adventure mixed in with historical events are guaranteed to have viewers more than engulfed in the chase for hidden spoils.

Bottom line: buckle up for a fun, fast paced and ultimately breathtaking ride as only the collaboration of Cage and Bruckheimer (The Rock, Con Air, Gone in 60 Seconds) can provide.

Video ****

Disney has delivered one outstanding looking disc. The anamorphic picture (full screen available separately) is comprised of only the absolute best elements a single disc presentation can bring you. Image quality is sharp and clear all the way through, with fantastic looking colors to boot. Caleb Deschanel's cinematography looks purely amazing, and this large-scale production explodes onto the screen with extensive image detail. Flawless beauty are two best words to describe the look of this disc.

Audio ****

Seeing this movie in its theatrical run, I remember the high quality sound presentation that was provided. Disney has done the performance with an even bigger bang, thanks to a power-fueled 5.1 mix. This is one sound presentation that fully serves the very kind of movie on the disc. Action-ad ventures always get the biggest kick of any genre in this format, and this disc stands out as a prime example. Dialogue is heard in unbeatable clarity, numerous chase sequences/explosions are a knockout, and Trevor Rabin's score is definite high point. Tremendously well done!

Features ***1/2

We get a most decent upgrade in the extra treasure chest for this 2-Disc Collector’s Edition. On Disc One, we have an Alternate Ending With Optional Director's Audio Commentary, Deleted Scenes With Optional Director's Audio Commentary, an Opening Scene Animatic with Optional Director's Audio Commentary and four featurettes; “National Treasure On Location”, “The Knights Templar”, “Treasure Hunters Revealed”  and “Riley's Decode This”, as well as three more puzzles to solve.

On Disc Two, there are Additional Deleted Scenes with intros By director Jon Turteltaub, as well as four new featurettes; “A Treasure Trove Of Featurettes: Ciphers, Codes & Codebreakers”, “On The Set Of American History”, “To Steal A National Treasure” and “Exploding Charlotte”.

Summary:

Before you hit the multiplex to catch the sequel, you should definitely dig back into the treasure chest that got it all started. National Treasure remains one of the most fun popcorn movies of the last several years, and this new 2-Disc Collector’s Edition from Disney is the perfect opportunity to experience the fun all over again!

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