National Treasure
R1 - America - Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (20th January 2008).
The Film

I'm a sucker for mysteries and I love adventure movies, this makes me the perfect candidate to check out "National Treasure", I never saw the film theatrically, I guess I was distracted with other films to notice it. Judging from the trailers it seems like another in a line of "Indiana Jones" (1981-2008) knock-offs, so I suppose I let it fly by my radar. Well the film seemed to register on just about everyone else's radar because it was a huge hit for Disney and although originally it was only supposed to be a stand alone film a sequel was inevitably greenlit. "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" opened last year to lukewarm reviews but a fairly sizeable box office return. I saw the sequel theatrically and hated almost every minute of it, if it wasn't for the character Riley played by Justin Bartha (who is a pleasure to watch and his character is a lot of fun) I would have walked out right in the middle of it. And of course to capitalize on the theatrical release of the sequel we have the inevitable double-dip with this all new 2-disc DVD of the first film. Which I am actually happy to say is in many ways not like its sequel, this film is actually fun to watch.
"National Treasure" tells the story of treasure hunter Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage), for years Ben has been in search of a treasure that was hidden by the country's Founding Fathers, a treasure so secret and vast that clues were spread across the country in different forms to protect it. Ben has been on the heels of the treasure, with the aid of his assistant Riley (Justin Bartha) and financier Ian Howe (Sean Bean). But the trails stops when Ben discovers that the map they need is hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence, a document that is near impossible to get to. In an effort to unearth the treasure Ian double crosses Ben and Riley by attempting to blow them up inside the remains of an old ship. However, Ben and Riley escape and are now in pursuit of the treasure themselves and the only way to protect the Declaration of Independence from Ian is to steal it themselves. The plan unintentionally gets a hitch when Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) tags along with the document in Ben's possession, at first a skeptic about the treasure each new clue unraveled slowly makes her a believer and with Ian and his henchmen on their tail they try to remain one step ahead of them towards the mythical treasure.
There was quite a bit that I liked about this film, for starters the mystery solving element was enjoyable and kept me wanting to find out more, as each clue is unraveled you feel like you are apart of the adventure, I found myself trying to work out the clues for myself before the characters could tell me. The film's script is quite cleverly conceived utilizing American historical events, Masons' history and the clues that are found in many established articles like the $100 bill which features Independence Hall on the back of the bill, in it lies a clue.
While the script is clever in its clues and structure of the overall adventure the cardboard cut-out villains chasing after our heroes was a weak point, they were neither interesting nor original. The only they had going for them was that they were smart, but not as smart as our heroes of course.
The main characters however played by Cage and Bartha are a pleasure to watch but most especially Bartha. His dialogue, attitude and chemistry with Cage is quite a joy to behold and their scenes together are highlights among the film's runtime as you get a sense that they've been together for a long time.
The scope of the film is rather large, the film's plot takes you all over the United States uncovering clue after clue, and to accommodate that scope is the photography which captures the space and provides the film an almost epic feel, additionally the pace was rather quick and always kept you moving and onto the next clue.
Although there were many aspects that I enjoyed "National Treasure" is far from being a flawless film, there are lots of similarities to adventure films of the past including the "Indiana Jones" series, and some of the supporting characters were largely uninteresting and added very little to the overall film, Diane Kruger for instance, was just annoying and Sean Bean phoned in a bad guy performance he's probably done many times before. Additionally there will probably be a few plot holes that nitpickers will probably pick up and if they're anything like me it will be on their minds after the film's credits have rolled not to mention the impossibility of stealing the Declaration of Independence in the first place. I suppose one must really check your brain at the door for this one, and if you're successful at that then you'll have a pretty fun time searching for treasure.

Video

Presented in the films original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 this widescreen anamorphic transfer looks pretty damn good. This is not the first time this film has been released on DVD and a quick bit of research online indicates that this is not as new transfer but the same one used for the previous release. The film is a rather recent entry so a re-mastering would have been a waist of money on Buena Vista's part, the overall image is nice and sharp, and for example the wide shots around the monuments in Washington D.C. look glorious. I found that colors are vibrant and rich, skin tones appear natural and black levels are also deep. Some dimly lit scenes were a bit too dark (like the catacombs sequences near the end of the film), I spotted some minor edge-enhancement and a spot of moiré effect against some patterned lines but that was minimal. The print is clean and dirt free and aside from those minor issues it's a very good presentation.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included in English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 as well as a Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its English soundtrack. Throughout the film dialogue was clear and distortion free, ambient sound was effectively used to create mood and depth, the track's range is impressively displayed in the action scenes with an aggressive mix of surround elements immersing the viewer. The film's score also adds another layer of depth. While this is a solid Dolby Digital track I was still left disappointed that Buena Vista did not include a DTS track for this release as an adventure film such as this deserves one.

Optional subtitles are included in English, French and Spanish.

Extras

Buena Vista has released this film with a host of extras including several featurettes and deleted scenes, an alternate ending, an animatic, an interactive game, a series of bonus trailers and a booklet. Below is a closer look at these supplements broken down per disc.

DISC ONE:

First up we've got "National Treasure on Location" a featurette that runs for 11 minutes 19 seconds. In this clip we get a look at the film and its characters as well as shooting on location around the United States especially the various monuments in Washington D.C. and Liberty Hall among others that all add an authenticity to the picture. The clip also takes a look at key scenes and stunts and production design in regards to the Mason's catacombs, visual effects are briefly covered as well as the exploding of the ship "Charlotte" from the film's opening scene.

