I'm about to share my candid opinion...yours may differ (and please post your own thoughts in the thread)...
National Treasure isn't a great film--it's easily one of the weaker action/adventure movies I’ve seen for some time which has less to do with acting and effects (which were good) and more to do with writing and a believable plot-structure. The sensation of the film’s opening is one of being air-dropped into a plot-exposition boot-camp where we’re force-fed all the necessary history and details to substantiate a 2-hour quest within a 5-minute span...have to get that action rolling for all the ADD American viewers! My strongest criticsm: level of suspended-disbelief required to move from event to event is so high that at times it’s groan-inducingly painful--the "clues" that point the good and bad guys down path racing to lay claim to the treasure are "solved" in ways that often feel arbitrary and easily dismissed...lacking the sensation of an actual "riddle" which would have added a genuine tone of suspense. These treasure hunters solve century-old riddles in less time than it takes most of us to fill out "Pepperoni" on the cross-word puzzle on a Pizza-Hut place-mat...
Perhaps the reason I feel so harshly about this film is precisely because there were moments of clear inspiration...as if beneath the rubble of mindless, random, formulaic Hollywood nonsense there was a kernel of real creativity that would intermittently come up for air to take a breath...excite and inspire the viewer, and then submerge again. Sort of like whale-watching in really cold, rainy, weather in a small wave-rocked dingy--you're exicted to see the whales but have a hard time not noticing your teeth chattering. With just a little bit of better-exercised judgment...the film could have been tailored much more respectably and really capitalized on some of these potential strenghts--really it's no worse than the latter Indiana Jones films but it could have been as good as the first... In its current form it’s a strange mish-mash of Indiana Jones, True Lies, and The Goonies that requires the viewer disavow just a bit too much to take seriously. Listening to the Director and crew discuss their perceptions of the film in the special feature content was almost alarming…these people actually think that this film is good...I mean “GOOD” as in Empire-Strikes-Back-Good. Yes and they probably get paid a lot more than you and me too.
That being said I enjoyed watching the film. It is entertaining... Many of the action scenes were engaging and there was a boni-fide sense of "adventure" as the quest to find the treasure unfolded--moments that bordered on “inspired” and sparked interest like pearls that individually had merit...but only lacked in group when strung together with a few too many plastic beads.
Movies of this genre can be enjoyed on an entirely different level than that intended by the director--an action/adventure-cliche (the same way I managed to enjoy Twister or Speed for instance). If you keep a sense of humor and try not to think too hard, you’ll find National Treasure an entertaining 131 minute ride...
Looks like someone who worked on Hero or Kill-Bill Vol. 1 was manning the high-pass filter knob on this one folks. Really irksome...because a film as bad as this one usually promises to redeem itself at least in some small measure by giving you some Home-Theater Demo-material. Not here folks…I haven’t seen this projected theatrically but I don’t think that I need to...I’ve rarely seen films as soft and lacking in detail as this transfer and usually they’re period or low-budget films using poorer quality film-stock or duplication. The most shockingly bad scenes are the city-shots of the Washington DC skyline which harken to the bygone days of laserdisc or VHS resolution.
Oh yeah…plenty of edge-haloing to try to sharpen-up that burry picture.
Ok, maybe it’s not the worst that I've seen (and viewers using smaller monitors may not be bothered), but it really is a disappointment when viewing on a wideangle system as I do (approximately 1.6 screen-widths away from a 106” diagonal 16x9 screen). Before anyone cracks their knuckles in preparation to explain to me that I’m sitting too close, let me assure you that I’m well within the “sweet spot” for properly mastered DVD software…from this same viewing distance, some DVDs look breathtakingly film-like and elicit ooooohs and aaaahhs without any difficulty from visiting guests.
Well the transfer has to do something right…right? Sure…black levels and shadow detail seem good, though the image lacks the “snap” that I would expect for a modern film of this genre. Colors seem fine but obviously deviate at times from the spectrum of reality…I presume an artistic intent upon the part of the filmmakers.
I’ve started to wonder what’s going on with Disney’s typically sub-standard video mastering for live-action films…particularly in regards to high-frequency filtering and mild edge-enhancement. I vacillate between notions that someone’s kid from the board of directors must be working as an intern and nobody can stop his incompetence at the mastering center (hey, things like this happen) to theories of a studio-wide conspiracy to intentionally degrade Standard-Definition DVD image quality in an effort to make high-definition discs look even better when they are finally released. I’ve decided that I prefer the latter, not because I believe it but because it would at least hold the potential for these movies to look right when HD-software becomes reality. If you work for Disney or in some other way are “in the know” about this matter…please send me an email and provide some clues.
