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  • National Treasure 2 – Book of Secrets (Two-Disc Collector’s Edition)

    Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on May 21st, 2008

    (out of 5)

    The first National Treasure film took us on a historical journey through the locations that were the birthplaces of The United States. There might not have been a ton of historical accuracy, but there were enough things right that it was an entertaining adventure. For the sequel, the entire canvas was greatly expanded. While we’re once again deep in some arcane American history, the locations span the globe. Paris and London join the uniquely American locations, adding a fresh bit of variety to the mix, enough to make this film different enough from the first and yet still deliver on expectations.


    This time it’s personal. When a missing page from the diary of John Wilkes Booth turns up, it appears to implicate a Gates family member in the conspiracy to assassinate good old Honest Abe himself. Ben Gates (Cage) isn’t going to let the claims stand. He gets the old band together for yet another game of follow the clues. Returning to the hunt is his now estranged girlfriend Abigail Chase (Kruger), now dating a White House aide, Riley Poole (Bartha) who can’t seem to get any recognition for his part in the previous treasure recovery, and Dad Gates (Voight) who this time is just as determined as Ben to prove the allegations wrong. How are they going to do that? Ben believes that his ancestor was listed in the diary because he had broken a cipher revealing the location of an American Indian city of gold. The only way to prove that connection and clear his family name is to find the city. Even Mama Gates, Professor Emily Appleton (Mirren) joins the excitement. Every quest must have its villain. This go around the bad guy is Mitch Wilkinson (Harris) who has revealed the diary page in order to get Ben on the search. Also returning to put a little pressure on the Gates clan is FBI Agent Sadusky (Keitel). With all of the pieces in place, let the fun begin.


    Just like the first film, the film primarily involves elaborate scheme after elaborate scheme to gain access to each successive clue. The tasks include breaking into both the Oval Office and the private office of the Queen of England. As if that weren’t enough, add kidnapping the President of the United States and stealing The President’s Book of Secrets, hence the title, from the Library of Congress. The sequel more than lives up to the original and in some ways surpasses it. We are already familiar with the characters, so we don’t waste time getting to know everybody. The actors are all extremely comfortable in the roles, and we very easily accept them for who they are intended to be. There is chemistry there that surpasses that of the original. The story might not be quite so clever, but the writing more than makes up for it by not giving us time to catch our breaths and really think about what’s going on. The setup is wonderfully brief, and it doesn’t take very long at all before we’re on our way. Ed Harris and Helen Mirren are the newcomers, but they blend in so effortlessly that we require very little explanation that isn’t obtained on the run. Gone are the lengthy pleas from Ben to get someone to believe him. This film does a far better job of showing us where the first film often told us. The adventure is immediate, and the Indiana Jones moments begin about 40 minutes into the film, deep in the underbelly of Mount Rushmore. There we’re treated to the obligatory elements to be found in a precariously balanced platform, oil trough torches, rotting timbers, and plenty of skeleton pieces littered about for atmosphere. To me the only glaring weakness was the general idea that Mitch would have needed to trick Ben into the search. Everything we’ve been taught about Ben leads us to believe he would have needed very little prompting to seek out a city of gold.


    Finally the film is setting up its own sequel. The President tells Ben to check out a certain page in the book, as a favor for his help. He wants Ben to report what it might mean. At the end of the film Ben calls it life altering. My sources inside tell me that the page contains a reference to Atlantis and their use of an environmentally friendly and inexhaustible source of energy. I didn’t see Patrick Duffy anywhere, but I think we might be heading for Atlantis.


    National Treasure 2 is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1.The transfer is quite clean with no print artifacts anywhere at all that I could find. Colors are pretty much reference, even if they don’t exactly jump off the screen. There was less of that yellow/gold tint to the darker scenes that I disliked in the first film. Detail is honestly coming close to HD levels in this standard DVD transfer. Black levels are excellent, affording us wonderfully atmospheric moments in the dark. While the bit rate was a modest average of 5 mbps, I was quite impressed with the presentation. There was minor artifact from compression, but not as much as I expected. I’ve been watching a lot more HD lately, but this stuff hasn’t begun to look less sharp to me.


