The only things I really remembered when National Treasure first came out was that it made a surprising amount of money (almost $350 million spread evenly over North American and International box offices), Nicolas Cage was in it, and he might have been searching for lost American relics or treasures. The first time I saw said surprising hit was on a flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu. Of course, I didn't see some of it despite it being aired on a presumptive non-stop loop, but because I had a Kurosawa film with me and, well, given the choice, what would you do? Out of sight, out of mind Mr. Ghost Rider guy! So needless to say I was a little bit apprehensive revisiting National Treasure all over again, but it was being released on Blu-ray to coincide with the release of the sequel, so why not give it a go? I can't say I missed too many earth-shattering events, but for what it is, National Treasure is a handy little popcorn action film.
Written by Jim Kouf (Angel) and Oren Aviv (RocketMan), and directed by Jon Turtletaub (Cool Runnings), Cage plays Ben Gates, a treasure hunter who has been hunting for the Knights of Templar treasure, which has been hidden by America's Founding Fathers since the end of the Revolutionary War. And while Ian (Sean Bean, Ronin) has been an enthusiast who has seemingly been using Ben to get to the point of success, Ian eventually turns on him and thus, the contest of sorts begins. The quest to find the treasure has certainly been an involved one, as each clue directs the combating pair to another clue and leads them on a continent crossing adventure that takes them deep into the National Archives, along with Philadelphia's Liberty Bell, among several other locales. Ben enlists the help of Abigail (Diane Kruger, Troy) a curator at the archives, and his father Patrick (Jon Voight, Runaway Train), albeit reluctantly on everyone's parts, as he and his assistant Riley (Justin Bartha, Failure to Launch) try to crack the puzzles and codes intricately found on each next clue.
That's basically the deal, so what you're left to do is watch and attempt to enjoy the story that the film takes you on and remarkably manages to keep your attention fairly well. The allure of National Treasure for me was to watch just how Cage (as Gates) was pulling off the Indiana Jones nod, despite Turtletaub's observations to the contrary in the commentary track. While Cage doesn't maintain the type of bookishness that Harrison Ford did, there is a comfortable ease about Gate that allows him to steal the Declaration of Independence, or to quickly make Abigail swoon in a sense, while clashing with his Dad about the legitimacy and merits of the treasure. Everyone else is also quietly aware of their roles in National Treasure also, and yes, that includes Harvey Keitel (Taxi Driver), who plays FBI Special Agent Sadusky, tasked with trying to capture Ben. But special mention should probably be given to Bean as Ian. He seems to relish taking on the bad guy roles in films, even if this one is with a little more saccharine tinge. It's clear that Ian seems to have a passion for the relics that Ben does, even if it's in a different way. You have to respect that a little bit, since he is the antagonist and all. I do have one concern with the film, and that's the length. At 131 minutes, National Treasure can at times be a flat out LONG movie. It's nice to see that with the sequel National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets some time was trimmed from the final cut, albeit not much, but in between that and the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy of films, someone needs to tell producer Jerry Bruckheimer that you can still make an entertaining action film and get character exposition all realized in a two-hour timeframe and do it effectively.
At the end of the day, National Treasure is full of entertaining performances by Oscar-winning performers, set against the background of American history and some modern day thrills and chills. Sometimes the guilty pleasure films wind up being a decent palette-refresher for moviegoers, and this is one of those occurrences.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Presented in a 2.35:1 widescreen presentation using the AVC MPEG-4 codec, National Treasure arrives with quite the sharp image. There are a number of scenes that possess solid background image depth (pick out any of the Philadelphia exterior shots for depth, not to mention a nice shade of green), you can also pick out fine details in the tighter shots as well. During the scene where Ben and Abigail are meeting after Ben has stolen the Declaration, I paused for a moment when Cage had his head turned, and I could spot some old blemishes along the right side of Cage's jawline in profile. Film grain is also present from time to time without being much of a distraction. Having raved so much about the picture, I should say there appears to be a slight touch of image softness that was a distraction for me, some of which on the outdoor shots, and it left me feeling a little bit bummed out. Still though, for what's on the disc, this thing is a beauty.
