National Treasure Neat for Kids
By Kristin Battestella
Capitalizing on its Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Disney tried for gold again with 2004’s National Treasure. The intelligent and ambitious vehicle has not gone on to as much success as Pirates. Nevertheless, National Treasure is ideal for tweens interested in a thinking person’s movie.
Acclaimed film veteran Christopher Plummer opens the tale, telling his young grandson Ben Gates how their family holds a vital clue in finding a vast treasure brought to the New World by the Knights Templar and protected by Free Masons from the British. Hidden and since lost from memory, Ben (Nicholas Cage) spends his adult life searching for the treasure, despite his father’s (Jon Voight) bitter realization that the treasure is no more than a myth. After the discovery of a ship buried in the Artic Circle, Ben realizes the next clue found there suggests the treasure map is on the back of the Declaration of Independence.
To stop his former business partner Ian Howe (Sean Bean) from stealing and destroying the Declaration, Ben and his understudy Riley steal the Declaration first. After interfering with their plans, historian Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) insists on coming along to ensure the protection of the invaluable document. With Ian and FBI investigator (Harvey Kietel) on their trail, the trio travels from Washington to Philadelphia and New York, gathering clues and searching for the treasure.
The premise of National Treasure is more intelligent that most, but it is ambitious and not fully executed. Trying to ride the Da Vinci Code tail, National Treasure resorts to basic exposition on American history with some fantastical turns tossed in along the way. The script is too broad and witty in the wrong places. Intellectual teens or history fans will no doubt dig Treasure, but for smarter adults, the movie doesn’t hold many repeat viewings. The first time around, the Declaration heist, Philadelphia chase, and New York underground escape only go so far, and eventually, plot holes take center stage.
Often shown on broadcast and basic cable channels, National Treasure is only worth a second or third view for the cast. Justin Bartha as Riley has most of the amusing moments as the sarcastic sidekick. His deadpan style is offbeat and more refreshing than if the role was set up with a blatant laugh track. Likewise, Nicholas Cage is clearly having fun with the role. The Oscar winner and action star surely has his pick of material, so after dark pictures like his award winning turn in Leaving Las Vegas, and more recently Snake Eyes and 8mm, Cage delivers his historical wit with a lighthearted manner his fans will no doubt enjoy. Relative newcomer Diane Krueger (Troy) fits the bill as Doctor Chase.
All the secondary characters are under written and not properly showcased- the talented actors behind them do as much as they can within the script. Krueger is the pretty but brainy and clearly attracted to Ben, and Harvey Keital (Pulp Fiction) is the scary FBI agent who really isn’t all that scary and in fact helpful stereotype. Villain veteran Sean Bean (Patriot Games, Goldeneye, Don’t Say A Word) suffers greatly as the clichéd European unobstructed bad guy bent on acquiring the treasure simply because he can. Bean’s sublte threats on Riley’s sidekick are some of the better played scenes in the film.
Whether he was made up to look older or was unwell during filming, Jon Voight does not look well as Patrick Gates. Although the relationship between the father and son is a big part of National Treasure, the script does little to add to the oft-told scenario. Voight seems tired as the Old Dad-perhaps that is his award winning acting range, but for someone who was also once a respected Historian, Dad’s left with clichéd phrases and glib remarks. The only thing I found rewarding in the Voight and Cage duo is that Cage was in Gone in Sixty Seconds with Voight’s real life daughter Angelina Jolie and they, of course, aren’t speaking to each other.
The scope of National Treasure is also a bit presumptuous for someone who has grown up in the areas in which the film takes place. Although the Declaration heist is very vague and undefined in most places, it also gives away real facts and science. Would the powers that be really let a movie show how to steal the Declaration of Independence? Likewise, the Philadelphia locales are taken somewhat out of context. The elaborate double chase through Philadelphia takes the audience on a course that isn’t actually possible through the city. One notices these things after multiple viewings, but younger audiences will take the substitution of story for van chases and death defying avalanches, which in the end, was probably Disney’s intention.
Yes, I’ve been harsh on National Treasure, and I don’t expect you to see it ten times like I have, but I expected more from a big vehicle backed with a lot of money and starring Nicholas Cage and Sean Bean. Female fans will most definitely watch for them, but National Treasure is more for young conspiracy fans interested on loose coincidences and facts about Benjamin Franklin. History teachers might benefit from a viewing followed by a fact or fiction discussion and trip to Philadelphia, but I don’t think that’s what Disney had in mind when they launched their massive contests and treasure chances with the film’s box office release.
National Treasure is available on DVD with some fun extras for the kids, and the film has been popular enough to warrant a sequel. National Treasure: Book of Secrets is currently filming. Focusing on the mysterious surrounding The Lincoln assassination, I don’t see how it could top the original if it tries to stretch its tiny premise against the original’s well, national attempts.
More intelligent than The Mummy, and most definitely better than The Scorpion King, National Treasure is the young man’s Indiana Jones. And even then, I’d recommend The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles first, but *they* aren’t really available on DVD yet.