National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets: Collector's Edition (2 Disc Set) Review
You have to take a good deal on trust in a film like this, much as you do when reading the novels of Dan Brown. Having only been to Rome once, I can't tell you if the landmarks he described in Angels And Demons were there or not, not to mention that, if they were, if they bore any relevance to Catholic history. Mostly that was from only being in the city for a day but it was also due to being in a hire car and in search of buildings that always seemed to be in the opposite direction to that in which I was heading. That day, the streets and avenues were as chaotic as the day the city burned in AD64. A read through Angels And Demons requires that one accepts much of what Brown says as gospel - his all-this-is-fact prologues also make that demand on the reader - until the book reaches something of a crescendo of conspiratorial nonsense. But, by then, it's much too late.
The da Vinci Code, Angels And Demons and the rest suffer from being far too po-faced. The Righteous Men and The Last Testament by Sam Bourne are no different, particularly when the latter ends with a handwritten, 'everybody should be really nice to one another' plea from the father of the Abrahamic religions. National Treasure and its sequel are much more like it, though. A film wherein the action opens with the assassination of President Lincoln but which ends in a hidden city of gold high on Mount Rushmore. It's a film where Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) kidnaps the current president, breaks into the White House during an Easter Egg hunt and goes in search of the secret President's Book that contains not only the next clue in his search for said city but also the truth about Area 51. One doesn't even so much as blink when Riley, Gates and Abigail lead the villains on a merry chase through the red-bus-and-black-taxi strewn streets of London without a single, "Hello! Hello! Hello!" from a good ol' British bobby. When you and I can't so much as get on a flight without undressing, handing over any and all refreshments we might be carrying and producing a stool sample, an uninterrupted car chase through the centre of the capital is as unlikely as any one of the wholly implausible endings from a Dan Brown book.
No matter, we're with National Treasure now and if the action were to be any sillier, the entire cast would have to be dressed as clowns. Having already found the treasure of the Knights Templar, Riley (Justin Bartha) and Benjamin find themselves back were they first started. Benjamin is teaching at a university while Riley is still unloved, albeit that, this time around, he's finding that out while his book goes unsold and a signing that he's hosted is attended only by those who think that he's Gates. And due to an oversight in his accounting, the IRS has impounded his beloved red Ferrari. But fate is to intervene in the shape of Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris), who has in his possession one of the missing pages from John Wilkes Booth's diary and it appears to suggest that Gates' great-great-grandfather, Thomas Gates, was a member of the Knights of the Golden Circle, the gang of conspirators loyal to the south who plotted the murder of Abraham Lincoln. In spite of the talk of treasure, there is only one thing bothering Gates and that is of clearing the good name of his great-great-grandfather. Mitch, though, will stop at nothing to find the treasure and Gates' life, as well as those of his mother and father (Helen Mirren and Jon Voight), is soon under threat. With Abigail (Diane Kruger) permitting them access to the highest levels of US government, the old gang are back together and in a search for Cíbola, the legendary native American city of gold.
Writing this sequel shouldn't have been so much a case of, "If it ain't broke..." as playing mix-and-match with the story of the first film and disguising the lack of ideas with a new treasure, a new villain and a slightly different order in which the plot unfolds. Gates may not steal the Declaration of Independence this time around but he does kidnap the President. In lieu of breaking into the National Archives, Gates and Riley make their way instead into Abigail's house, the Oval Office and the Library of Congress. The car chase in Washington DC is replaced by one in London, Sean Bean becomes Ed Harris and the climb down into the crypts in search of the treasure of the Knights Templar is now a climb down into the lost city of Cíbola beneath Mount Rushmore. Even the inventive means by which Riley and Gates come upon clues is reprised in this film, albeit that they avoid using children in lieu of a remote-controlled helicopter buzzing around the replica of the Statue of Liberty on the Île des Cygnes.
There was, though, no real need to change anything as regards National Treasure when the films work so very well as they are. They aren't at all shy of lifting a moment or two from, for example, the Tomb Raider videogames but who could begrudge them that when National Treasure one and two do it very much better than did Angelina Jolie. Jon Voight, Helen Mirren and Harvey Keitel all look to be having a good deal of fun in a film that puts very little demand on their abilities as actors while Jerry Bruckheimer is on hand to remind Turtletaub, perhaps from his miming a comedy plunger, that there can be no excuse for not blowing something up. Not forgetting that the audience for National Treasure 2 may not share Gates' love of history, no door, obstacle or clue has him stumped for very long and though two hours is slightly too long for a film as light as this one, the two hours still pass swiftly by.
The only sense that something is amiss in National Treasure 2 comes with knowing that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was also released in the past year and that no matter his age, Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas do this sort of thing very much better. Neither of the National Treasure films offer villains as memorable as the Nazis - Ed Harris, in particular, gives up all villainy towards Gates just when you think he might want to shoot him on account of him not having anything else to lose by it - whilst the actual treasures seem to pale in comparison to something like the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail. However, that National Treasure 2 does its thing with good humour, adventure and an ever-expanding family of treasure hunters means that Gates and company will remain with us for yet another film. Whether or not it will feature the intrigue of what is written on page 47 of the president's secret book is something that we'll have to wait some years to see answered.