If it's a Disney title, you're going to get an uncompressed 5.1 soundtrack and like it, mister! But in all seriousness, this soundtrack does bring the goods with a solidly focused center channel, subtle yet very effective speaker panning, and subwoofer engagement on virtually all ambient noise or action shots, starting from when an old ship gets blown up and running all the way through the New York underground tunnels. With all the activity that occurs in the bigger sequences, some of the more dialogue-exclusive scenes lack some dynamic range, such as the decoding sequence in Patrick's house, but these are minor distractions on what is an overall excellent sonic experience.
Disney first released National Treasure in 2005, then put together a two-disc Collector's Edition to coincide with the release of the sequel. This Blu-ray release incorporates the material from said edition, along with a couple of BD exclusive supplements, starting with a commentary from Turtletaub and Bartha. From the jump, you can tell the pair get along very well, with Turtletaub frequently poking fun at Bartha's expense. Turtletaub also has a fair amount of production and historical trivia on the first film, and we find out that he and Cage were classmates at the same high school. It's a nice, loose track to listen to, or to ignore, as Bartha says that the track should be ignored, because "people care about Diane Kruger looking hot." The other piece is an interesting one entitled "Mission History: Inside the Declaration of Independence." This extra is similar to the Archives break-in sequence, right down to Bartha providing a joke or two during the piece. You scan the text of the document into a reader onscreen, and you have the option of decoding it to determine any hidden secrets. Any relevant topics appear in a separate PDA which you can access and play. Anything from colonial life to other trivia about the document and the era in which it was written are covered, with interviews from a wide variety of historians. It's a much better piece than I'm doing it justice and it's well worth the time to explore.
The rest of the extras aren't too bad. The animatic for the opening sequence is included along with an introduction and commentary by Turtletaub (2:51). Next are seven deleted scenes (16:04) that include optional commentary, and some of the scenes are more extensive than anything else. Aside from an early scene that ties the Gates family into American history a little more, the final action sequence is way overextended and bordering on the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom kick. The film's alternate ending (1:50) with optional Turtletaub commentary is next and sets up more of a sequel opportunity than anything. Then you've got the featurettes, but of all of them, "Ciphers, Codes and Codebreakers" (11:49) is the only one of the bunch that appear in high definition and is an interesting look at codes and breaking them through the years. Code breakers discuss their role in the grand scheme of things, and their historical context is discussed along with looks at codes and codebreaking mechanisms. "Exploding Charlotte" (6:32) looks at the opening sequence in the film, while "To Steal a National Treasure" (5:43) explores the signature sequence of the Declaration's robbery and what it took to get the vision realized to film. "On the Set of American History" (6:04) looks at the various locations where photography took place and what it meant to the cast and crew, and the crew share their thoughts about shooting on location, while "National Treasure On Location" (11:17) is pretty much the closest thing to the disc's EPK, with interviews from the cast and crew and the usual multi-party admiration society that follows, though the visual effects get some screen time. "Treasure Hunters Revealed" (8:36) looks at the life and passions of the real-life Benjamin Franklin Gates of the world, while "The Templar Knights" (4:59) explains the history of the knights and freemasons along with a minor fact vs. fiction peek into things. Along with a running trivia track and previews for Wall-E and National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets, combined with the $10 rebate that Disney is offering in case you'd like to upgrade to the high-definition copy, you've got yourself a pretty loaded disc.
With a better than expected audio and video presentation, quite a few supplements, and a decent movie to boot, National Treasure proves itself to be one of those fun times in the home video market. I'd heartily recommend to those owners of the standard definition copy to feel free to upgrade, and for those technophiles who are on the fence, I'd say you could get away with watching it and having a solid addition to your growing library.