"National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets" Blu-ray Review
May 20, 2008 by Zach Demeter
It seems odd to wait three years to sequel a very successful action movie, but wait Disney did and in many ways it paid off. With the popcorn fare that the first National Treasure was it’s unlikely that audiences will remember too much about the transparent script other than it was a fun time in the theater. National Treasure 2 doesn’t mix up the formula too much (if at all) but proves that even when you rinse and repeat the same script you find a movie manages to entertain even if it feels like a remixed rerun.
Once again we find Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) on the hunt for treasure and this time it’s to clear the name of his ancestors. When Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) begins to smear the Gates name and claim that one of the Gates ancestors was one of the conspirators to assassinate President Lincoln, Ben sets out on a task to prove that his ancestors were not involved in one of the most heinous acts of history. Teaming up with Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) and Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) once again, the trio set out to look for the ancient and fabled City of Gold.
I said it before and I’ll say it again: the National Treasure series is not for those who want their movies overloaded with substance. The films are quite lacking in anything logical and at times repeat similar story lines or action points from one another, but it simply boils down to the films being an enjoyable way to spend two hours. The plots are so incredulous that the chance of any of it being remotely true is simply too farfetched, but that’s what I love about these movies. It takes real historical events and plays with them and puts the historical characters and present day characters in situations that make no sense…yet at the same time you can kind of see how that it may be possible in some alternate universe. The films take a certain suspension of disbelief to fully enjoy and if you can accept that then the National Treasure films are just a lot of mindless fun.
Immediately after the movie started I started getting into the plot; I love history and even if it’s mutilated here something about going back to the Lincoln era and seeing something happen there that’s interesting to me. Of course when it starts playing with history to the point of placing artifacts in pieces of furniture that have existed for decades, it gets to be a bit silly, but, again, that’s the suspension of belief that needs to take place.
You can trace National Treasure 2 through a lot of the first film and aside from a new dynamic between Gates and Chase (ohhh, they’re angry with each other and split up! Oh no!), everything really stayed the same between movies. It didn’t mix too much up but even watching the two back to back I found myself still eager for the ride that National Treasure 2 was determined to take me on. Car chases, globetrotting and general treasure hunting are all over this film and you’ll be hard pressed to find too much “new” action taking place.
One element that they seemed resolute on spoiling in the trailers and description of this film was the kidnapping of the President of the United States; it came so late in the film that I thought it was removed from the final cut and by the time it showed up I had completely forgotten about it. Which was a good thing, as the relationship between Gates and the President was really one of the cooler aspects of the film; I did question why the President didn’t just tell the Secret Service and FBI that Gates intentions weren’t malicious, but then we wouldn’t have any exciting or tense sequences for twenty minutes of the film.
The acting can’t go by without a quick mention…well, actually it could, but it’s such a star studded cast that I’m surprised Nicolas Cage is the only one who gets front billing. While co-stars Bartha and Kruger haven’t exactly struck it big, newcomers Ed Harris and Helen Mirren are certainly no weak links and their characters are a welcome addition to the film. I did find Harris’s character to be a bit weak…there was a whole act of the film where it felt like he dropped out and when he suddenly came back in it came as a bit of a shock. Also after the treasure is discovered and Harris’s character reveals he only smeared the Gates name so he could discover the City of Gold and be credited for it and be known forever in history books, I immediately stopped caring about his character. When Gates grants him this honor, I had to think “Why the hell would you do that, he was a total jerk to you throughout the entire film and tried to have you killed repeatedly.” But whatever, I guess Gates would have looked like a jerk in turn if he didn’t. Though oddly I think it’d fit his character if he just told the bad guy to screw off, but that’s just me.
As with any filler-style popcorn flick the film starts to fall apart if you poke and prod at it too much, but with these types of movies it’s best just to take them at face value. They’re certainly a poor man’s Indiana Jones (at least of the old trilogy, I’m writing this review a week before Crystal Skull hits so I can’t include that in the previous statement…yet). The National Treasure series may be considered “rotten” by critics (or so Rotten Tomatoes says), but with a combined worldwide gross of over eight hundred million dollars, the series proves that sometimes movie goers just want to have fun. Recommended.
