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National Treasure Review

By Shawn McKenzie 11/20/2004

Have you ever felt stupid and smart at the same time while watching a movie?  That was the feeling I got while watching National Treasure.  I thought that I knew history, but I don’t know nearly enough as I thought I did…and at the same time, I know that a treasure wouldn’t be found in a Indiana Jones-like room of catacombs.

In the beginning of the movie, we meet a young boy in 1974 named Benjamin “Ben” Franklin Gates (Hunter Gomez.)  His grandfather, John Adams Gates (Christopher Plummer), catches Ben checking out a book in the attic and tells the boy a story about the Gates family.  For six generations, the men of the Gates family have been chasing clues looking for the famous Knights of Templar treasure that’s rumored to be hidden somewhere in the U.S.  It was buried by a secret society made up of some of America’s wealthy founding fathers, including Ben Franklin and George Washington, named the Freemasons, who left clues as to its whereabouts in order to hide it from the British Redcoats.  In 1832, a stable boy named Thomas Gates (Jason Earles) was entrusted with the mysterious words “The truth lies with Charlotte” by Charles Carroll (Terrence Currier), the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence.  With Thomas, the Gates family set out to find the treasure.  They wanted to protect the treasure, not steal it, but they have still never found it.  Ben’s father, Patrick Henry Gates (Jon Voight), thinks that the treasure is a myth and he has had no desire to be involved in all of his family’s loony conspiracy theories.  Flash forward to today and we see a grown-up Ben (Nicolas Cage) still searching for the treasure.  He discovers the meaning of “Charlotte,” which is a centuries old oceangoing vessel buried north of the Arctic Circle.  In the vessel, Ben finds a cool-looking ivory pipe and a parchment written in invisible ink leading to another clue.  After a bit of reasoning, he realizes that the clue tells him that there may be a map on the back of the Declaration of Independence.  He doesn’t want to harm that important piece of history, so he decides that it isn’t worth it.  Their financier, Ian Howe (Sean Bean), has other ideas though, and decides that he wants to steal it himself.  With his henchmen, Shaw (David Dayan Fisher), Powell (Stewart Finlay-McLennan), Shippen (Oleg Taktarov), and Phil (Stephen Pope), Ian tries to kill Ben and his assistant Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), a goofy computer whiz, by blowing him up in the vessel.  They manage to escape and somehow make it back to Washington D.C.  Once there, they try to persuade several agencies that Ian plans to steal the Declaration, with no avail.  At their last stop, they try to convince National Archives conservator Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) about Ian’s plans, and she doesn’t believe him either.  Ben decides that the only way to protect the Declaration is to steal it himself before Ian does.  He and Riley set up a mini-Mission: Impossible-like plan to steal it during the 70th Annual Preservation Gala.  Abigail and her boss, Dr. Stan Herbert (Don McManus), have also attended the party, but once she realizes what Ben was doing, he ends up having to save Abigail from Ian and his goons who arrived on the same night to steal the Declaration.  She is reluctant at first, but after arriving at his father’s house, Ben shows Abigail that he wasn’t crazy as they find more clues hidden on the back of the Declaration by using lemon juice and a hair dryer.  They make their way to Philadelphia to find the Silence Dogood letters (a series of letters Benjamin Franklin wrote to the editor of his brother’s newspaper under the pen name Silence Dogood), donated by his father to the Franklin Museum.  The letters, leading to yet another clue, decode the numbers found on the back of the Declaration.  It leads them to go to the building housing the Liberty Bell at the right time and see where the shadow pointing to the location directs them.  They do just that and they find a pair of 3-D-like glasses that helps them discover what may be the final clue in finding the treasure.  Unfortunately, he and Riley are not only being chased by Ian, but federal agent Peter Sadusky (Harvey Keitel) and his men, agents Dawes (Annie Parisse), Johnson (Mark Pellegrino), Hendricks (Armando Riesco), and Colfax (Erik King), who are not far behind.  If Ben and Riley can manage to avoid being captured or killed by Ian, not to mention stay out of jail by Sadusky, they may actually find one of the world’s greatest treasures, here in the ol’ US of A.

As I mentioned above, I doubt that the treasure would be found in a place reminiscent of Indiana Jones.  I was surprised that there wasn’t poisoned darts shooting at them and snakes biting them (there was a lantern that somehow remained lit after 200 years though.)  Besides that nonsense, I found it a little hard to swallow that an ancient treasure would have been located here in America instead of in a foreign land.  I realize that the Founding Fathers apparently buried it themselves, but weren’t they a little too busy forming the country to look for ancient treasures?

That brings me to my own stupidity.  According to my friend who took me to the screening, there were many real historical references in the movie.  He knew about the Knights of Templar treasure, but I have a feeling that he figured it was a myth, just like Voight’s character.  I would also figure that it wouldn’t be buried in America, much less under a building structured with doors that open with weird keys that work after 200 years.  Other than that, the historical references went over my head, confusing me as to what was going on.  This is definitely a movie for history buffs, though they might be frustrated over the distortion of facts in order to present a fictional story.

My stupidity might also extend to the movie’s biggest reference, author Dan Brown’s bestseller The Da Vinci Code.  I’ve never read the novel, but several people told me that the movie strikes a familiar cord.  According to press releases, the movie was in development before the novel came out, so this may just be a case of bad timing.

Being as that this movie is a Jerry Bruckheimer production, will you get a big budget guilty pleasure to enjoy on the big screen?  Yes…and no.  It has the explosions and Cage playing a similar character like he did in The Rock, but since it was a PG-rated “family movie,” it is slightly watered down.  I’m not too surprised, because it was directed by Jon Turteltaub, a man not known for action flicks.  He did Cool Runnings, While You Were Sleeping, Phenomenon, and Disney’s The Kid, and this movie is his first big explosion-fest.  Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I’m surprised that Bruckheimer didn’t go for a Michael Bay or a John McTiernan to direct it.  There was no bloody violence or adult language in it, making it okay for the younger crowd, but the historical references might either confuse or bore the kids.  They certainly did that to stupid ol’ me, and I’m almost 30 years old.

National Treasure is fun for the popcorn flick that it is, but overall I thought that it was just so-so.  On the scale of Bruckheimer/Cage collaborations, it is below The Rock and Con Air, but it is above the horrible Gone in Sixty Seconds.  For history buffs, they may get an additional thrill from the historical references, but for people like me who have to actually look up the references in order to understand the movie, it isn’t a thrill.  My rating for the movie is based on the exciting action scenes, the credible performance of Cage (though he has no romantic chemistry with Kruger), and the enjoyable comic relief of Bartha’s performance, but I may have wanted just a tiny little bit more escapism without sacrificing the credibility.  For people like me, this movie may not be your idea of a treasure.

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Catch this movie at the theater if you can...

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