Film Fare...with Mark Moorehead
General Audience: B-
Da Vinci Code-type treasure hunt that begins on the back of a dollar bill and ends at church. Disney-style entertainment will appeal, particularly to younger audiences.
Family Audience: B
Rated PG for action violence (some bloodless shooting) and scary images (a few decomposed corpses). An adventure thrill ride for families with children 8 and older. No language.
National Treasure is just what the doctor ordered for the diminishing ranks of the centuries-old men-only organization known as The Freemasons.
The Masonic order plays a pivotal role in Disney’s latest treasure hunt film starring Nicolas Cage, Jon Voight and Christopher Plummer.
Half of our nation’s founding fathers were Masons, and director Jon Turteltaub (3 Ninjas) makes this affiliation the basis for a fictional conspiracy between these great men to hide the greatest treasure of all time from the British. Nicolas Cage plays treasure hunter Ben Gates, the man determined to find it.
Never mind that the framers of the Declaration of Independence were in dire need of money to fund the Revolution and unable to pay freezing American soldiers a dime at Valley Forge.
According to the film’s premise, the patriotic Masonic brothers had ample time and money to painstakingly devise and hide cryptic clues and riddles in everyday currency, letters, the back of the Declaration of Independence--even on a pipe.
Historical fact and action adventures rarely see eye to eye. It’s more fun to set aside rational thought and instead focus on figuring out the riddles and clues in the film. Does anyone understand why there’s a pyramid on the back of a dollar bill with a floating eye bordered by the Latin words Annuit Coeptis (translated: God has favored our undertakings)?
Probably few of us, but these old Masonic symbols become the hook that captivates a young Ben Gates and sends him on his wild journey in search of treasure.
Early in the movie we’re told Gates comes from a lineage of Gateses stretching back to the American Revolution, each seeking the same treasure with a single clue and ending up empty handed.
The origins of the treasure go back to the Knights Templar, members of an order of Knights founded in 1119 to protect pilgrims in the Holy Land during the Crusades. According to legend, these knights amassed a large collection of religious artifacts and treasure that mysteriously disappeared in the 14th century.
Jon Voight plays a small role as Ben Gates’ doubting father Patrick. Gates Senior admonishes Ben for throwing his life away chasing non-existent treasure until Ben tells his dad he has found the remains of an 18th century ship containing the second clue.
When Ben discovers from this evidence that the map to the treasure is on the back of the Declaration of Independence, he briefly abandons his quest for patriotic reasons.
Predictably the knowledge of the map spreads to a ruthless adversary (Sean Bean), who is bent on stealing the highly protected document.
Ben then decides he must steal the Declaration of Independence to protect it from the bad guy, risking a lifetime prison sentence. What a guy!
Fortunately, Ben enlists the assistance of two sidekicks to pull it off. One of them is National Archivist Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), who reluctantly tags along and wins the award hands down for the most inane dialogue in the film.
She’s supposed to be a highly educated and polished head archivist. Instead, she comes across like Paris Hilton’s twin sister with lines like, “I’m soooo getting fired for this,” as she rolls her eyes in constant bewilderment.
Ben’s other cohort is the stereotypical techno geek Riley (Justin Bartha), who wins the second award for awful dialogue. When Riley enters the getaway car the first thing he says is, “I’m hungry. This car smells weird.” Disney can do better than that.
Document in hand, the chase for the treasure begins in earnest, with plenty of gunfire and car chases. Point blank shots are incredulously off target and bad guys never seemed more inept with their hostages.
Perhaps that’s what makes this film perfect for the entire family. There’s no blood, and you know the good guys will most assuredly win in the end, treasure or no treasure.