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
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whose job it is to protect significant American historical documents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.