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National Treasure
Reviewed by George Edward Purdy, © 2004

Format: Movie
By:   Jon Turteltaub (director)
Genre:   Adventure
Released:   November 19, 2004
Review Date:   November 16, 2004
Audience Rating:   PG
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

When I first saw the trailer for National Treasure, I expected it to be cheesy. The premise was laughable, and I laughed. This is a Walt Disney picture, after all. But they did give us a couple of winners recently: Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl and the latest version of Freaky Friday, both surprisingly good. So, what does National Treasure have to offer?

The story starts with a young boy named Benjamin Franklin Gates poking around in his grandfather's old things, and his grandfather (Christopher Plummer) tells him a story of the Knights Templar and how they became the freemasons, and the secret treasures they recovered from the Holy Land. Although it’s a simplistic overview, it does give a rough outline of the history of the masons. At that point I was expecting the treasure to turn out to be the ubu-ubu or pyramidion bird, the previous capstone of the great pyramid, or maybe the Ark of the Covenant we all know so well thanks to that Raiders movie. Ben's father (Jon Voigt), however, is much less enthusiastic about these old legends, and would rather the already disgraced Gates family name not be further burdened by them.

Fast forward to Gates as an adult treasure hunter, played by Nicolas Cage, Helping him search are fellow treasure hunters including his wealthy sponsor Ian Howe (Sean Bean, Boromir in The Lord of the Rings and Partridge in Equilibrium), and plucky comic relief Riley Poole (Justin Bartha). A recovered artifact of significance leads them to the conclusion that the map to the treasure of the Templars is on the back of the Declaration of Independence (suspension of disbelief sits up like a bird, eager to fly away) and the race for the treasure begins.

In trying to get to the map, the treasure hunters meet the unrealistically hot (sizzle) Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) whose job it is to protect significant American historical documents such as the Declaration of Independence. Justin Bartha steals several scenes with perfect comedic timing. Toward the end of the film a cop, Agent Sadusky (Harvey Keitel) ends up chasing after the treasure hunters, adding to the mayhem.

Sure, a lot of the stuff that happens in this chase across the country to recover a lost treasure is implausible, but no moreso than the events of other action films in the past. There are car chases, shootouts, twists and turns, and more riddles than you'd expect from your trickiest Dungeons and Dragons dungeon master, not to mention subterranean exploration and creepy corpses.

This is, obviously, an action film with fantastical elements, at times not unlike a modern Indiana Jones tale. Some of the parts of this film that I actually found stirring were reverent references to the words and deeds of the founding fathers. It was easy for me to identify with Cage's character, his feelings about history, and his desire to prove himself and his family right in the face of academic opposition. He's a sort of Agent Mulder of historical study.

I don't expect this film to do very well in the box office, due to the limited appeal of the trailers, but I really enjoyed it, so it's possible that word of mouth will make it a hit. Granted, that didn't work for Freaky Friday, so I doubt it will work here. Then again, Star Wars had godawful trailers and it became the highest grossing film of all time. You can never tell.

RevSF Contributor George Edward Purdy has got a Purdy mouth.

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