    The Dolby Digital 5.1 track works on most levels. The music is reproduced brilliantly, if a little too loud at times. There is something about a Bruckheimer film’s score that sweeps you up into the action. Again it’s Trevor Rabin who conducts the honors, but it doesn’t seem to matter who the composer is, you get a swelling fanfare for your rapid ride. Dialog is amazingly never lost amidst the score. Surrounds are used with great effect throughout the film. All of this works tremendously well to keep you firmly planted inside the adventure.


    There is an Audio Commentary featuring, oddly enough, Jon Turtletaub and Jon Voight. There’s a ton of details available here. There isn’t a quiet moment in the presentation.


    Special Features

    This two-disc release contains just the film and commentary on the first disc. These features are found on the second disc.


    Deleted Scenes: The scenes are introduced by Jon Turteltaub. He unnecessarily tells us just what deleted scenes are and why they are generally removed from a film. The scenes presented in widescreen but are non-anamorphic. I loved most of these and would have loved seeing them in the film. There’s an alternative Mount Rushmore scene that explains how the FBI got involved with the Mount Rushmore location. Another scene is a nice suspenseful addition to the Library of Congress escape with Ben walking across a glass ceiling. The cracking glass is creepy. No matter how many times I see a scene like that, it always puts me on the edge of my seat. It really belonged in the film.

    Secrets Of A Sequel:  Jerry Bruckheimer and Jon Turtletaub lead a list of cast and crew who talk about how the film came about. Apparently they were already looking at a sequel before the first was even finished shooting. They are also remarkably candid about how disorganized this shoot was.

    Book Of Secrets On Location: Like the first film the locations give the ride a wider fell and keep the fast paced action fresher. We get a look at the locations and the logistics some of them required.

    Street Stunts – Creating The London Chase: If you’re a fan of car chases, this film has a nice one and includes here a look at the choreography and logistics of making it happen.

    Underground Action: This is a great look, complete with tons of behind the camera footage, of the sets that make up the last 45 minutes of the film. The City Of Gold shows off a tremendous amount of detail. We hear from stunt coordinators and gimble operators to really see how these mechanisms function. That balancing platform really works.

    Evolution Of A Golden City:  This 10 minute feature has the cast and crew hypothesizing about a real city of gold. We then discover all of the intricate detail that went into producing the set for the film. You get a close up look at the Hollywood craftsmen that created such incredible detail. Bruckheimer explains, and I wholeheartedly agree, how important it is sometimes to have practical sets with tangible surfaces for the actors. Too often green screen work has replaced the art of set building. Of course, there’s plenty of CG enhancement and extension, but there’s plenty of reality to ground the actors in the moment. Did you hear that, George Lucas?

    Knights Of The Golden Circle: Again there’s tons of speculation in this short 3 minute feature. Conspiracies are discussed involving a potential real Confederate treasure that even manages to link that scoundrel Jesse James to the cabal.

    Cover Story – Crafting The President’s Book: Again there’s plenty of real life speculation with Bruce Greenwood who does a wonderful job as the President in the film denying the existence of such a book. Finally we get a very brief look at the art department that pieced the book together. A lot of detail for something so quickly seen.

    Inside The Library Of Congress: Much of the scenes set there were filmed in the actual location. Many of the cast and crew marvel here at the wonders of the place. Various guides take us to the various departments in the Library and show off some of their prize possessions which include the first book printed in the Colonies and a photograph of the hanging of four of the conspirators in Lincoln’s assassination.


    Final Thoughts

    The true beauty of these films is how they invite us along for the adventure. You really get a sense of being part of the team discovering one clue after another. Indiana Jones is the kind of hero that we all might get some vicarious thrills from, but Ben Gates is pretty much like us and would probably be more fun to just hang with. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a former American History and Government teacher, but I can easily forgive the license taken with the facts, because the ride is just too much darned fun. You know what I mean. When you’re on a thrilling ride at the park you know rationally you’re safe, but a part of you loves to pretend you’re risking life and limb for a minute or two. So don’t be a party pooper. Look beyond the facts and enjoy the ride. Who knows, you might have more fun. Or do you want to point out all the flaws and pretty much “slit the throat and cut the heart out”?


    You can view two of the features clips here: Why Cebola? And Mount Rushmore




    Posted In: 2-Disc, 2.35:1 Widescreen, Collector's Edition, Disc Reviews, Disney, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Drama, DVD

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