The picture may not be the most interesting to look at but it shares that particular fault with National Treasure, a film that this viewer described as having a dull visual sheen draped all over it. And, once again, director Turtletaub is often content to simply point his camera in the direction of the action and simply leave it as it is, perhaps out of the fear of shaking it too much and having Jerry Bruckheimer shout at him for spoiling a shot. However, that's not to fault this DVD, which presents the film anamorphically in 2.35:1 and which does a fair job of showing what's best about the film off. Unfortunately, there's not a great deal to show off but everything looks reasonable with the muted colours being portrayed with some honesty at least on the screen. What action there is looks fine but the ending of the film, which takes place in an underground cavern, does look very murky, which might have looked OK in the darkness of a cinema but which is not so well suited to a viewing in the daylight of a living room. Turn off the lights and enjoy, otherwise peer into the gloom in the hope of finding out who's actually on the screen.
The soundtrack, an English DD5.1 (but which is also available in French and Spanish DD5.1) is good and offers a fair thump to the action throughout but, like the picture, is never really stretched. There's a nice ambience to the scenes that open the film but not much thereafter, with even the car chase in London not having quite so much squealing of tyres or the crunch of metal as this viewer would have liked. But at least the dialogue is clear. Finally, both the main feature and all special features, including the commentary, are subtitled in English, Spanish and French.
Commentary: This is the only bonus material on the first disc in the set and features director Jon Turtletaub and actor Jon Voight in conversation about the movie. To be fair, Voight tends to say very little about the film, only adding something on what he brought to the film or the coincidences shared by the actors. And yet he acknowledges how little he has to add by saying at one point, "I know why I'm here...I know you couldn't get Nic and you wanted someone as a catalyst so you could just do your thing!" Turtetaub agrees saying that Voight is only there because he couldn't get his mother. Turtletaub is completely different. He talks about the film almost constantly, revealing much about what happened behind the scenes but also the inspiration behind the film, something on those historical figures incorporated into the plot and how real-life events are portrayed. It's worth at least one listen although it's unfortunate that more members of the cast couldn't join Voight and Turtletaub.
Deleted Scenes: Jon Turtletaub introduces these scenes, which he would later justify by saying, as he does here, that most movies are much too long. The first scene here is a long one (7m02s) in which the characters discuss the whereabouts of a hummingbird on the top of Mount Rushmore, which was replaced by a much shorter scene in the film. The decision to replace one with the other was the right one. Otherwise, the remaining scenes are short and would have added little to the finished film. There are four other scenes with each of them running to somewhere between 14s and 2m38s.
Secrets Of A Sequel (6m51s): Jerry Bruckheimer and Jon Turtletaub are the main interviewees in this short feature and rightly describe getting ready for a sequel as soon as filming wrapped on the first one. At least they're honest. Otherwise, it's Turtletaub talking about his familiarity with the cast and crew, of how the puzzles in the movie evolved and how, as surely as day follows night, they've upped the ante as regards the stunts.
Book Of Secrets: On Location (9m46s): Whilst taking screenshots for this review, I couldn't help but think that National Treasure 2 is more of a travelogue than the first film. It's more of a globetrotting adventure where the locations are more important than the puzzles but that's not really a good thing. This skips through the various locations and the problems that arise with shooting close to the White House and Buckingham Palace.
Bloopers And Outtakes (5m03s): About as funny as they ever are.
Street Stunts (9m41s): The car chase in London makes a change from all the usual locations, which may once have been San Francisco or New York but which, in a post-Bourne and Transporter world, are now eastern European cities that look a bit like Moscow or southern European cities that feature a surfeit of industrial estates. With far too many stuntmen ordering traffic around the streets of the capital, this just about hold's the viewers interest but does little more.
Underground Action (6m48s): The best thing about this feature is remote control platform on which the actors teeter near the film's end. And it's all controlled by one man just to the right of and behind the camera. It looks great but there's not a lot else besides, other than how the caves beneath Mount Rushmore were created.
Evolution Of A Golden City (10m19s): This follows on from Underground Action, albeit that it concerns itself only with the city of Cíbola.
Knights Of The Golden Circle (2m40s): "The knights of the golden circle was a southern extremist movement operating in the north to subvert union forces." Cage says it all in the film but we still have a couple of historians explain this secret society to us, including where the actual golden circle came from.
Crafting The President's Book (4m32s): One feels that the National Treasure movies will get a lot more mileage out of the book of secrets, not least what's meant to be written on page 47. This doesn't actually reveal what's in the book but, instead, looks at the artwork and styles of writing used to create the prop for the movie. Shame, that!
Inside The Library of Congress (8m40s): For years, I used to have an uncontrollable urge to use the toilet when I entered a library. I completed both a bachelor's and a master's degree with this particular phobia, meaning that not once did I enter a library over those four-and-a-half years. And that made things difficult. I now appear to be cured of that but might still feel the need to pee even in a place like the Library of Congress. Although, having watched this short feature, I now don't have to go there.
Easter Eggs: There are three that I could find, one on the driving rig used to film the London car chase (53s), another on Nic Cage, another on Nicolas Cage narrowly avoiding a falling idol (1m12s) and Jon Turtletaub's school days at Beverly Hills High (2m09s).