" Nobody goes into the valley of death. That’s why they call it the valley of death. "
— Grant Heslov, The Scorpion King

MRQE Top Critic

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Hollywood has only two requests when you take in many of its action movies; come with a suspension of disbelief, and enjoy the ride. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s latest entry into his huge parade of megahits, National Treasure expects nothing less than this, provided you might learn something about history along the way.

A lot of this movie makes little sense, and quite often it gets pretty darn silly. The idea of a hidden treasure buried somewhere on the North American continent has been taken so seriously that even Franklin D. Roosevelt went searching for such a booty in Oak Island, Nova Scotia. But having to steal the Declaration of Independence to begin such a hunt has the Bruckheimer signature all over it.

Screenwriting Sense

For such a big box-office winner, the DVD is surprisingly thin
For such a big box-office winner, the DVD is surprisingly thin

Nicolas Cage channels his inner geek as Benjamin Franklin Gates, a descendant of a family that has spent two centuries looking for a massive treasure brought to the New World by the Templar Knights and hidden by America’s founding fathers, including Gates’ namesake. Wealthy crook Ian Howe (Sean Bean) thinks Gates is on to something and hires him to lead an expedition to a remote Arctic site where a lost ship containing a vital clue to the treasure’s whereabouts might lie.

When the recovery of an artifact on the aforementioned vessel instructs them to seek the original Declaration document for further clues, Howe decides to be the movie’s villain, takes the artifact, and abandons Gates and his assistant Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) so he and his band of Eurotrash thugs can claim the treasure themselves. Gates and Riley escape and try to warn anyone who will listen, including an attractive archivist named Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), who jokes about “Bigfoot” taking their artifact.

So in order to protect the sacred document, Gates must steal it before Howe and his band of thugs get to it. Yes, it makes little sense except to scriptwriters hired by Bruckheimer to stage an elaborate heist scene with half a movie left to go.

These screenwriters add in plenty more chase scenes reminiscent of the Indiana Jones movies, including one sequence on Philadelphia’s Independence Hall that is taken right out of the map room in Raiders of the Lost Ark — not that there’s anything wrong with that since the Indiana Jones movies borrowed heavily from their influences, but they accomplished it with much style, which is what Treasure lacks the most.

And do these treasure hunters really want a treasure so great that one man cannot keep it to himself? Gates wants to find it just to prove to the world that the treasure exists, especially to his skeptical father played by Voight in a tired performance.

Basing the movie on “historical” events and the constant reminders of Benjamin Franklin’s’s genius might seem overbearing at times, but it is the best Treasure has to offer.

DVD Extras

For a movie that made its own fortune at the box office it is surprising the lack of special features the disc includes. The alternate ending is too short while the deleted scenes add no new dynamic to the story. The featurettes on the Knights Templar and real-life treasure hunters are too short and superficial to be of any worth.

A historical piece on decoding hidden messages is somewhat interesting even though it is way too easy to decode the “puzzles” you need to solve to access the disc’s easter egg, a trivia commentary whose facts are very infrequent and quite trivial. It seems that entire scenes pass with little or no information while the only real lesson learned by the commentary is that 20 copies of the Declaration were made and all of them still exist today.

Those who will like Treasure the most are those who do not have to write about it, which is why it did so well at the box office and so poorly with the critics. People watch this type of movie for enjoyment without any of the mess of intellectual debate. That is the biggest stamp a Bruckheimer movie could have. Not dumb, merely silly. Somewhere, far far away, Bruckheimer and his accountants are enjoying another expensive dinner over this one.