Saturday, July 11, 2009

NATIONAL TREASURE - Blu-Ray (Disney/Bruckheimer 2004) Walt Disney Home Video

Jon Turteltaub’s National Treasure (2004) is intriguingly mindless good fun; an action adventure yarn that attempts to fabricate a mystery involving the Free Masons, the founding fathers and the constitution of the United States. The screenplay by Jim Kouf and Cormac and Marianne Wibberley contains just enough truth to tantalize an audience, while delivering its fanciful treasure hunt caper in the best tradition of the old Saturday matinee serials.

The story begins one dark and stormy night in the attic of John Adams Gates (Christopher Plummer) where grandson, Ben (Hunter Gomez) has discovered a secret text containing clues to a fabulous treasure hidden somewhere in the United States by the Templar Knights of the Free Masons. Ben’s father Patrick (Jon Voight) dismisses granddad’s claim that the treasure actually exists, explaining to Ben that three generations of Gates have wasted their lives in the futile pursuit of this legend.

Fast-forward to present day: an undaunted Ben (Nicholas Cage) is in hot pursuit across the frozen Arctic for the next hidden key to the mystery – the S.S. Charlotte; a sunken ship lost almost a century ago. On this mission, Ben is joined by friend and colleague Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) and devious treasure hunter, Ian Howe (Sean Bean) who has funded the expedition for personal gain. Upon discovering the Charlotte and yet another clue inside its hull pointing to a secret map on the back of the Declaration of Independence, Ian decides it is time to jettison his relationship with Ben and Riley by killing them both.

The plan goes awry. Ian makes off with the next clue while Ben and Riley arrive in Washington D.C.However, after confessing their wild tale to the FBI, the men are confronted by skepticism from National Archive curator, Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger). Ben makes a radical decision. He will steal the Declaration before Ian does in order to preserve the hidden location of its national treasure. And so, the chase for more clues and race against time begins.

Caught somewhere between the pages of this contemporary Indiana Jones styled action/adventure flick is a romance desperately screaming to get out. Abigail inadvertently gets mixed up in the theft of the Declaration, thereafter perking her intrigue and providing the necessary, but predictable sexy subplot between her and Ben while everyone is relentlessly pursued by FBI investigator, Sandusky (Harvey Keitel).

To be certain, there are some marvelous set pieces scattered throughout this rather obvious film – the best involving the discovery of the cave of treasures. On the whole however, the narrative slips into pedestrian escapism. We’ve seen all this before – just tweaked in a slightly different direction and with more engaging actors at the forefront of the story.

Cage is adequate as the ‘passionate’ amateur sleuth whose deductive logic is seemingly working overtime 24/7. His laconic ‘charm’ however, never quite elevates his performance beyond a sort of ‘ho-hum…I’ve re-discovered America’ attitude. Even after he’s seen the stored riches with his own eyes, one gets the sense that he’s not so much impressed by the grandeur of it all as he is slyly pleased with himself for having proven three generations of his family wrong. Bartha is an amiable cohort on this journey – foppish and stooge-like to Ben’s brilliance, although one wonders exactly why Ben would chose someone so inept to assist him on his recovery mission. Kruger is the weakest of the lot, playing insipid insolence that inexplicably melts away almost immediately after meeting Ben.

Bean is typecast as the baddie once again. He’s menacing enough, but wasted in a near cameo performance that has him hiding around corners and playing catch up just two steps behind Ben and his treasure protectors. In the final analysis, National Treasure isn’t a bad film. It’s just not an exceptional one and a single outing with Ben and company is enough to last a lifetime.

Disney Home Video’s Blu-Ray ironically doesn’t seem to best its Deluxe Edition 2-disc DVD as much as it matches the exemplar quality of that disc on par. The anamorphic 2:35:1 image contains colors that don’t seem quite so bold or eye-popping as one might expect. Contrast levels are bang on. Blacks are deep and solid. Whites are pristine. The audio is a Disney Home Theater 5.1 Digital remix that is extremely aggressive and nicely spread across all channels.

Extras include everything available on the 2-disc standard DVD; a litany of deleted scenes and alternate endings with or without director commentary, several informative featurettes, games, theatrical trailers and vintage interviews with cast and crew, plus two new extras exclusive to Blu-Ray: a history special on the real Declaration of Independence and an audio commentary. Recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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