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NATIONAL TREASURE
U.S. Release Date: November 19, 2004
Distributor: Buena Vista
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Writer: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
Producer: Jerry Bruckheimer
Composer: Trevor Rabin
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, Sean Bean, Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Plummer
Running Time: 2 hours and 11 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG (action violence and some scary images)

Turteltaub Rediscovers Serial Adventure
by Scott Holleran

Having struck gold during the 1990's with three smart motion pictures—While You Were Sleeping, Disney's delightful Cool Runnings and the underappreciated Phenomenon—director Jon Turteltaub rediscovers the classic serialized adventure yarn in Disney's National Treasure. What a good time.

The story begins as trustworthy Christopher Plummer tells an unlikely lost legend to his wide-eyed grandson, who grows up to be Nicolas Cage. It involves an opulent treasure from ages ago, with the secretive Freemasons of all people turning out to be the ones who hold the keys to the mythical kingdom of diamonds and pearls, which may or may not be real. The Masonic stuff is creepy at first—you half expect the Rothschilds, the Trilateral Commission and black helicopters to enter the tale—but, with the Founding Fathers involved, it largely plays as reverence for history.

With Mr. Turteltaub's direction—and he is among Hollywood's brightest directors—National Treasure has what similar adventures (the recent Sahara, The Mummy, and including the Indiana Jones chronicles) lack: clarity of purpose and an active-minded hero, not some passive pseudo-swashbuckler to whom things merely happen. A committee script loses steam, faltering whenever deviating from the historical hook, but Cage keeps the action focused on finding the map to great riches that his grandfather promised—and what his father (Jon Voight) doubts—is on the back of America's greatest document, the Declaration of Independence.

As the adventurer, Cage combines intelligence with heroism. It's been a while since this type has appeared on screen; his earnest demeanor is thoroughly convincing and his knowledge of the aims of his intellectual pursuits, which race from Washington, D.C. to Independence Hall in Philadelphia, feeds the action (it's usually the other way around). When he stops to ponder what the Declaration actually means, pausing at the height of tension in the middle of where man made a free republic, it tingles the spine more than a thousand blasts of TNT. Cage's best line, delivered when someone points out that people don't really talk this way: "No, but people think this way."

Cage's odd duck look fits the part of a loner whose religion is American history, and the cast fills out the Saturday matinee material. Honey blonde Diane Kruger (Helen of Troy) plays the Smithsonian type who doubts his cockamamie scheme, then believes in him once she's provided irrefutable evidence—refreshing, because the action genre is not known for logic. Other fine actors include Sean Bean as a fellow hunter who's willing to pillage history to net the treasure, Harvey Keitel as a good guy fed for a change—better than the freak roles he often plays—and a twenty-something wiseacre (Justin Bartha) who cracks good humor lines here and there.

The real catch is Jon Voight as Cage's sarcastic father, who gave up the legend long ago; he's tired of this cloak and dagger stuff his dad and his son believe, and the father-son conflict adds bite to the relatively predictable hunt. The usual Jerry Bruckheimer-produced gripes apply—too loud, scenes cut short, and the dusty climax doesn't match the classy set-up (a caper bit which borrows from The Thomas Crown Affair)—but, overall, National Treasure is quality, old-fashioned fun for the whole family.

Buy on DVD
DVD Notes
For a suggested retail price of $29.99, this single-disc package leans toward a diehard buy, though some features are a real find. Secret key code stuff leads to games, and Disney does a decent job as always. Just when you might actually be interested in a director's audio commentary, here it is relegated to deleted scenes (good) and an alternate ending (arguably better than the current ending). Mr. Turteltaub's brief introductions, appearances and explanations are very good. Other features are mediocre; an on location bit, a special on the picture's Knights of Templar, tracing them from Jerusalem and Scotland to North America, and the disc's best feature, Treasure Hunters Revealed, which tracks real treasure hunters as heroes looking for—and finding—glimmering gold under the sea and 880 bars of stolen silver in the Sierra Madre Mountains. Good stuff, and Disney kindly stamps time increments on each feature—DVD makers, take note—though titles are too short and an advertisement for Verizon does not constitute a bonus, especially when it includes an invitation for viewers to "cheat" as this does. Overall, a decent value.


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