Next we've got 2 deleted scenes, the scenes start-up with a 47 second introduction by the film's director Jon Turteltaub, the scenes also feature an optional audio commentary by the director as he comments on the scenes and on why they were not used in the film. These scenes can be viewed individually or with a 'play all' option and include:

- "Thomas and the President" runs for 1 minute 47 seconds, in this scene that takes place in 1832, Charles Carroll (Terrence Currier) tells a young boy about the treasure before he dies. President Andrew Jackson tells the boy that the treasure is all but a myth.
- "Extended Shaft Sequence" runs for 6 minutes 4 seconds, this is a slightly longer version of the scene which features a bit more exploration of the catacombs.

Next we've got the opening scene animatic which runs for 2 minutes 23 seconds and includes an introduction by the film's director Jon Turteltaub that runs for 26 seconds, both the intro and the animatic can be viewed together with a 'play all' option. In the intro the director informs the viewer what an animatic is and why filmmaker's use this tool to plan out scenes. The shot is a roughly rendered computer generated storyboard as its presented here in its entirety.

Following that is the film's alternate ending which runs for 1 minute 3 seconds and includes an introduction by the film's director Jon Turteltaub that runs for 47 seconds, both the intro and the ending can be viewed together with a 'play all' option. In the intro the director comments on the importance of the ending, the ending feature's Ben's dad telling him of another treasure to look for and basically opens the film for a sequel (which at the time they were not going to do as the film was supposed to be a one-shot deal).

While watching these extras you'll get some letters presented to you, and when all the letters are presented you get to unscramble them, this opens up more extras that include:

"The Treasure Hunters Revealed" a featurette that runs for 8 minutes 35 seconds, this is probably one of favorite extras on the disc and I wish it was longer and more in-depth. It follows actual treasure hunters as they comb the surface of the ocean and the frontier for lost treasure whether sunken ships or hidden caches from robberies.

Next is "Riley Poole's Decode This!" an interactive game that starts off with an introductory sequence informing the viewer about hieroglyphics and once you've learned about them you get a chance to encode some messages into hieroglyphics and decode them from hieroglyphics. After that game you get a chance to learn about cryptography and the different times of code developed, with a chance to decode messages that lead to a third stage in the game which covers Morse Code, invisible ink and the use of Franklin's optical device which uses different colored lenses to reveal secret messages. Use the code that you reveal to unlock a trivia track that plays over the course of the film revealing facts about the film's production and the various clues and historical references used in the film.

Also featured is "The Knights Templar" which is a featurette that runs for 5 minutes 1 second and uncovers the history of the Knights, Mason history and the myth of the treasure.

And rounding out the extras on this disc are bonus trailers for:

- "Disney" spot which runs for 52 seconds.
- "101 Dalmatians: Platinum Edition" which runs for 51 seconds.
- "Disney Blu-ray" spot which runs for 53 seconds.
- "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" which runs for 2 minutes 33 seconds.
- "Disney Movie Rewards" spot which runs for 32 seconds.
- "Underdog" which runs for 2 minutes 5 seconds.
- "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" which runs for 2 minutes 36 seconds.
- "The Game Plan" which runs for 1 minute 2 seconds.

DISC TWO:

The disc opens up with the same "Disney" spot featured on the first disc and runs for 52 seconds.

First up on this bonus disc are 5 additional deleted scenes that feature optional audio commentary by the film's director Jon Turteltaub, in the tracks he comments on why the scenes were not used. They can be viewed individually or with a 'play all' option and include:

- "Reviewing the Plan" runs for 1 minute 55 seconds, Ben and Riley go through the plan before stealing to Declaration of Independence.
- "Extended Scene: Ian Breaks Silence" runs for 2 minutes 7 seconds, Ian's men discover that 56 people signed the Declaration and not 55 as he uncovers the name 'Silence' in the cipher.
- "Sadusky Takes Charge" runs for 1 minute 17 seconds, FBI agent Sadusky (Harvey Keitel) takes charge of the situation after the Declaration was stolen.
- "An Unexpected Detour" runs for 50 seconds, Riley and Abigail run through a strip bar as they're being chased by Ben's men.
- "Lighting the Path" runs for 1 minute 46 seconds, Ben lights a path to see in the catacombs.

Next up we've got "Ciphers, Codes and Codebreakers" a featurette that runs for 11 minutes 55 seconds and takes a look at the science of cryptography and how they are used to keep secrets in real world application. The clip also looks at the different types of codes developed over the years.

"Exploding Charlotte" is a featurette that runs for 6 minutes 35 seconds and focuses on the opening sequence of the film, the filmmakers built the interior of the set in a freezer to shoot most of the scene then relocated to Utah to shoot the explosion as we get a behind-the-scenes look.

"To Steal a National Treasure" is another featurette that runs for 5 minutes 46 seconds, this clips reveals how the filmmaker's utilized the assistance of professionals to devise a plan to steal the declaration in the film and to make it look authentic and as real as possible. The research put into that sequence, how it was shot as well as the making of the prop Declaration are examined in this clip.

Finally we wrap up the extras with our last featurette entitled "On the Set of American History" which runs for 6 minutes 8 seconds and takes a look at shooting around key monuments around the United States using locations in Washington D.C. New York, Boston and Philadelphia, there's a fair amount of repeat information here and is probably the weakest featurette of the lot.

The package in includes an insert booklet that features notes on the extras.

Packaging

This 2-disc set is packaged in an amaray case that is housed in a cardboard slip-case.

Overall

The Film: B Video: B+ Audio: A Extras: B- Overall: B+

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, and amazon.de.