Directed by Jon Turteltaub
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 125 minutes
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English ; Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Spanish, Portuguese
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, others
MSRP: $ 34.99
Release Date: May 20, 2008
Review Date: May 11, 2008
Bigger is not necessarily better in the second film in the National Treasure franchise. As with most sequels, the producers feel they must up the ante in a follow-up movie, so we have more action in international locations, a longer chase sequence, bigger sets, and more comedy than in the first film. What we don’t get is an improvement in the script writing. The story is functional enough to propel the action from sequence to sequence, but the continual capers our heroes have to pull off over and over wear out their welcome this time out, even though the film is shorter than the first one.
Nicholas Cage once again plays Benjamin Franklin Gates, historian extraordinaire, and early on, he finds his great grandfather’s good name is being smeared by being linked to the Knights of the Golden Circle, a post-Civil War Southern branch of the masons determined to start a second Civil War, their first act being assassinating President Abraham Lincoln. We quickly learn, however, that the owner of the damning document, Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) has a nefarious scheme to use Gates to help him find the lost City of Gold, reputedly buried somewhere in the continental United States. Along for the ride again are Gates’ cohorts: his father Patrick Gates (Jon Voight), best friend Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), estranged girl friend Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), and in this adventure, his mother Emily Appleton (Helen Mirren). Once again hot on his trail is FBI agent Sandusky (Harvey Keitel).
The writers (the returning husband and wife team of the Wibberleys) take our intrepid team from Washington to Paris, London, and eventually to the Black Hills of South Dakota to, yes, Mount Rushmore pausing occasionally as they did in the first film to offer up some interesting tidbits of history and trivia facts though admittedly this time, they are less interesting and seem more manufactured to move the plot forward. They even manage to work in some adventures with the President (Bruce Greenwood) at Mount Vernon. Though this attention to history does set the National Treasure franchise apart from the usual superhero action pictures, the careless plotting, the almost surreal way the villains stay up with or sometimes surpass the heroes, take away the pleasure one gets from smart action-adventure writing. Better to just take off your thinking caps and enjoy the capers without pondering much about any of them.
Three Oscar winners headline this film (Nicholas Cage, Jon Voight, Helen Mirren), but none of them are taxed by the cardboard roles they’re asked to play here. The other actors follow their lead and simply enjoy themselves going through the high flying and water-logged stunts they’re compelled to perform. Ed Harris, usually a compelling presence in any film, seems less kinetic in this adventure, a real surprise. One also wishes that more could have been done with under heralded actor Joel Gretsch who plays Cage’s dishonored ancestor in the film’s opening sequences.
Jon Turteltaub may never have directed a James Bond picture before, but his work in this film may now qualify him for one. The stunts and chases now more than ever move National Treasure into 007 territory. The extended chase scene through London streets with beer kegs flying and cars, motorcycles, sidewalk cafes, and pedestrians being mowed down looks as if it could have plucked out of any Bond extravaganza. The climactic multi-layered maze of catacombs the team must maneuver through and survive certainly has echoes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade about it, and when Nicholas Cage lowers his torch to light a flame trough in a deep cave, I had distinct feelings of déjà vu from the first film. It’s not original, but it can hold one’s attention.
The Panavision 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio has been brought to Blu-ray in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. A super sharp picture with great attention to detail and marvelously noted textures of clothes, rocks, skin, and books distinguishes this transfer. Flesh tones seem just as accurate and natural as they did in the National Treasure Blu-ray disc. I had no complaints about the depths of blacks which are truly rich though shadows get so dark, they do sometimes swallow up the surrounding imagery. The film is divided into 18 chapters.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is exemplary. When the situation demands, the surrounds are vivid with a wide range of sound effects and thundering LFE when needed, particularly in the climactic cave scenes with roaring waterfalls to near deafening levels. Once again, Trevor Rabin has contributed a very energetic score that’s placed appropriately throughout the soundfield enhancing scenes wherever possible.
Director Jon Turteltaub and actor Jon Voight provide a fun and unusually conversational audio commentary. As in the first film’s Blu-ray release, director Turteltaub does much of the talking though Voight is a willing participant and adds comments throughout.
Kudos to Disney for presenting every bonus on the disc in either 1080i or (in the case of the trailers) 1080p.
“Book of History: The Fact and Fiction of NT2” is a BD-Java interactive overlay which plays as you watch the film. As various events occur on screen, four possible areas are illuminated on the overlay (Desk of the President, History Makers, Chronology, and Archives) which, if selected, lead the viewer to pop-up facts or featurettes on a particular point of history. Also as part of this program is a true-false quiz which tests the viewer’s knowledge of American history and, if one stays through to the end, rewards high scores with additional featurettes.
7 deleted scenes are included on the disk. They can be watched individually or in one 20 ½ minute chunk. All are introduced by the film’s director.
“The Treasure Reel” is 5 minutes of outtakes and bloopers from the film.
“Secrets of a Sequel” details the pleasure and excitement the cast and crew had on being reunited for this second adventure. It is the puffiest of the features and runs 6 ¾ minutes.
“The Book of Secrets: On Location” spends its 9 ¾ minutes discussing the elaborate preparations necessary for shooting scenes in both Paris and London as well as at several important American institutions for the film.
“Street Stunts: Creating the London Chase” goes into interesting detail with the five week rehearsal period that went into the film’s most elaborate chase scene, a sequence that had to be shot on weekends only in London. It also runs 9 ¾ minutes.
“Inside the Library of Congress” goes into some surprising detail in taking the viewer on a tour through the many buildings and levels of the Library of Congress where a couple of important scenes in the film take place. This 8 ¾-minute investigation into our country’s most important library is one of the disc’s best featurettes.
“Underground Action” shows how the trap door and pivoting motion platform were rigged on the set at Universal for the catacombs sequence. This runs 6 ¾ minutes.
“Cover Story: Crafting the President’s Book” details the construction of one of the most important props of the movie, the secret book of the film’s title. This featurette lasts 4 ½ minutes.
“Evolution of a Golden City” shows the eight weeks of construction on the elaborate City of Gold discovered in the climactic moments of the film and how much was made and how much was green screen/CGI effects. This feature runs 10 ¼ minutes.
“Knights of the Golden Circle” is a 2 ¾ minute quickie on the little known organization which may have been the genesis of the Ku Klux Klan.
There are several Easter eggs planted through the bonus feature and deleted scenes menus that will take you to brief discussions of Turteltaub and Cage’s high school days, a stunt man discussing driving in the chase sequence, and the numerous attempts to get a stunt right in the catacombs sequence.
The disc offers 1080p trailers for Tinker Bell, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Sleeping Beauty, and Wall-E. The trailer for National Treasure: Book of Secrets is not present but can be found on many Disney Blu-rays over the past six months.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets has a less riveting exploration of historical artifacts as part of its caper-puzzle scenario this time out, but that didn’t stop it from achieving international box-office success. The James Bond and Mission Impossible franchises offer greater stunts and more bang for the buck for me, but I can think of worse ways to spend a couple of hours. The Blu-ray disc is an excellent package of film and bonus features which fans of the movie will surely want to experience.
And HTF DVD reviewer Neil Middlemiss has reviewed the sDVD version of the film