National Treasure / Ryan Lindsey
Film Reviews | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()
We here at Pajiba bandied about the idea of avoiding National Treasure altogether. Jerry Bruckheimer and Nicholas Cage, who are responsible for three of the most overblown, mind-numbing blockbuster films put to celluloid — The Rock, Gone in 60 Seconds and Con Air ― have hijacked countless hours of our leisure time, usually over holiday periods, which is time better doled out to our loved ones. Might we better serve our readers by explaining why one shouldn’t even bother seeing this movie rather than trying to dignify its existence with one more ticket purchase? In the end we decided that even we aren’t cynical enough to write off a movie simply because its trailer makes it look like an immense pile of steaming crap. Even if it is the gold-flecked Jerry Bruckheimer variety of crap.
To be fair, Bruckheimer’s not all bad—he gave us “CSI,” which is actually quite good, if repetitive and derivative (Is Dick Wolf getting anything out of that?), and Pirates of the Caribbean was all kinds of entertaining. But, then again, he’s also responsible for Coyote Ugly, Pearl Harbor, and Kangaroo Jack, to name a few of his abuses of the medium. And, insomuch as I was expecting practically nothing from National Treasure, I wasn’t all that disappointed.
The trailer leads one to believe that the founding fathers of the United States left for someone (The Illuminati? Latter-day Freemasons?) a series of clues that could lead to the secret location of the greatest treasure ever assembled. It implies there’s a treasure map on the dollar bill that we’ve all just been too stupid to notice, despite the fact that the current dollar bill was first printed in 1957. This is, thankfully, not the case.
The movie opens in Washington, D.C., in 1974, with writers Jim Kouf and Cormac and Marianne Wibberley tossing their legend off with the haste afforded a hot potato. It goes like this: Our most notable founding fathers—besides committing treason against the world’s ruling empire and forging the foundation of a new nation—put together a really elaborate scavenger hunt. Dismissed by the academic elite, the Gates family has been obsessed with the treasure since 1832, when the only surviving clue was passed from the last Freemason founding father to the grandfather of the grandfather of the grandfather of Ben Gates (Nicholas Cage).
Jump ahead 30 years, and we find Ben and his crew plowing across the Arctic, hot on the trail of the treasure. The clue that had been left to Ben’s great-great-great-great-grandfather was simply, “The secret lies with Charlotte.” Using a computer program that we’re never meant to comprehend, the crew believes they’ve found Charlotte, and after three swings of a pick-axe, we discover that the program was apparently right on the money—a ship named Charlotte is buried in the middle of the Arctic. By about an inch of slightly hard snow.
The ship doesn’t actually hold the treasure, which seems to genuinely disappoint Ben’s crew, in spite of the fact that it obviously couldn’t have been there; I mean, c’mon, we’re only 10 minutes into Bruckheimer’s film. No matter; there’s another clue, this one containing the line “55 in Iron Pen.” In one of the many scenes intended to make us think Ben is quite the clever fellow, he deciphers the riddle and concludes the map leading to the treasure is printed on the back of the Declaration of Independence (which I have haphazardly discovered was actually signed by 56 men). Genius! This, of course, leads to all sorts of plot twists involving kidnapping, attempted murder, Benjamin Franklin’s “Silence Dogood” essays, the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, New York City’s Trinity Church, Nebraska’s Corn Palace, and a giant ball of foil in Kansas. And though these twists are mostly engaging, they’re also just as silly as a disgruntled GI taking over Alcatraz in order to destroy San Francisco.
National Treasure isn’t as bad as we at Pajiba had expected, but that’s not saying a lot. The movie might have explored all sorts of intriguing theories about Freemasonry and the Illuminati, but it is instead nothing more than a silly treasure hunt thoroughly lacking the charm that made Indiana Jones a success. Bruckheimer and Cage would have been better off sticking to their heist routine. Why create a convoluted conspiracy theory about unfathomable treasures below the streets of New York when the Federal Reserve Bank has so nicely already created the real thing?
Ryan Lindsey previously wrote political commentary and the occasional movie review for Pajiba.