DVD - Image B Sound A Extras C+
BD - Image A Sound A Extras B+
starring Nicolas Cage, Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel, Diane Kruger
screenplay by Jim Kouf and Cormac Wibberley & Marianne Wibberley
directed by Jon Turteltaub
by Walter Chaw How's this for a barometer of the national cinematic weather? National Treasure is going to get more praise than condemnation from me because it isn't homophobic, misogynistic, or blatantly misanthropic. All it is, really, is astonishingly boring, terribly stupid, and, it bears repeating, boring. It's boring. (Also stupid.) Essentially the film is a Hardy Boys adventure where cryptic clues have our intrepid boy scouts traversing America's historic landmarks on a scavenger hunt for two hours and change. Where the hero is a misunderstood scholar, his sidekick is a computer nerd, and his girlfriend's hobby is history because history is cool. (The sequel will probably touch on spelling, maybe arithmetic--be still my beating heart.) And where inspiration runs out a little over half-an-hour into the runtime, causing National Treasure to resort to recycling the same rising and falling in action over and over into--and our film's history buffs will appreciate this--what seems an eternity.
Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) is the golly gee-whiz hero, introduced to us as a young boy (Hunter Gomez) rifling through grandpa's (Christopher Plummer) attic when he comes upon some doodad or other that leads to golden-lit Backstory. Seems that Ben's the last in a line of Gates men entrusted with the secret of the treasure of the Knights Templar (the Freemasons). As a grown man, Ben believes that a treasure map is written in invisible ink (yes, lemons and a candle will crack the caper!) on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Along the way, he earns the enmity of treasure hunter Ian Howe (Sean Bean) and the affection of gorgeous dork Abigail Chase (Diane "Helen of Troy" Kruger). Lots of action and explosions unfold at the pace of old people shuffling through a buffet line, split up by really idiotic and mostly identical sequences in which wordy riddles lead our heroes on yet another series of lever-pullings and allegedly tense standoffs in cobwebbed corridors.
National Treasure isn't offensive so much as it's garden-variety asinine, which actually makes it sort of bad in a nostalgic way. The only reason it's not a summer release is because it's paced like Cold Mountain and features Cage with his acting switch turned from "hopped up on goofballs" to "somnambulant." It's the grown-up version of The Goonies, and by "grown-up" I mean the 18-34 year-old demographic that studios target when they produce loud and shiny entertainments featuring a blonde in a black dress running down a street. It's possible to say something about how National Treasure gratifies the basest nationalistic instincts of our media-fed culture, but it does that already with an almost complete lack of guile. The film is a travel brochure for the last few percentage points of people who still want to move to the United States (probably as the only remaining guarantee--and not a sound one at that--that the United States won't invade them) and a release of some kind for audiences who still shake their heads in admiration at the wild adventures of Ward Cleaver, or the mad exploits of Encyclopedia Brown. Originally published: November 19, 2004.
by Bill Chambers Touchstone presents National Treasure on DVD in a 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer.* The image has unfortunately been subjected to too much filtering, à la The Alamo and Hidalgo (both also from Touchstone). Worse, to make up for that, the telecine operators have liberally applied edge-enhancement, further obscuring fine detail and giving a jagged appearance to diagonal lines. It actually doesn't look as bad as The Alamo, maybe because colour and contrast are spot-on. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, on the other hand, is near-demo material; the film's busy mix never collapses into mud, and the use of the rear discretes is particularly arresting during the bookend set-pieces. Bonus material seems in short supply at first until you begin decoding the disc's stupid Easter-egg brainteasers. "National Treasure On Location" (11 mins.) finds über-producer Jerry Bruckheimer talking up his first collaboration with Jon Turteltaub--whose great secret to directing is, I quote, "Show up every morning"--as though this were some long-awaited meeting of the minds. Much like the film itself, a lot of sound and fury here signifies nothing, though we do learn that CGI was used to enlarge a shaft. Heheheh. (Aside: the lazy trend of blurring out incidental faces and graphical ephemera caught on tape is getting ridiculous. Can we go back to release forms before we have to start shooting B-roll in front of a greenscreen?)