National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets arrives on DVD and Blu-ray day and date and while the DVD edition is separated onto two discs, the Blu-ray release sees the film and all of the extras, all presented in 1080p (or 1080i in the case of a few extras), get housed on one disc. Hi-definition at its finest, right here! National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets is housed in a single disc Blu-ray “elite” blue case; inside is an insert with the Movie Rewards code and nothing else. Cover is a reflective foil insert (no useless slipcover here!) and menus are nicely animated and easy to navigate. I’m kind of wondering why the scroll menus are so scrunched with extras (three or four extras per scroll)…there’s a huge amount of video real estate on a 1920x1080 image and to use such a small block seems a bit strange. I guess it’s compensating for lower-res TVs, but you’d imagine there’s some kind of optimization for higher-res sets. Either way, Disney seems to follow some kind of preset menu layout for their titles—Chronicles of Narnia had the same type of setup.
Moving onto the extras we first have the Blu-ray exclusive “Book of History: The Fact and Fiction of National Treasure: Book of Secrets”, an interactive set of extras that play alongside the film. It’s a pop-in and out piece that includes audio and text bits about the film. It’s a bit odd to have it flash up at you as the movie plays, but it’s a nicely integrated extra and a decent show of what the Blu-ray format is capable of. It’ll be interesting to see what this format is capable of a few years down the line when it’s being utilized for more than pop-up trivia and high-resolution directional games.
The two “additional” scenes that are exclusive to this Blu-ray release are presented alongside the five others that are available on the two-disc DVD edition of this release as well. All of the scenes include introductions by director Turteltaub and are evident why they were dropped…especially one including a dropped “clue” from the film that made the French deduction scene look plausible.
A quick blooper reel (5:03) shows the cast having copious amounts of fun on the set, while “Secrets of the Sequel” (6:51) interview cast and crew about the differences between this and the last film (i.e., there isn’t that many, that’s why this extra is under seven minutes). “The Book of Secrets: On Location” (9:46), “Street Stunts: Creating the London Chase” (9:42) and “Inside the Library of Congress” (8:41) all take a look at the specific sets of the film and include interviews with the cast, crew, stunt coordinators and the special situations that took place within each area. They’re short extras, but fun to watch…though that just me being an HD freak and liking anything that’s running in the 1080 aspect ratio.
Another series of small featurettes, “Underground Action” (6:46) and “Evolution of a Golden City “ (10:19) focus on the set design, while “Creating the President's Book” (4:32) focuses on this prop used in the film. We’re teased with so many Presidential secrets (I don’t care if the book isn’t real, the thought of it being real is awesome as hell) in the film that this prop must have been a real treat to make. Finally “The Knights of the Golden Circle” (2:48) wraps up the visible extras, while a quartet of easter eggs accompany the rest of the set. The easter eggs are mostly vapor discussion and clips, most not even lasting a minute (there is a nice one where Cage and Turtletaub talk about their longtime friendship, however).
Finally we have a commentary on the film by Jon Turtletaub and actor Jon Voight. I’m a bit disappointed they couldn’t get a full cast discussion together on this one…or at least get Cage involved. Still the pair are an interesting listen, although if you listened to the National Treasure commentary on the Blu-ray for the first film, you’ll find this one to be a lot less humorous with the absence of Bartha felt on more than one occasion. It’s more technical, but still interesting as Turtletaub throws around a bunch of cool historical facts along the way. Those hoping to hear Jon Voight talk up a storm will be sadly disappointed, as he chirps up very occasionally.
And now for the final aspect of this Blu-ray…the transfer! I know what you’re thinking, I usually cover the tech specs first, but this is the sixth review I’ve written in two days and I felt the need to mix things up (ok, so I kind of forgot to cover it before, sue me). The 1080p transfer included for this film certainly showed off a great amount of detail at times, but at times it seemed to a less crisp than the first film, which is immediately confusing considering this one is newer. Perhaps there was some digital distortion done on purpose, but there were times where some scenes transitioned and one felt slightly less distinct than another…but it really doesn’t matter. Those few instances don’t mar an otherwise beautiful transfer and the Dolby TrueHD audio track was a wicked powerhouse. I switched back and forth occasionally between the English 5.1 Dolby Digital track and the TrueHD and there was a noticeable difference. Ah HD, how I love thee!
If you have the tech, there’s no reason not to pick this edition up over the standard DVD edition. The price difference between the Blu-ray and two-disc edition is so negligible at this point that if you’ve already gone into the HD generation that it seems silly not to push forward the rest of the way and start picking up some new titles in HD. I know I’ll miss not filling up my DVD collection with more titles, but if studios are going to throw on extra exclusive content to the Blu-ray releases, what choice do I have? I’m a pushover for new content and will shamelessly trade up whenever possible, though I’m often disappointed with the results. Regardless of my purchasing habits, I’m simply rambling on now—if you can watch it, get it. National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets is a fun romp and the fact all of the extras on this disc are in HD is a real treat in of itself. Recommended.
National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.