Saturday, January 22, 2005

National Treasure

National Treasure
Directed by Jon Turtletaub
2004, rated PG
3 stars

The theme of adventure in film has a long and glorious history. The older classics such as the Indiana Jones series, and Romancing the Stone have always been favorites, and more recently The Mummy and the Tomb Raider series have made their marks at the box office. The theme is always the same—a courageous, dashing history buff must find and protect a hidden treasure of great historic importance before the enemy (who would, of course, use it for some evil cause, typically world domination) does. What separates these films from one another are the variations on this theme: the treasure in question, the malevolence of the villain, and also just how exciting the story can be made. Some fail, and fall into film obscurity, and others succeed and become favored classics. National Treasure, directed by Jon Turtletaub and funded by Disney, most likely will not become a classic. While passably entertaining, the film lacks the excitement it needs to measure up to its predecessors.

Nicolas Cage plays the treasure-hunting Benjamin Franklin Gates, whose entire family has been seeking a treasure hidden by the Founding Fathers of America. This treasure has a long and rather incredible history, beginning with the Knights Templar, and involving the Free Masons’ secret society. The story begins when Ben finally finds the clue for which his family has been searching through successive generations. Suddenly betrayed by a teammate, Ian Howe, played by Sean Bean, who becomes the feared opponent, Ben begins a frantic race to be the first to uncover the treasure. In this mad dash to the finish line, Ben picks up several sidekicks, including the young and lovely National Archive Director Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), and the whiney computer guy, Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), arguably the best character in the entire movie.

When it comes to cinematography, the film has its moments, but overall it is fairly basic. While some scenes which might otherwise have been slow and uninteresting are sped up and decorated with fast, flashy shots, the rest is fairly simple, relying on the plotline and acting to carry the film forward. Unfortunately, this is, at times, where the film fails. While the inserted odd facts concerning American history may be interesting at times, there just isn’t enough to keep the plot flowing. To make up for this lack of animation, every so often there is a sudden climax of action, making the stagnant story line peak abruptly. There are so many of these mini-climaxes that drawing out the plot on a line would probably look something like a heart monitor on the fritz.

The story, however, is not the only aspect of the film that seems to be on the fritz. The acting, as well, is at times a little off. Cage is generally a decent actor, but for some reason in this film he just can’t seem to fit into his role. He drifts awkwardly between a geeky history nerd and an adventurous, fast-paced explorer, never seeming to find a place where he can be comfortable. His antagonist, Ian, also fails in that he’s just not evil enough to be a worthy opponent. After all, Indiana Jones fought against the Nazis, and next to them, Bean looks about as frightening as Mr. Rogers. The actor who really carries the film is Bartha, the perfect comical know-it-all stiff, as Ben’s sidekick Riley. Bartha’s performance is what keeps the film moving, and what keeps the audience laughing.

This film is obviously geared toward a younger audience. Unlike most films in the adventure genre, National Treasure has no swearing, no nudity, very little actual violence, and only one big explosion. The attempt was for a wholesome family adventure film. When regarded as such, the film hit its mark. It would be a great flick for say, a seven to twelve-year-old. Audiences more accustomed to the harsher, fast-paced thrills typically found in adventure films of this sort, however, may find themselves a little bored. Unless you happen to be an American history major.

1 Comments:

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