National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets:
National Treasure put me to sleep twice. Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code was an entertaining, quick read, but certainly no cultural artifact, and the Tom Hanks movie of the same name was just tolerable. Nevertheless, the wife loves that kind of stuff, so cowabunga - Book of Secrets!
Overcoming numerous obstacles (not the least of which being my bias) National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets is an energetic, totally fun romp (stupid fun, that is) that admirably holds its own as an adventure until the tail end of its inflated two hour run-time.
Nicholas Cage reprises his role as Ben Gates, treasure hunter extraordinaire in Book of Secrets. Coming off his triumph from the earlier movie, Gates' loveless life on the lecture circuit (his girlfriend Abigail has dumped him) brings in the dollars, but also brings in a rival (Ed Harris) who threatens to destroy the Gates Family name in a big way. To clear that name, Gates and crew; Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) and Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) must not only kidnap the President, but also find the Book of Secrets and legendary Lost City of Gold. It would be a tough sell for anyone but Oscar winner Cage, an actor who has seemingly lost the ability to be convincing in any role, yet through sheer force of will turns that Valley Girl charm into enjoyable - if not wholly believable - success.
Book of Secrets overcomes its own implausibility, jingoism and facile stupidity with a sprightly pace, wall-to-wall set pieces and Disney-fied, gee-whiz attitude. From the opening caper - breaking into the Queen's office at Buckingham Palace - to the aforementioned kidnapping, credibility is strained. Only the mystery of what's happened to Cage's hair (a dyed-black vampire-style toupee to cover pattern baldness?) could possibly lull Secret Service agents into letting Gates abscond with the Prezzie, but by the time Cage, Ed Harris and Helen Mirren (!) are balancing for their lives on a giant slab game board you'll know you've been visiting Fantasyland. And lest we forget where the Disney allegiance lies, jabs at the French, a guest spot by Randy Travis and a finale at Mount Rushmore should have us waving our American flags proudly, if not supporting continued funding of the Iraq war. But the ease with which Gates divines all the right answers, pulling the wool over everyone's eyes and skating unscathed through escalating perils marks this as (if it's not an oxymoron) an easily-pleasing Mission Impossible lite.
This very lightness, raised by a degree from the first installment, makes for a goofy, thrilling trip. Even at two-hours length the movie moves quickly. Breathless and breezy dialog - full of silly jibes and pseudo-scientific double talk - ramps things up, while kid-friendly sequences of action and espionage unfold every ten minutes. Gates' familial relationship with his cohorts - Chase and Gates seem less like an item and more like the older brother and sister to Poole - as well as his contentious relationship with dad (seeking approval, earning grudging respect for being a man) further cements Disney's family vibe, ensuring everyone can enjoy.
Though I hold the first National Treasure in mild contempt, the formula works masterfully in this second installment, setting up a franchise destined for success. Blending preposterous with popcorn and thrills with propagandistic shills, Gates and National Treasure is the Indiana Jones of the 21st century. Wait, Indy's coming back isn't he? We'll have to see how badly Lucas and Spielberg's creation trounces the box-office (and what, if any, liberal subtext they throw in). But for this week easy, thrill-packed guilty pleasures belong firmly to Gates and crew.
Presented in a widescreen (2.35:1 ratio) anamorphic transfer, this Book can be judged by its cover. The DVD case is slick, and the movie looks as good on DVD as one could hope. The image is very sharp, clear and clean, with no compression artifacts to be found. Film grain is a non-issue, and damage to the print can't be found. Obviously stepping up to Blu-ray would be even more stunning, but in my little TV room I am quite pleased.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Sound comes on all three audio tracks, English, French and Spanish. It is a lively set of tracks indeed with elaborate sound design that challenged my set's stereo speakers and made for a stimulating listening experience when filtering through my set's goofy 'surround sound' simulation. Of course dialog is well mixed, clear and easy to understand, and for a movie of this type, the soundtrack doesn't seem overpowering.
Expect a treasure chest of extras, and we'll start with the least of them, including a couple of Manufacturer's Coupons, a pamphlet touting the magic of Disney with Blu-ray, and a Fold-out Insert with hierarchical organization of the materials on discs one and two in this set.
Disc One contains English, French and Spanish Audio Tracks, the usual Disney Promo Reel, and a Disney Blu-ray Promo, plus four Trailers and an ad for Disney Movie Rewards (check your insert for web codes). Don't forget the Sneak Peeks either. You also get English (for the hearing impaired), French and Spanish Subtitles, and a screen to help Register Your DVD for replacement and other perks.
Of course disc one also gives you an Audio Commentary Track with director John Turteltaub and Jon Voight. Turteltaub is a pleasant, funny and voluble speaker who covers in interesting and engaging manner lots of stuff about the production, working with his actors and other things. ... As if an entire second disc of extras wasn't enough. Voight chimes in occasionally, mostly about the craft of acting, and acts as a foil to Turteltaub.
Disc Two has the same Audio Options and Subtitles as disc one, plus the Register screen - all accessed with a tiny flair for the type of mystery on which the movie thrives.
And then there's the embarrassingly huge trick-bag o' stuff:
Deleted Scenes have impassioned and honest intros by the director. Totaling about 14 minutes, (minus intros) the scenes are fun to watch and make sense because you get personable explanations for why each was cut and what it was filmed for in the first place.
Secrets of a Sequel contains about seven minutes of EPK-type stuff, with lots of behind-the-scenes clips, and bits and bobs interviews from cast and crew. Fun stuff.
The Book of Secrets On Location for about ten minutes touches on the globe-trotting nature of the production, and the fact that all the exteriors were real - something that adds a huge amount to the feel of the film
The Treasure Reel: Bloopers & Outtakes runs about five minutes, is slickly edited and mildly amusing.
Street Stunts: Creating The London Chase cruises through ten minutes and reveals the extreme difficulty involved in filming this chase, enough so that production considered faking it in another country.
Underground Action is about seven minutes that uses (as all the other extras do) cast and crew interviews and behind-the-scenes clips and information detailing the climactic set-piece.
Evolution of a Golden City goes over ten minutes of detail about the legendary city, Cibola, how it works into the National Treasure mythos and how it was created.
Knights of the Golden Circle takes two-plus minutes talking about the history of this real secessionist organization.
Cover Story: Crafting the President's Book unfolds over four-plus minutes, examining the wish-dream that is the notion of a book passed from President to President with all the secret information we'd love to know about: Roswell, Kennedy, the Moon Landing, etc. as well as revealing how production designed said tome.
Inside the Library of Congress caps off this weighty collection of extras, revealing in about eight minutes volumes of details of the Library itself through interviews from curators of various departments. This is truly fascinating stuff.
Admittedly, I wasn't a fan of the first National Treasure; snobbery and ennui probably had something to do with that, but the thrills and fun seemed pandering and somewhat leaden. Those kinks are completely worked out in this fast-paced, exciting and funny feature. Cage is at his cagey best, also fitting seamlessly into the friendly ensemble of others, and everything works like Disney engineered clockwork. National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets is thrilling, funny and at times breathtaking, even if it is just a goofy Disney movie. This two-disc collector's edition really piles on the extras as well, making this Highly Recommended for happy-go-lucky thrill-seekers.
- Kurt Dahlke
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