Turteltaub additionally offers a video introduction and optional commentary for two "Deleted Scenes," though he doesn't have much to say after revealing that the film's rough cut had a running time of over four hours. More interesting than either the elided passage revolving around Andrew Jackson or the extended climax is the "Opening Scene Animatic" (3 mins., and again outfitted with an intro and commentary from Turteltaub), if for no other reason than that it clears up the mystery of why the film's through-the-ages prologue is incoherent but visceral where the rest of National Treasure is incoherent and bland. (In the spirit of code-breaking, let's just say that somebody very different from Turteltaub whose name starts with "M" and ends with "Arcus Nispel" directed it.) While I was tempted not to bother trying to unlock the remaining extras, the truth is that a monkey could figure out how to access them with little exertion. I am living proof. Still, you don't get much for the fruits of your minimal labour--just a piece on real-life scavengers ("Treasure Hunters Revealed" (9 mins.)), a set-top cryptology game that begins with an interesting anecdote about the Rosetta Stone ("Riley Poole's Decode This!"), a recapitulation of the unreliable history lesson that kicks off the film ("The Templar Knights" (5 mins.)), a section promoting National Treasure tie-in products from Verizon, a trivia track, and a text-based table of contents that, believe it or not, is the hidden supplement for which you have to jump through the most hoops. Trailers for Herbie: Fully Loaded, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Tarzan II, and The Pacifier precede the main menu and round out the platter. Originally published: August 19, 2004.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers A discount Russell and Carpenter, actor Justin Bartha and director Jon Turteltaub have recorded a yakker for the National Treasure BD, though they seem to be operating under the assumption that their commentary is for a remastered DVD. (Turteltaub laments the misplacement of a subtitle identifying "Philadelphia" on the '05 disc, a mistake that is rectified here.) I kind of enjoyed this track, recorded some time after the sequel's completion and fixated on setting nitpickers straight. Bartha, whose offscreen persona is consistent with that of his alter ego, talks Turteltaub into some interesting sidebars (we learn that he went to high school with Nicolas Cage), while Turteltaub is good at pressing the actor's buttons for maximum comic effect, as in a discussion of Bartha's alleged resemblance to Ethan Hawke. Their love lives are probably discussed entirely too much for Disney's comfort, but the pair gets down to brass tacks more often than not; for what it's worth, this is the first time I can recall hearing of a film getting longer as a result of the test-screening process--a lot of Bartha's performance was rescued from the cutting-room floor after preview audiences responded favourably to his character. The other Blu-ray-exclusives are the Java-enabled trivia track and "Mission History: Inside The Declaration of Independence", an interactive feature hosted by "Riley Poole" with options to 'decode' or 'navigate' the eponymous document--the latter bringing up a playlist for a healthy number of historical featurettes tastefully-produced in HiDef. Both should appeal to casual history geeks and/or people who enjoy waiting for things. The remaining extras previously appeared on DVD, though the platter represents a significant upgrade in the video department: the 2.35:1, 1080p transfer is entirely absent of the DNR that plagued the film in standard-def and incredible besides, boasting stable and aesthetically-pleasing grain, superfine detail, and a broad, deep greyscale. The DD 5.1 audio is virtually identical to what you hear on DVD despite a slightly improved bitrate--can't speak for the PCM uncompressed option, alas. HD trailers for Wall-E and National Treasure: Book of Secrets cue up on startup. Originally published: May 12, 2008.
Gone in Sixty Seconds
*/**** Image A Sound A Extras C
starring Nicolas Cage, Angelina Jolie, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Duvall
screenplay by Scott Rosenberg
directed bt Dominic Sena
by Bill Chambers Back when I first screened Dominic Sena's beer commercial without the beer Gone in Sixty Seconds, an usher excitedly chatted up the movie to me before the lights went down. "Nicolas Cage is so cool!" he said. "The cars--do you like cars? The cars are amazing. And there's hardly any swearing. Oh, man, a Shelby? Is that the name of it? A GT? The Mustang, it's just, like... If you're a car guy, you're gonna be, like, amazed." Hardly any swearing?! I thought, probably aloud. A lousy film but an excellent illustration of the MPAA's myopic literalmindedness increasing a movie's bad-taste quotient by forcing the suppression of expletives, this bloated remake of Toby Halicki's 1974 underground sensation fetishizes its supporting cast of automobiles to the exclusion of anything resembling a moral objective. The original isn't quite Plato, of course, but back then a car chase usually stood for a rebellion against the establishment, and that's precisely how one would characterize insurance investigator Maindrian Pace's evasion of the police in a stolen vehicle across state lines; a cigar is just a cigar in the remake, despite the ludicrous, if funny, suggestion that Cage's "Memphis" Raines drives fast selflessly--that is, to keep an unaccountably psychotic gangster (Christopher Eccleston) from executing Ma Raines's other son, Kip (Giovanni Ribisi, in full greaseball mode). In other words, Sena's version is the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED swimsuit edition to Halicki's PLAYBOY: It's no "safer" (the only thing the bikinis do is turn the ogling of women into an all-ages sport), it just has less integrity. The situation sadly doesn't improve with Touchstone's new-to-DVD "Director's Cut" of the film, which, aside from restoring a masturbation monologue shamelessly filched from James Mangold's Heavy, preserves a sanitary gleam that's as uninspired as it is insulting.
Of course, the real auteur of the film is producer Jerry Bruckheimer, a dated, hagiographic interview with whom is recycled, like almost all of the disc's supplementary material, from the previous DVD release of Gone in Sixty Seconds. "Conversations with Jerry Bruckheimer" (8 mins.) joins a text-based biography and filmography for the Selznick of gay porn, a remarkably comprehensive distillation of the picture into a minute-long montage ("Action Overload"), and a trio of vacuous mini-docs--"L.A. Streets" (5 mins.), "Naval Yard" (4 mins.), and "The Big Jump" (3 mins.)--deconstructing the choppy, CGI-heavy set-piece in which Memphis evades many a badge-wearing pursuer in a hot Shelby. In "0 to 60" (4 mins.), it comes out that Con Air screenwriter Scott Rosenberg, who just might be worse than George Lucas at making up names (one of the two main cops in Gone in Sixty Seconds is christened Detective Drycoff), begged onto the project after getting wind of the premise, though no one so much as alludes to the Halicki film. "Stars on the Move" featurettes focusing on each of the main characters and the actors playing them, the video for The Cult's "Painted on My Heart," and a piece that proves Cage did all his own rear-projection work round out the special features, the film's memorable trailer the platter itself. (Trailers for Dark Water, National Treasure, and The Pacifier cue up automatically before the main menu.) Immaculate is the word for the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of Gone in Sixty Seconds proper, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is as aggro as you'd expect for a picture that leaves a residue of testosterone in its wake. Strange, though, that the concurrent reissue of the staggeringly bad Coyote Ugly was outfitted with a DTS option while this, the more explosive of the two Bruckheimer productions, was not. Originally published: June 8, 2005.