May 19, 2008

DVD Review: National Treasure 2 - Book of Secrets: 2-Disc Collector's Edition

In 1981 George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, coming off of The Empire Strikes Back and 1941 respectively, teamed up for the first time and delivered what would become a timeless tale of adventure called Raiders of the Lost Ark. It featured an archaeologist adventurer named Indiana Jones, a character who has become ingrained on people's memories for decades. It was a film that was inspired by the adventure serials of old in much the same way that Star Wars was just a few years earlier. Now, just as Star Wars changed the space epic, inspiring a generation of filmmakers (not to mention special effects), Raiders of the Lost Ark would go on to influence a generation of action/adventure films. It is hard to make one without having it compared to the classic. That brings us to a new series of films, National Treasure. The first one arrived in 2004, and was clearly designed as a present day Indiana Jones. It proved to be a hit, so 2007 brought us the sequel, which is now arriving on DVD.

National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets is a fun action/adventure that fails to live up to the Indiana Jones series, but then that is a lofty standard that would be hard to reach. Still, as a straight up popcorn muncher I found the movie to be quite entertaining. Watching it again on DVD, I have found it to be a touch more fun than when I saw it on the big screen. Perhaps due to the fact that I knew what to expect and just sat back and had a little bit of fun with it, but it seemed to work better on the small screen.

One of the best things about both National Treasure movies, is that they are fun adventures that are targeted at the entire family. In this day and age of PG-13 dominance, it would have been easy to add a little bit more violence or a touch of bad language to get the higher rating, and potentially a bigger audience. The filmmakers chose not to go that route and made a fast paced adventure that is genuinely safe for the family. Parents do not need to worry about showing this to their kids. There is no language or innuendo, the violence is bloodless and no one dies, yet it still is exciting. See? It is possible to make a family friendly film that people will like. Of course, I would have preferred a story that held a little bit more water.

This outing hinges on an accusation that Benjamin Gates' (Nicolas Cage) great great grandfather was one of the conspirators behind the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Gates does not plan on taking this lying down, he is a man who loves his family and his country and will not allow his ancestor's memory to be defamed in such a way. So off Gates goes, gathering his cast of supporting players from the first film, including Riley Poole (Justin Bhartha) and Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), to investigate the mystery of the missing pages of John Wilkes Booth's diary, which triggered the Gates implication in the first place. Also joining the hunt are Gates' parents, played by Jon Voight and Helen Mirren, both bringing a touch of class to the film (particularly Mirren). And what are heroes without villains? On the other side of the quest is Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris), and they are all pursued by Agent Sadusky (Harvey Keitel). Yes, the film has plenty of big name stars in the ensemble.

The film is a fun ride, watching all involved put the pieces together (although, that is at times done with a bit too much ease). Just remember not to watch this as a history lesson, but perhaps take inspiration to learn a bit more about our history, some of which may rival this in terms of actual intrigue. Besides being wary of the "history" presented, try not to work out the intricacies too hard, you will likely just give yourself a headache. Then there is what must be a teaser for a third outing with the mention of page 47 in the Book of Secrets...

Audio/Video. The technical quality of the set is superb. The image is crisp and clear, the colors are sharp and well defined. There isn't a digital defect to be found in the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image. Audio is loud and clear Dolby Digital 5.1, again, nothing to complain about.

Extras. This two disk set comes filled with plenty of bonus materials.

Disk One:

  • Commentary. The track features director Jon Turteltaub and actor Jon Voight. The track is pretty fun, the two are clearly enjoying talking about the movie and they have plenty of anecdotes to share. This is worth a listen.
  • Sneak Peeks. A veritable ton of Disney promos including: The Little Mermaid - Ariel's Beginning, Minute Men, The Jungle Book 2 - Special Edition, The Muppet Show 3, Tinker Bell, and Disney Parks. Plus Blu-ray promos for Sleeping Beauty and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Finally, there is a trailer for the upcoming Pixar film Wall-E.

Disk Two:

  • Deleted Scenes. These are introduced by Jon Turteltaub explaining why scenes may be cut out of a film. He does a pretty good job of it too. (~17.5 minutes total)
    • Pursuit at Rushmore. The first scene that was cut is centered on the group at Mount Rushmore and involves a clue about a hummingbird. It was cut because it just ran too long and they were able to find another way to get to the top of the mountain.
    • Hacking the Palace. This scene takes place at Buckingham Palace and involves Riley getting access to computer system. It is a fun scene.
    • Pushed to the Edge. This was cut for pacing reasons. It involves Gates having to traverse a glass plate ceiling to get away from Wilkinson.
    • A Helping Hand. Turteltaub shot this scene knowing that it would never make it into the film. It was shot mainly because they had the set and time in the schedule. Sounds like the perfect reason to shoot a scene. It has Voight and Mirren making their way to the City of Gold and encountering a few skeletons.
    • Tight Squeeze. This sequence is an extension to a sequence that is in the film. It is real brief and of no real consequence.
  • Secrets of a Sequel. This takes a look into the development of the sequel and how much it was like a family reunion after already working together on the initial adventure. (~7 minutes)
  • The Book of Secrets: On Location. This is a look at the expansion of scope from the first movie. Where the first movie was based entirely within the US, this one goes to other countries and how they were able to get permissions to shoot there. (~10 minutes)
  • The Treasure Reel: Bloopers & Outtakes. How can you not enjoy watching people flub their lines? (5 minutes)
  • Street Stunts: Creating the London Chase. Take a look inside the fun they had doing the chase and how they wanted it to be somewhat exotic and different from what you have seen in other films, so far as locations are concerned. There is also footage from the rehearsals. (9.5 minutes)
  • Underground Action. A look inside the sets that had to be built once they go under Mt. Rushmore with all of the water and caves. A lot of work went into creating these sequences. (6.5 minutes)
  • Evolution of a Golden City. The true story behind the myth of Cibola. This is the part of the real world inspiration for the film, not to mention the effort that went into building the set to represent the lost city. (10 minutes)
  • Knights of the Golden Circle. The truth behind a group that worked to subvert the North and wished to develop an economy based on slave labor, another part of the real world inspiration for this sequel. (2.5 minutes)
  • Cover Story: Crafting the President's Book. Does it exist? Who knows, but it is an interesting idea. One has to believe that something like this exists in one form or another.(4.5 minutes)
  • Inside the Library of Congress. This is a fascinating building. A great piece of architecture, not to mention all that it contains. This takes a look inside the Library, its creation and what it is for. (8.5 minutes)

Bottomline. This is a nice set, plenty of background information for the film and the variety of elements that went into its evolution. The biggest question that you will need to answer is whether or not you find value in the extras. I think they are good, but do now know how often I will find myself revisiting them. As for the movie itself, I can find myself reaching for it every so often for some fun adventure viewing. Not a great movie, but it does provide some fun.



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