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Disney movies have never been renowned for their realism, and probably never will be.
Nevertheless, its movies, whether action or comedy, have a mysterious and consistent ability to capture audiences and keep them in their seats.
So it goes for ‘National Treasure,’ Disney’s new action adventure movie, which opened nationwide last Friday, Nov. 19.
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, who also worked on ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ the movie stars Academy Award-winner Nicholas Cage and is directed by Jon Turteltaub.
The movie’s premise revolves around a treasure map that the family of Benjamin Franklin Gates (Cage) believes is encrypted on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Stealing this priceless and heavily guarded national treasure is the only way Gates can discover if such a legend is true.
Gates is obsessed with the legend because his family possesses the final clue as to the treasure’s whereabouts. The other hints were lost to time or destroyed by American colonists to assure that the British did not get their hands on American treasure.
We first find Gates and his treasure hunting crew plowing through the icy ground in Antarctica, looking for a 200-year-old long-lost American ship, ‘The Charlotte.’ The ship is soon uncovered from the ice, and the crew enters the ship’s wooden cabin accompanied by typical ominous music.
A crewman slowly uncovers an old sheet, which reveals a frozen dead body, to the surprise of few in the audience. The crewman is noticeably startled and shaken.
With sarcastic wit maintained throughout the movie, Gates responds to his frightened crew-member by saying, ‘You held that well.’
Gates’ humor is echoed throughout the course of the movie by his comedic sidekick Riley Poole, who is well-acted by Justin Bartha.
In fact, it is Poole’s light-heartedness and dumb antics which guide us through the slower sections of the film.
While still on the mysterious ship, Gates finds a riddle placed beneath an elaborately sculpted pipe. In approximately 60 seconds, Gates becomes convinced that the riddle describes a treasure map written in invisible ink on (that’s right) the back of the Declaration of Independence. This naturally leaves them with only one course of action: steal one of the most highly guarded historical artifacts in the world.
What I loved about this scene was the lack of any real objection from any of Gates’ crew, or even a second guess from himself. When a group of people have traveled across the globe to the tip of the Earth, trekking through treacherous and bitterly cold conditions, is it really likely that their intensive search will culminate with a simple discovery that takes less than one minute to understand?
The antagonist, Ian Howe (Sean Bean), is less concerned with the riddle and more focused on reaping the immense monetary reward to which the riddle leads. He emerges as a lead character in the final scene on the submerged ship as his greed overtakes him. He holds Gates at gunpoint, demanding the mysterious cigar and riddle be handed over to him. A fight scene which leads to the obligatory explosion.
As Gates himself describes the situation, the storyline of this movie is ‘upside-down.’ In order to preserve the Declaration of Independence and a semi-valid reason for continuing this movie, he must steal the Declaration of Independence before Ian, his mutinous former crewmember, destroys it once its use in finding the treasure is fulfilled.
Armed with specific details on how the Declaration of Independence will soon be stolen, Gates and Riley march off to warn Dr. Chase, an attractive blonde played by Diane Kruger, from the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
I feel great sympathy toward Chase, who must sit through Gates’ serious explanation that an invisible treasure map exists on the back of the Declaration of Independence. She felt, as I did when I viewed the trailer for this movie, that this premise was ludicrous and demanded no attention.
But as the movie progressed, I slowly changed my opinion of the movie’s success as I reevaluated its true intentions.
This is not a movie that Disney releases in order to achieve new heights in artistic filmmaking. This is the type of film Disney releases to pay the bills and provide some mindless entertainment.
Do not expect new, fresh dialogue or incredibly unpredictable plot turns in this action adventure, as you will be disappointed.
The movie soon adopts an ‘Alias’-style sequence when Gates and Riley are briefed for security and equipped with their high-tech spy tools, which help them gain access to the room where the Declaration of Independence is being restored.
Gates and Riley are eventually successful in preventing Ian and his crew from stealing the precious document. The cat-and-mouse chase which follows brings the good guys and the bad guys to Philadelphia, our nation’s original capital, where more clues are found. Here the Declaration of Independence is stolen again, this time by Ian.
Ironic humor is displayed by Gates when he tries to explain why and how he stole the Declaration of Independence to his disapproving father. What follows is Disney’s desperate attempt to make the characters more well-rounded.
The above humor, coupled with Riley’s omnipresent comic contributions, carry us through the second half of the movie, which drags slightly. Up to 10 minutes of the film could probably be edited from the movie and provide the same, if not better, movie experience.
The movie is resolved with Gates’ amazing knowledge of American history and his ability to decipher horribly obscure clues. The clues continually prolong the movie, which prompted me to think of the parallels with the final installment of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, in which, many might argue, there exist more than five endings.
I do not think I would be ruining the movie if I revealed that the bad guys are punished (they go to jail) and the good guys are handsomely rewarded.
Oh, yeah, as implausible and forced as it may seem, Gates and Chase also become romantically involved.
After all, this is Disney we’re talking about.
Aside from the predictable outcome, I must say Riley Poole is the definitive bright spot of the cast. Numerous times throughout the adventure, he is able to bring us back to reality and rid us of that annoying, overly emotional orchestral background music which accompanies much of the movie.
Would I pay $10 dollars to see this movie in a theater on a Saturday night?
Absolutely not.
Would I be inclined to accept an offer to see this movie for free?
In a second. This movie’s effectiveness settles in the Blockbuster category.
Considering how ridiculously expensive some non-matinee movie tickets are, it has become increasingly important to be selective of one’s movie choices. As such, ‘National Treasure’ is a movie to see when nothing else good is around.
It toys with the popular phrase ‘What if?’ and takes us on a fantastical journey while remaining in the present time. However, if you get caught up in glaringly unrealistic movie mistakes, it would be wise to stay away from this one.
The previews to this movie had me rolling my eyes in a similar manner that Gates does during the movie. Underneath the implausible storyline, however, lies a comedic action movie definitely worth seeing, with some reservation.
‘National Treasure’ is
currently playing in theaters everywhere.

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