The notion of an all-encompassing and theoretically mythical presidential book of secrets was given mainstream attention via a 2007 action-adventure movie, appropriately titled National Treasure: Book of Secrets. In that film Nicolas Cage searches for the book at one point, said to have been handed down from president to president - since George Washington - and containing top secret information only meant for the eyeballs of the President of the United States. Conspiracy geek speculation over the years have naturally extrapolated this to mean the book answers everything from entrenched secret societies to aliens at Roswell to the Kennedy assassination.
This 90-minute History Channel presentation does a bit of a thematic bait-and-switch, because despite the conspiracy-nerd title this is actually a fairly straightforward examination of what it means to be the President, and all of the massively widespread and complex intelligence/security/communications/etc that goes with it. There is an attempt to continually tie in the existence of the alleged book of secrets, but it is done in a rather loose and cheesy way, with the narrator occasionally intoning that "if such a book existed" might there be such-and-such information found within. After these seemingly obligatory book mentions it is then quickly on to segments covering intelligence, destinations, agencies, communications, conspiracies, security, disclosures and alliances.
But that's not necessarily a bad thing ultimately, because the material covered here is informative and educational, utilizing a mixture of analysis and speculation from a wide panel of in-the-know-because-I-have-been-there types, including Dan Quayle, Newt Gingrich, Michael Hayden and Michael Chertoff. Also along for the ride are a number of authors and researchers, as well as former press secretaries, advisors, presidential physicians and even Dan "what's the frequency, Kenneth" Rather. There's a high reliance on using the presidency of Barack Obama as the focal point (no doubt because of the abundance of footage), but the narrative jumps around to others, offering nuggets like Harry Truman having had no knowledge of the existence of the A-bomb during his tenure as veep, and that it wasn't until he became President that he was informed of it.
There is a brief stop-over in conspiracy land - touching on hot button subjects like 9/11 and Roswell naturally - while Newt Gingrich attempts to deflate all of that speculation with the tough love proclamation that people like conspiracies because it is easier than believing "the world is large, random and uncaring." Yet it is the "real" stuff that is most interesting, with plenty of talk concerning codes, bunkers, escape routes, doomsday scenarios, cyber attacks, black budgets and the President's Daily Briefing, which former NSA director/former CIA director Michael Hayden declares "rarely celebrates life." Hayden, in particular, is especially chilling, and I'll bet the deep dark stuff he knows would have me cowering in the corner, drooling like a madman, for months.
Interesting in all sorts of ways, ironically NOT when it comes to the titular book of secrets, however.
The. 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is no great shakes, shifting as it does wildly between excessive banding and soft edges right back to nicely rendered colors and details for the talking head interview segments. The imperfections - no doubt a result of blown-up source material at times - are much more evident on a larger display, and while hardly full-on awful it is less than perfect.
No complaints with the 2.0 stereo audio track as it carries narration and interview segments cleanly while also allowing the occasional workings of the action-movie-esque score proper leeway. Not a showcase disc by any stretch, but solidly workable and presentable.
There are no extras available on this disc.
Don't let the title on this one fool you - there's really very little discussion of the mythical 'book of secrets'. Instead this is a neatly assembled and informative look at all of the staggering complexities that come with being the most powerful man in the free world.
Well worth a rental.