Picture Quality: 3.5 / 5
In the past I think I've been too ambiguous with my scoring or at least haven't applied it consistently from title to title, so I've endeavored to define my rating system more clearly to help make the scoring more meaningful (for all titles reviewed December 2004 and later):
|1-2||An absolute abomination. Hurts to watch. Think "Outland" or MGM's R1 "Jean De Florette" (scan-line aliasing, chroma noise, dotcrawl, MPEG or PAL-NTSC conversion artifacts)-- truly horrid.|
|2-3||Has some serious problems, but one can at least watch it without getting a headache despite all the problems though you might try to talk your guests into picking a different movie to watch if you have a large projection screen. Think Cold Mountain or (the non-anamorphic) The Abyss|
|3-4||Good or at least "acceptable" on a big-screen, but not winning any awards and definitely room for improvement if you view the image wide-angle (though smaller-screen viewers may be quite content). Think Phantom Menace (great except for filtering and EE) the first extended cut of Fellowship of the Ring (also decent picture but still some HF filtering and some edge-halos)|
|4-5||A reference picture that really makes the most of the DVD medium and shows extraordinary transparency to the film-source elements. Non-videophile observers can't help but remark "WOW". Think The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the King, Shrek 2, or the Fifth Element Superbit (full “5” would be sans any edge-halo on 5th E.).|
However bad the video is “bad”, the audio is “good”. The 5.1 DD mix is clean, bold, dynamic, full of impact and really makes excellent use of the 5.1 speaker array in a manner that’s active (when appropriate) without becoming gimmicky. I first reviewed this disc at my friend’s who has a 7.1-decoding Lexicon system and the effect was superb (it takes a good soundtrack to start to achieve this...the Lexicon can be very unforgiving of poor source material) so I’d imagine those of you with DD EX 6.1 decoding may want to give this one a try with your center-rear channel engaged.
The musical score had a nice sense of realism owing in part to the natural front/back sense of depth to the recording. Dialogue was always clear without being bright or irritating. Bass was strong and the mix was never muddy...always seemed articulate without any harshness or elctronic glare. What impressed me most however was the effective, and tasteful, use of surrounds. From the explosion in the Arctic to helicopters flying overhead and behind/around you, the surrounds were well employed. Wisely, such pronounced use of the rear channels was saved for key action scenes where the impact justified the full-spectrum sound without it coming across as gimmicky or distracting. This is fine-line, and the mix managed to make great use of the 5.1 speaker array without seeming gratuitous.
About the only thing I could have imagined that may have improved the audio would have been a DTS option on the disc...something I'm pleased that Buena Vista titles tend to take advantage of quite often for films like this. I was actually surprised to see that there wasn't a DTS track, but without any direct A/B comparison the fidelity of the Dolby Digital doesn't exhibit any obvious shortcomings that need to be recitifed (though experience has taught me that while often subtle, DTS almost always improves upon low-level resolution, naturalness, and sense of acoustic space in recordings so I would have loved to have had the oppotunity to hear it with this mix, but I won't begrudge the disc...chances are with this longer-than-average film and all the extras on the disc the premium for space/bandwidth was high.
Summing up audio--a great sounding Dolby Digital mix that blends the best of all worlds. Enjoy!
Sound Quality: 5 / 5
Normally I’m not big on special features per-se…I’m one of those “it’s about the movie” HT enthusiasts. However, on this disc the special features almost out-perform the feature film (not that it was a challenge). Not so much in the actual content…which is nice but not particularly unusual. Actually, what impressed me was the manner in which the viewer is expected to solve riddles and find clues in order to access all the bonus materials on the disc. Initially I thought that I’d find this to be a bother, but to my surprise I really got into it and had a blast ferreting out all the solutions to see everything on the disc. Do yourself a favor and don’t cheat and get the codes from anyone else…find them on your own…you can do it and it’s part of the fun.
- [*]Deleted Scenes: There are two (4x3 lbx) and they are prefaced by a nice little introduction by the director and can be watched with or without commentary. Here you learn just how seriously he takes his catastrophe of a film…God love him!
[*]Alternate Opening & Ending: Basically two more deleted scenes, and in similar fashion are introduced by the director who explains his rationale for not having used them. You can watch with or without commentary. I enjoyed these alternate takes very much. Try not to chuckle as you realize that he’s being serious when he talks about working so hard to get his movie just-right…
[*]Making-of Documentary: Eleven minutes long and entertaining if nothing else…this 4x3 full-frame short goes into some nice detail about many of the special effects and how they were accomplished. Despite the “this movie is so wonderful” rhetoric, I found the information in this featurette to be interesting and I think anyone who managed to make it through the entire film would enjoy taking a peek at this.
[*]The Templar Knights: A brief 5-minute discussion about these knights-of-old and how the truth being the stories may actually indicate that there is a treasure after all…
[*]Treasure Hunters Revealed: Actually, I thought this was the most interesting bonus feature of them all…you get some nice interviews of some real-world treasure hunters. Really cool.
[*][b]Verizon Bonus: You get a trailer for the film…albeit the “Verizon Commercial” version of the trailer. A few other Verizon-related treats here. I’m not sure what to make of this…is this paid advertising in bonus-feature disguise?
[*][b]Riley’s Poole’s Decode This!: A sort of dumbed-down yet somewhat interesting look at cryptography and hieroglyphics. The only real criticism for me is that it takes that “hey, this is really cool!” hip-approach to appeal to adolescent audiences and it makes it hard to tolerate for anyone actually interested in the subject matter…
[/list] Oh heck people…the bonus features are fun! I’m just raggin’ on the DVD because…well…that’s fun too…
While the effort had much room for improvement, in all honesty the film has some good entertainment value. Some of the action scenes are good and watching the mystery of the treasure hunt unfold is fun for first-time-viewers. Don’t expect any award-winning dialogue and be willing to suspend some disbelief…we’re talking Golden-Gate-Bridge suspension here…and you’ll have a fun time. The best way to enjoy National Treasure is with a group of guys drinking beer, eating popcorn, and ready not take anything too seriously for the next 131 minutes…